It’s normally one of the happiest occasions on a university campus – the last day of classes. But students at the University of Calgary will now be forever marked by a tragedy that took place at a house party that began in term-end revelry but ended hours later in unimaginable horror.

Five good kids with the world before them stabbed to death. A suspect in custody who was heading to law school in the fall; the son of a respected police veteran. How does a university make any sense of it? How does Calgary deal with the shock and grief and inevitable anxiety that flows from such bewildering events?

It was less than a year ago that people here became one to cope with the greatest natural disaster to ever hit the area – the Alberta floods. Residents helped rescue more than 1,000 of their fellow citizens from varying degrees of danger and harsh dilemma. Now they will have to pull together again, under much different, and in some respects, much more difficult circumstances.

“Every Calgarian is shaken to the core by the loss of good young people just getting started in their lives,” the city’s mayor, Naheed Nenshi, said in a statement.

“For now, I just ask that you take extra care to respond to those around you with kindness and compassion. We all might need a little more of that today. And, in particular, if you have university students in your life, please give them an extra hug today and let them know you’re there for them.”

The mayor was quick to point out that Calgary is one of the safest cities in the country – and it is. But heinous crimes like this – the worst mass murder in the city’s history – have an outsized impact on a community. It can rattle a person’s belief in almost everything – for a while anyway. Even though the daily news tells us that mindless, random attacks like the one that occurred in the early hours of Tuesday morning not far from the heart of the campus can happen anywhere, it is still a painful jolt, a bitter pill, a sickening reality you don’t want to accept when it occurs in the place you call home.

Mass slayings always leave us begging for answers. This one is no different. How, for instance, does a single young adult walk into a crowded house party and stab five people to death? How does he carry out the attack without being attacked himself? Mr. Nenshi acknowledged in his statement that people will want to know how – how – this could have happened. On that front, he asked for patience while police conducted what will undoubtedly be one of the toughest investigations the force has ever undertaken.

Not only are police dealing with a horrific crime scene and the death of relative innocents, it is also handling a case in which the alleged perpetrator is the son of one of their own. And if that tragic twist doesn’t make this unimaginably painful file even more distressing, nothing will.

There will be parents throughout this city holding their kids a little tighter today. There will be parents of students at the University of Calgary who won’t sleep until they see their son or daughter walk through the front door of their home. There will be parents throughout the country whose hearts will ache for those mothers and fathers who just lost a child and who will never, ever truly get over the sorrow they are now experiencing.

Five good kids just lost their lives. And the city which they called home will have to demonstrate its resilience all over again.

CALGARY — The Globe and Mail
Published Wednesday, Apr. 16 2014, 6:00 AM EDT
Last updated Wednesday, Apr. 16 2014, 5:52 AM EDT