Calgary police had not released names of the deceased, but property records, friends and neighbours indicate the dead include Joshua Lall, 34, his wife, Alison, 35, and their daughters Kristen, 51/2, and Rochelle, 31/2.
A one-year-old girl was discovered unharmed at the home in the upper-middle-class northwest community of Dalhousie and was taken away by police.
A fifth person, identified by police as a tenant, was also found after a 911 call from a person who had dropped by the house to take the eldest child to kindergarten at the nearby community centre.
Police said a preliminary investigation clearly indicated a domestic homicide, and that officers were not searching for suspects.
Police Chief Rick Hanson said it was the worst crime scene officers have yet investigated.
“When you have a crime scene that is this horrendous, when it's this traumatic, when there's a family involved, there's so many unanswered questions,” he told reporters, adding there had been no prior reported incidents or restraining orders at the home.
Five of the first police and paramedics on the scene were quickly sent for trauma counselling, said Inspector Frank Reuser.
Insp. Reuser, a 35-year police veteran, choked back tears at points Wednesday morning.
News of the deaths rattled close friends of the couple even more.
“This doesn't happen,” said Jennifer Klein, one of Ms. Lall's best friends. “I mean, to know this couple … I can see me getting a phone call and [someone] saying they were in a car accident. But it's not a car accident.”
The couple, both originally from Guelph, Ont., met while working as occupational therapists there. She had completed her degrees in gerontology and occupational therapy at McMaster University, he at McGill University.
They married in 2000, and shortly after moved to Calgary, where Mr. Lall was pursuing a masters degree in architecture and environmental design at the University of Calgary, Ms. Klein said. He was to graduate this spring.
In 2002, Mr. Lall was one of 28 international finalists in a competition to create senior-friendly neighbourhoods sponsored by the United Nations.
Mr. Lall was an intern architect (a title given to those working toward their certification) at Cohos Evamy, a Calgary-based architecture design company, for the past five years, a managing partner at the firm confirmed Wednesday.
Ms. Lall worked as an occupational therapist for a seniors community program, Ms. Klein said.
Ms. Lall was a bridesmaid at Ms. Klein's wedding in 1999, and Ms. Klein was a bridesmaid at Ms. Lall's wedding eight months later.
“We lived parallel lives,” she said, adding they both moved to Alberta for their husbands within months. The two friends told each other everything, Ms. Klein said.
“We're confidants to each other,” she said, adding the family had just visited her Edmonton home three weeks ago. “There was no indication [that anything was wrong], and there never has been any indication. This would just be a huge shock and surprise to anyone who would know them.”
Ms. Lall was “just the gentlest soul you would ever meet. … She was just gentle, loving, devoted mother.”
Mr. Lall was always happy and easy to talk to, Ms. Klein said.
“He was just a natural at striking up a conversation – like when they would come up to Edmonton, he would be talking to my neighbours, and he actually went in to one of my neighbours' houses to see something.”
Ms. Klein said the female tenant, who had lived in the couple's basement for months, recently went through a separation or divorce. She was a writer, she said.
“She was a calm, quiet woman, so they just renewed her lease.”
The Lalls were well known on their tightly knit street, involved closely in the Dalhousie Community Association, where Mr. Lall recently did fundraising for the Swing into Spring dance.
Nine days ago, neighbour Ricardo Albino and his son walked back from soccer at a nearby field with Ms. Lall and her daughter.
“She was fine,” Mr. Albino said. “Josh [her husband] was the outgoing one. She was always soft spoken. Very friendly. Very loving to the kids.”
Ms. Lall talked about where her children would be going to school in the fall, Mr. Albino said.
At this week's Tuesday soccer game, wife Mia Albino didn't see the Lalls.
“I didn't really think anything of it,” Ms. Albino said, describing the Lalls as “normal, fun loving.”
“I never got the impression that anything was wrong. Just normal. They seemed like a really together family.”
With a report from Rick Cash