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Former Kanata, Ontario girl among student survivors of Newtown shooting

A young mourner holds a candle during a vigil in Winnipeg, Dec. 17, 2012 for another Canadian - former Winnipegger Ana Marquez-Greene who was killed in the Newtown, CT school shooting.

Credits: BRIAN DONOGH/WINNIPEG SUN/QMI AGENCY

KELLY ROCHE | QMI AGENCY

OTTAWA -- A former Kanata, ON, girl is among the survivors of one of the most "horrific" shooting sprees in US history.

Maleeha Ali, 8, was in her Grade 3 science class at Sandy Hook Elementary School and escaped Friday's massacre after a gunman opened fire, killing 20 Grade 1 students and six teachers.

"I am counting my blessings," her mother, Sabeena Ali, said Monday from the family's home in Newtown, CT.

"I don't think anyone can doubt that it's completely senseless," Ali said.

The first funerals were held Monday.

"I think at this moment, it is quite sombre. Everybody's really holding onto each other," Ali said.

Two years ago, the family moved to Newtown from Kanata, where Maleeha attended South March Public School.

She's the youngest of three daughters; the middle sister is in Grade 10, the eldest in university.

On Monday, Maleeha received a fruit arrangement from family in Kanata.

"To our brave cousin Maleeha: We are so proud of you and thankful you are safe ...," read the note.

To honour the victims, an interfaith vigil was held Sunday night, with U.S. President Barack Obama in attendance.

Ali called it "incredible" and inclusive of all religions in the faith-based community.

Maleeha came home with a stuffed dog, courtesy of the American Red Cross. She named it Vicki, after her former Grade 1 teacher, Victoria Soto, who was killed while reportedly trying to shield students from gunfire.

Ali stressed the importance of remembering the victims, not the gunman, Adam Lanza, who killed himself.

"Yes, the question of why and why he did it is there," she said.

The experience is still somewhat surreal.

"I think we have our moments (of weakness)," Ali said.

For the sake of the kids, "you have to play mom."

The family has been focusing on getting back into normal activities, such as playing Scrabble and watching Jeopardy!

Ali, who grew up in New Brunswick and Nova Scotia, said the family has no intention of leaving Connecticut. They moved there 17 years ago, then returned to Canada.

"Newtown to me is a mini-Canada in the States," said Ali.

Residents are loving and open-minded, and "won't question you or look down on you" if you're different, she said.

"This community so special in that manner."

In the face of tragedy, "something good will come out of this," Ali said.

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