A Canadian Forces veteran has been identified as one of four people found dead Tuesday evening in an apparent murder-suicide in a rural Nova Scotia home.
CBC has confirmed the deceased are Lionel Desmond, 33, his wife, Shanna Desmond, 31, their 10-year-old daughter, Aaliyah, and Brenda Desmond, 52, who was Lionel’s mother.
Nova Scotia RCMP said Lionel Desmond appeared to have shot himself, and the three others died of apparent gunshot wounds. Police say they found two guns in the house and are continuing to search the area.
Police were called to the house in northeastern Nova Scotia, about 29 kilometres north of Guysborough, shortly after 6 p.m. AT. Insp. Lynn Young, officer in charge of the Nova Scotia RCMP major crimes unit, told reporters two people found the bodies and called 911.
“This is incredibly tragic for everyone involved,” she said.
Shanna Desmond’s aunt, Catherine Hartling, said she went to the home in Upper Big Tracadie on Tuesday night because she thought Lionel Desmond had taken his own life. She arrived to learn everyone inside was dead.
“I’m in a daze … it’s hard, very hard,” she told CBC News Wednesday morning.
Lionel Desmond served with the Canadian Armed Forces in Afghanistan and suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), Hartling said. He retired as a corporal.
He had been posted at CFB Gagetown in Oromocto, N.B., and was seeking help and treatment for his condition since he left the military, she said.
“He was even fighting to get into the hospital himself when he first got out in 2015,” she said.
A Department of National Defence spokesperson said in a statement Desmond was an infantryman with 2nd Battalion, The Royal Canadian Regiment. He enrolled in 2004 and deployed to Afghanistan from January to August of 2007.
He was posted to the joint personal support unit in June 2014 until his release in July 2015. That unit supports ill and injured members by providing access to available benefits, programs, and family services.
‘No beds available’
Rev. Elaine Walcott, who lives just outside of Halifax and is related to the victims, said Lionel Desmond had recently spent time in a Montreal clinic for post-traumatic stress disorder.
“He’s been crying out for help from the mental health system,” she said.
Shanna Desmond recently graduated as a registered nurse and was working at St. Martha’s Regional Hospital in Antigonish, N.S. — the same hospital where her husband had tried to get treatment within the last week, Walcott said.
“I understand that there were no beds available,” Walcott said.
“He suffered in physical ways, he suffered in emotional ways, and spiritual ways,” she said of his tours in Afghanistan.
‘Things that you just can’t get away from’
Trevor Bungay, who lives in New Brunswick, served with Lionel Desmond, and they kept in touch.
He said Desmond was “one of our go-to guys” who “always had a smile on his face.”
The pair were part of a 10-person section during a tour Afghanistan in 2007.
“We did see and do a lot of things over there that no human should ever really have to do,” Bungay told CBC.
They were part of the infantry and “fought, guns blazing, for three months straight,” he said.
“As soldiers, we put ourselves in positions that sometimes there’s no way out of, or sometimes there’s things that you just can’t get away from. You have to see it and you have to deal with it at the time — 2007 was full of that.”
Grief counsellors called in
He said learning of his friend’s death was a shock.
“It’s tearing us apart right now,” he said. “For this to happen in this way, in any way, it’s devastating. It makes me angry. There’s sadness. There’s everything. There’s a ton of emotion.”
A spokeswoman for the Strait Regional School Board said members of the school and our regional incident response teams would be at Aaliyah’s school on Wednesday offering support and counselling services. Supports would remain in place for as long as needed, Deanna Gillis said in an email.