Police focus on father in grisly Calgary killings

Architect was having 'a mental breakdown'

From Friday's Globe and Mail

CALGARY — Joshua Lall left his downtown Calgary architecture firm last Friday with a goal: hunting down a good restaurant to wine and dine his wife, Alison.

The up-and-coming architect was kicking off a week's vacation from work, and asked his boss of four years for some top picks before walking out with a smile on his face.

“He seemed upbeat, positive,” said Rob Adamson, chairman at architecture firm Cohos Evamy. “That was our last conversation.”

Friends and neighbours saw little of the young family – Mr. Lall, 34, his wife, Alison, 35, and their three daughters – during the week of holidays.

But few suspected anything was wrong.

Alka Chandiramani caught up with Alison, a former co-worker, at their children's school event Monday. “We were standing outside the car … talking about how she has three kids, she has a full, happy life.”

Days later, the Lalls' veneer of serene suburbia was rocked by domestic tragedy.

Joshua, Alison, their daughters Kristen, 51/2, and Rochelle, 31/2, and basement tenant Amber Bowerman were found dead on Wednesday inside their northwest Calgary home.

Only the Lalls' one-year-old daughter emerged alive from the grisly crime scene, removed unharmed from the home by police.

A community stunned by the mass murders soon began casting about for blame.

Thursday, investigators confirmed that – in the case with all the hallmarks of a murder-suicide – Mr. Lall is likely responsible for the “domestic homicides.”

Early investigation has “led us down that path,” said Inspector Guy Slater of the Calgary Police Service. “We continue to pursue that as one of many possibilities in this investigation.”

He cautioned against conclusive finger-pointing, however.

Police are working with a bagful of clues – autopsies on the bodies, intricate crime-scene forensics, and an influx of tips from those who knew the couple during their final days. Only when the investigation is complete can they begin to piece together the final moments inside the home in the Dalhousie neighbourhood.

Until then, investigators won't say how the killings may have unfolded inside the bungalow, or how long it was before the bodies were discovered.

Joshua Lall's father, Dominic, told local media that Joshua had called and said something was wrong, he was having “a mental breakdown or something.” Dominic and his wife were already scheduled to fly to Alberta from their home in Ontario to check on their son and his family when they received news of the slayings.

Ms. Bowerman, a Calgary writer well known within local journalism circles, was found in her downstairs suite, Insp. Slater said.

Her former colleagues at the Southern Alberta Institute of Technology Students' Association's weekly newspaper The Weal, where she worked as publications editor, are still reeling from the news.

“We're still trying to actually absorb what happened,” said David Jones, president of the SAIT Students' Association.

Ms. Bowerman, a SAIT journalism student in 2000, was a mentor to young journalists, Mr. Jones said. She also freelanced for several magazines.

“She was very passionate about what she did with journalism,” Mr. Jones said. “She loved every second of her job.”

A family member said Ms. Bowerman knew the Lalls and had moved into the suite a short while ago.

The Lalls, who met while working as occupational therapists in Guelph, Ont., shared a passion for working with disabled children, friends say. Ms. Lall was employed as an occupational therapist at Providence Children's Centre, a Calgary preschool for children with disabilities, until she went on maternity leave several years ago, said Ms. Chandiramani, who was a teacher's assistant at the school.

Mr. Lall was pursuing a master's degree in architecture and environmental design at the University of Calgary. His specialty was in universal design – improving building access for people with disabilities, said Mr. Adamson of Cohos Evamy.

Mr. Lall had recently finished work on making Calgary's municipal building more accessible and was part of a team designing a high-profile Calgary development when he died, Mr. Adamson said.

His nearly 200 Calgary colleagues are devastated by the death, Mr. Adamson added. “He was good, the normal Josh I'd known for 41/2 years,” he said.

On Thursday, Insp. Slater refused comment on whether either a weapon or suicide note was found at the crime scene. The bodies showed “obvious signs of violence,” he said, noting only that the scene was “gruesome” for first responders.

Police expected the autopsies to be completed late Thursday or early Friday.

A memorial of flowers and stuffed animals emerged on the Lalls' front yard, which was still taped off by police Thursday.

Ms. Chandiramani brought her twin five-year-old daughters, Simran and Aarti, to lay flowers and say a prayer for the dead.

Many who didn't even know the deceased were moved to sympathy.

“I never knew them,” said one neighbour, who declined to give her name, “… but the only thing to do is to bring flowers.”

With a report from The Canadian Press