Learning from tragedy

Inquiry into Desmond deaths could save others

By Helen Murphy    

GUYSBOROUGH – As the one-year anniversary of the shooting deaths of four members of the Desmond family in Upper Big Tracadie approached, relatives welcomed news that a provincial inquiry will be held into the tragedy.

Dr. Matt Bowes, Nova Scotia's Chief Medical Examiner, announced on Dec. 28 his recommendation that an inquiry be held into the deaths of Lionel Desmond and his family under the Fatality Investigations Act.

Lionel Desmond fatally shot his wife Shanna, their 10-year-old daughter Aaliyah and his mother Brenda at their home in Upper Big Tracadie before taking his own life on Jan. 3, 2017.

"There have been many questions raised by the family and members of the community relating to how this tragedy could have happened and whether anything could have been done to prevent these deaths," said Bowes. "I have reflected carefully on this case, I have reviewed the circumstances of these deaths, and I have had the privilege of speaking with some members of the Desmond family. I believe that an inquiry could help us to learn from this tragedy and, in so doing, I am hopeful that we may prevent future deaths in similar circumstances."

An inquiry will examine the circumstances surrounding the deaths. Lionel Desmond had struggled with PTSD following a tour of duty in Afghanistan.

Sheila Pelly, municipal councillor for Upper Big Tracadie, notes that the family had been pushing for an inquiry. "Hopefully it will help someone else," she told The Journal during an interview Saturday.

Pelly says there are important questions to be addressed about the follow-up care Lionel Desmond received in his battle with PTSD.

"What help did he have at home?" she asks. Pelly draws on the example of a heart attack patient, who gets follow-up treatment after they return home from hospital.

"Did he have that?" she asks.

Trevor Bungay served with Lionel Desmond in Afghanistan and founded "trauma healing centres" in New Brunswick to help first responders and veterans recover from PTSD. He told The Journal he hopes the inquiry "will shed light on our broken system." He said there are gaps in the system that have to be addressed.

"This will hopefully find those gaps and allow us to fix the issues."

He also hopes the inquiry helps the family find some closure.

Responding to the chief medical examiner's announcement, Justice Minister and Attorney General Mark Furey said, "Our thoughts continue to be with the family at this difficult time."

He thanked Bowes for his review of this matter and said the government "will be acting on his recommendation in the new year."

The terms of reference and the appointment of a judge to oversee the inquiry will be announced in the new year.

Bungay says he hopes those terms are broad. "I hope they look federally and provincially. It should be as broad as they possibly can to find the gaps in veterans services and fix what’s broken."

Nova Scotia's Fatality Investigation Act states that "findings of the judge shall not contain any findings of legal responsibility."