CALGARY – The possibility a father of three slaughtered nearly his entire family, a downstairs tenant and then himself in a case of “domestic violence” is under active investigation by Calgary police.
Insp. Guy Slater cautioned against premature conclusions, but there were reports Thursday that a frantic Joshua Lall had recently phoned his father in the midst of a “mental breakdown.”
Veteran police officers were shaken Wednesday when they entered a Calgary home and found the bodies of Lall and his wife, Alison, both in their mid-30s, along with their two young daughters and tenant Amber Bowerman.
The couple’s one-year-old daughter was found unharmed.
Police were being so cautious Thursday that they still hadn’t officially released the names of those found dead, who were identified by relatives and neighbours, but they did confirm the investigation was looking at whether Lall was responsible for the carnage.
“We are pursuing that and other avenues to determine if that was the case or whether there’s anyone else responsible for this situation,” said Slater, who admitted there weren’t any other suspects in the home.
“In terms of pointing the finger at the husband, I think that is a dangerous road to travel at this point. We have a lot ahead of us in terms of investigating this. Information is coming in almost by the minute in terms of background, the family situation and the tenant in the basement.”
Joshua Lall’s father, Dominic Lall, told the Calgary Sun he received a frantic call from his son just days ago, and that he and his wife were already scheduled to fly to Alberta from their home in Ontario to check on his son and his family.
“He told us something was wrong,” the father said, breaking down in tears on the phone as he and his wife watched the scene at his son’s home unfold on television.
“He had a mental breakdown or something. We spoke to him this week and we made arrangements to come down and see him.
“Oh, my God, I don’t know what to do.”
Meanwhile, Lall’s co-workers at a Calgary architecture firm said nobody gave it a second thought when he didn’t show up for work Wednesday because he had scheduled a “planned absence.”
Rob Adamson, chairman of Cohos Evamy, said Thursday he was shocked to learn of the deaths.
“He is a person of strong character,” Adamson said of Lall. “He’s hard-working. He’s polite, friendly, respectful. He was a solid member of our team. He was kind-hearted.”
Lall was hired as an intern five years ago and had been working toward a master’s degree in architecture and environmental design at the University of Calgary.
In 2002, he was one of 28 international finalists in a United Nations-sponsored competition to create senior-friendly neighbourhoods.
Adamson called his work and demeanour exemplary.
“There were no indicators to us at work of any problems. He was just a solid, come-to-work and get-it-done kind of guy.”
But while Lall’s absence wasn’t a surprise, students had been worried Wednesday when Bowerman, publications editor of the weekly student newspaper at the Southern Alberta Institute of Technology, didn’t show up for work.
“It was a concern because … it wasn’t like her,” said an emotional David Jones, president of the SAIT students’ association.
“We found out it was her and our organization was taken aback. We’ve sent a lot of our staff home today. We’re telling them go be with your family – go be with your loved ones.”
The crime scene had been cleared by Thursday but Slater declined to give any detail in advance of the autopsy results, which were expected to be released on Friday.
“There were signs of violence. As for the specifics, it would be reckless to assume that what you see is related to what these people succumbed to … it was a gruesome scene.”
The Calgary Sun identified the two dead girls as Kristen, 5, and Rochelle, 3. The surviving daughter has not been identified.
In Guelph, Ont., where Lall was valedictorian of his graduating class, friends and former classmates expressed shock at the deaths.
“I could never imagine anything like this,” teacher Albert Tschirhart, who had been Lall’s track and field coach, told the Guelph Mercury newspaper.
Tschirhart remembered going to Lall’s wedding in 2000, at Alison’s parents’ farm.
“It was one of those fairy-tale weddings,” he said, his voice faltering. “They were two young people very much in love.
“Fairy tales have a habit of ending up in tragedy.”