GUYSBOROUGH: Three-hours before Shanna Desmond was fatally shot by her husband, she requested information on the process of obtaining a peace bond by calling a domestic violence crisis line.
The executive director of the Naomi Society in Antigonish testified that on January 3, 2017 – the same day retired Cpl. Lionel Desmond killed his wife, mother, and 10-year-old daughter before turning the gun on himself – she received a call from the veteran’s wife.
Five-weeks-ago, the Desmond Fatality Inquiry began hearing evidence into what led Cpl. Desmond, a medically-discharged Afghanistan war veteran, to carry out the triple murder-suicide in his wife’s family home in Upper Big Tracadie.
Nicole Mann told the inquiry on February 25, that her organization received an anonymous call shortly after 3 p.m. from a woman requesting what she called as “routine information.”
“There was nothing alarming about the call – she didn’t speak of any domestic violence,” Mann said of the woman who gave no indication of being at risk. “She was articulate and straightforward. This person was not in crisis or distraught in any way.”
In this case, Shanna didn’t provide her name.
Mann testified when she learned of the triple murder-suicide the following morning after receiving word from a partner organization Shanna Desmond was one of four victims, she remembered with their call lasting approximately 20-minutes that was the name she remembered seeing on the phone’s call display – a feature that has since been removed.
Reading from a statement she gave to RCMP, Mann indicated she explained various options to the caller including how to obtain legal advice, how to apply for a peace bond and whether it would cover her daughter as well.
Mann told the inquiry at one point during their phone call, the woman referenced her 10-year-old daughter, in which she made a point to ask about their safety – if they were at risk of being harmed and if the RCMP should be notified.
“Her response to [those] were ‘No,’” she said. “There was no indication in her voice or in her words of fear at any time.”
Shanna didn’t feel her family was in any immediate danger and she didn’t fear her hsuband, Mann testified, but she had confided to her that other people had suggested she should be concerned her husband was unfit to be around their daughter.
It was at this point, Shanna mentioned her partner was a former soldier, who had been medically-discharged from the military in 2015 after being diagnosed with complex post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), associated with a heroic seven-month tour of Afghanistan in 2007.
To Mann, the caller truly just seemed to be seeking advice and was simply gathering resources in the case she needed them.
Among other things, the inquiry has already looked into the role of the health care system and whether Cpl. Desmond and his family had access to the appropriate mental health and domestic violence intervention services, as well as if the health professionals who interacted with the veteran were adequately trained to recognize the symptoms of occupational stress injuries or domestic violence.
The inquiry has heard the catalyst of the killings was a minor car accident on New Year’s Eve, when Cpl. Desmond slid his wife’s truck into the ditch on icy roads, resulting in a prolonged argument in which Lionel ended up breaking furniture – Shanna asked him for a divorce.
During her testimony, Mann suggested someone is most at risk when they are trying to leave a violent relationship.
“Typically, a relationship that’s abusive is about control,” she said. “And obviously, that’s a period of time where the control at least appears to be lost by the perpetrator.”
Within an hour of Shanna ending her call with the Naomi Society, Cpl. Desmond had already entered Leaves & Limbs Sports in Antigonish, where he purchased a Soviet-era SKS 7.62, semi-automatic military-style carbine that he would use shortly thereafter to murder his wife, mother and 10-year-old daughter from less than three-feet-away.
Dan Kulaneck, the owner of Leaves & Limbs Sports testified he couldn’t believe it when he heard Cpl. Desmond used the gun he purchased at his store to murder his family before committing suicide.
He told the inquiry Cpl. Desmond seemed to be “very calm, very collected and very patient,” during their approximately 15-minute interaction mere hours before the killings.
“I just don’t get it,” the gun store owner said as he shook his head in disbelief. “It seemed no different than the previous visits he had made to the store.”
When asked by inquiry counsel whether the tragedy has weighed on him, Kulaneck lowered his voice and whimpered “Yes,” as he wiped tears away from his eyes.
Earlier in the day, the New Brunswick doctor who specializes in treating veterans suffering with PTSD with medical marijuana apologized for comments he made about the Department of Veterans Affairs during his testimony the day before.
Dr. Paul Smith provided an earsplitting assessment of how the federal department directs those who are medically-discharged from the military – as Cpl. Desmond was in June 2015.
Smith testified soldiers given medical-discharges for PTSD-related symptoms are generally treated poorly by the department.
“Our PTSD soldiers are chastised,” he said. “They are treated like lepers. They’re cast to the wind. It’s all about pills and psychotherapy. It’s pathetic.”
Dr. Smith apologized for those comments when cross-examined by the lawyer representing the federal government.
Lori Ward said the inquiry will hear testimony from a Veterans Affairs case manager, who will testify how she “tried to bend rules” to ensure the former rifleman received proper “continuity of care.”
Ward indicated the same case manager will also tell the inquiry how she volunteered to drive Cpl. Desmond to the airport in 2016 when he was referred to a residential treatment in-patient program at Ste. Anne’s Hospital in Montréal.
“Does that sound like a lack of warmness to you?” she questioned Dr. Smith.
“There [are] good people in the DVA system, and I apologize for a sweeping statement that may have presented otherwise,” he replied. “[However] it remains the attitude of many vets is that it’s a constant struggle to deal with DVA in terms of attitude.”