Inquiry into deaths of former soldier and his Nova Scotia family begins today

HALIFAX – An inquiry begins today in the case of Lionel Desmond, the Afghan war veteran who bought a rifle and killed his mother, wife and daughter before turning the weapon on himself in early 2017.

Lawyers, government officials and relatives will gather in a Guysborough, N.S., municipal building for the inquiry that also aims to determine what can be done to prevent similar tragedies.

Desmond, a 33-year-old retired corporal who lived in Upper Big Tracadie, N.S., had been diagnosed with PTSD after two violent tours in Afghanistan in 2007.

In the months after the murder-suicide, relatives repeatedly said Desmond had sought treatment for his mental illness and post-concussion disorder.

They said he never got the help he needed before Jan. 3, 2017, the day Desmond bought a gun and shot his wife Shanna, 31, their 10-year-daughter Aaliyah, his mother Brenda, 52, and himself.

A lawyer representing Desmond’s sister says the procedings will begin with opening statements from the commissioner overseeing the inquiry, provincial court Judge Warren Zimmer, and from various lawyers.

The first witness expected is Dr. Matt Bowes, Nova Scotia’s chief medical examiner, who reviewed the deaths and recommended an inquiry be held under the province’s Fatality Investigations Act.

The inquiry will investigate whether Desmond had access to mental health and domestic violence services and whether the providers he dealt with were trained to recognize domestic violence and occupational stress injuries. 

It will also examine whether Desmond should have been able to buy a rifle.

Provincial officials will be asked if they faced restrictions when trying to access Desmond’s federal health records.

Zimmer’s eventual report will not contain any findings of legal responsibility.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 18, 2019.

The Canadian Press