Inquiry focuses on veteran’s hospital release 1 day before he killed family, himself

The doctors and nurses who treated a veteran with post-traumatic stress disorder days before he shot his family and himself three years ago will face questions this week at the Desmond fatality inquiry in Guysborough, N.S.

Testimony from police officers and two medical examiners last week helped a establish a timeline surrounding the deaths of Lionel Desmond, his wife Shanna, his daughter Aaliyah and his mother Brenda — including the catalyst that set the tragedy in motion. 

Judge Warren Zimmer heard how a minor truck crash set the Afghanistan war veteran off on Dec. 31, 2016, so much so that his wife asked him to leave her family home in Upper Big Tracadie, N.S.

On New Year’s Day, Desmond went to the emergency room of St. Martha’s Regional Hospital in Antigonish, N.S. There, according to statements from lawyers at the inquiry, he told staff he was in distress and possibly suicidal. 

Dr. Justin Clark, who saw Desmond in the emergency room, has been called to testify Monday afternoon.

The CBC’s Laura Fraser is liveblogging from the courtroom in Guysborough, N.S.

Desmond had experienced nightmares and flashbacks after his return from combat in 2007, and he was at times manic and at others paranoid, the inquiry has heard. He received treatment while in the Canadian Forces in Montreal and in New Brunswick, and sought help in Nova Scotia as a veteran.

Despite his history, Desmond was kept overnight in the St. Martha’s emergency room and released on Jan. 2.

The next afternoon, he parked on a remote logging road behind Shanna’s family home, dressed in camouflage, carrying a hunting knife, a rifle and a box of ammunition. Within minutes, four people would be dead.

Why doctors released Desmond on Jan. 2 is one of the key questions the inquiry is mandated to probe. The judge will look specifically at the circumstances surrounding the release and whether the health-care workers were trained to recognize the effects of PTSD and the occupational stress injuries Desmond suffered coming out of his eight-month tour in Afghanistan.

Domestic violence

Another critical question the judge will be looking to answer is whether those same health-care workers, or anyone else Desmond saw in the days and months leading up to the shooting, were trained to recognize signs of domestic violence. 

That’s because in the months leading up to her death, Shanna Desmond attended several appointments with her husband. During one of those appointments, a psychiatrist noted that Lionel seemed aggressive toward her and was having paranoid thoughts about her, according to evidence already presented at the inquiry.

The province’s chief medical examiner, who called for the inquiry, believes that staff missed signs that Shanna and her family could be at risk. 

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