Nova Scotia inquiry into deaths of a former soldier and his family drawing to a close

PORT HAWKESBURY, N.S. – A Nova Scotia inquiry investigating why an Afghanistan war veteran killed three family members and himself in 2017 is set to conclude its public hearings this week.

Lionel Desmond served in Afghanistan as an infantryman in 2007 and was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder in 2011 before he was medically released from the army in 2015.

The inquiry has heard Desmond was a desperately ill man whose marriage was in trouble when he was released from a residential treatment program in August 2016 and returned home to eastern Nova Scotia.

The man leading the inquiry, provincial court Judge Warren Zimmer, has said it appears Desmond fell through the cracks once he returned home, where he did not receive any therapeutic treatment during the last four months of his life.

On Jan. 3, 2017, Desmond legally bought a semi-automatic rifle and later that day used it to fatally shoot his wife Shanna, their 10-year-old daughter Aaliyah and his mother Brenda, before turning the gun on himself in the family’s rural home in Upper Big Tracadie, N.S.

Lawyers involved in the provincial fatality inquiry are expected to offer their closing submissions today and Wednesday — and Zimmer is expected to produce a final report with recommendations this fall.

The inquiry started its work in May 2019, and public hearings began in January 2020, but there were a number of delays caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

In all, 69 witnesses testified under oath during 53 days of hearings in Guysborough, N.S., and later in Port Hawkesbury, N.S.

The inquiry’s mandate includes determining whether Desmond and his family had access to appropriate mental health and domestic violence intervention services.

As well, the inquiry has examined the Canadians firearms program, provincial access to federal health records and whether health-care and social services providers were trained to recognize the symptoms of domestic violence.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 19, 2022.

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