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Mounties called to deal with suicidal N.S. soldier over a year before murders-suicide

Shanna and Lionel Desmond hold their daughter Aaliyah in this photo from Shanna Desmond’s Facebook page.
Shanna and Lionel Desmond hold their daughter Aaliyah in this photo from Shanna Desmond’s Facebook page. - Facebook
GUYSBOROUGH, N.S. —

On Nov. 27, 2015 RCMP officers approached Lionel Desmond’s house in Oromocto, New Brunswick.

Two of them — carrying C8 carbines, standard police issue assault rifles — snuck through his backyard while two less heavily armed officers approached the front, looking in windows first before knocking on the door.

“Policing a community with one of the largest military bases in Canada we have a large amount of active and retired (military personnel),” Const. Steven Richard of the Oromocto RCMP testified at the Desmond fatality inquiry on Tuesday.

“It’s almost a daily occurrence that we have some sort of mental health-related occurrence. Not all of them involve military members of course.”

The heavily armed response a year before Desmond would kill his wife, daughter and mother was standard procedure when dealing with a suicidal combat soldier with a known gun in the house.

Calm and collected

Richardson had been parked outside a convenience store a kilometre away when the call came in from dispatch: a soldier suffering mental health issues had texted his wife in Nova Scotia threatening suicide five minutes earlier.

 “She was just very concerned for him,” Richard testified of his brief phone conversation with Shanna before responding to the house.

“She mentioned he was recently released from the military. He was very depressed. He was no longer the same type of person.”

Richard was one of the officers to approach the front door.

Demeanor and first impressions are important when dealing with the mentally ill.

“They can be in the calmest state and within minutes become irate or manic,” testified Richard.

“A lot can be due to your type of approach. If you’re a very calm and collected type person, usually they respond as the same type of person.”

The Lionel Desmond who met them at his front door was much more calm and collected than Richard was used to on mental health calls.

The two spent the better part of four hours together that night.

Technically, Richard arrested him under New Brunswick’s Mental Health Act but he decided not to follow procedure and didn’t handcuff Desmond for the drive to the emergency room at the Oromocto hospital.

While waiting for the doctor, they talked about the Afghan war, hunting, children and Desmond’s previous thoughts of becoming a police officer.

“He was one of the most straightforward, calm types of person that I’ve ever arrested under the Mental Health Act,” said Richard, who drove Desmond back to his Oromocto house that night around 2 a.m after he was discharged by the hospital.

In this impression of Desmond – of a calm, non-violent man working through his troubles – Richard would be joined by two psychiatrists and a psychotherapist in Antigonish over the coming year.

Another side of Desmond

But there was another Lionel Desmond.

He was on display the next day in Upper Big Tracadie.

He had driven the five hours to Shanna and Aaliyah’s house.

The police in Oromocto had seized his rifle and told Shanna to remove a gun owned by Lionel from the house there.

Lionel called the police in Guysborough on Shanna for hiding the gun with relatives.

Later that day, Nov. 28, 2015, Shanna’s father would call the police on Lionel as he yelled at them from a neighbouring yard about the rifle.

That gun would eventually be handed over to the Guysborough District RCMP.

Both seized guns were kept by police pending a review of Desmond’s possession and acquisition licence begun by the Canadian Fire Arms Centre as a result of the November 27 call to his home in Oromocto.

That review wound up in May, 2017, when Desmond provided a letter from his family doctor in New Brunswick stating that he was not a danger to himself or others.

The rifles were returned to him by police.

Shortly thereafter, Desmond checked himself in to an inpatient program at St. Anne’s Hospital in Quebec to deal with his post-traumatic stress disorder and suspected brain injuries from concussions suffered during his service.

The rifle he used in the murder suicide in Upper Big Tracadie on Jan. 3, 2017 he purchased legally just two hours before the incident.

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