Inquest into deaths of P.E.I. mother and daughter hears evidence of mental illness

·4 min read

CHARLOTTETOWN — Tragic details about the deaths of a P.E.I. mother and her nine-year-old daughter were heard as part of a coroner's inquest in P.E.I. Supreme Court Monday – a case police have said is believed to be a murder-suicide.

Danielle White, 47, and her daughter, Olivia Rodd, were found dead of suspected carbon monoxide poisoning at a home in Charlottetown in July 2020.

A statement of facts from a police investigation into their deaths, read into the record by Crown prosecutor Jeff MacDonald Monday, said police were alerted to a concern for Olivia’s safety by her father, Danny Rodd, after White was a few days late returning Olivia from a scheduled visit.

Rodd and White had separated eight years earlier and had a shared parenting arrangement for their daughter, but the inquest heard Rodd was most often the one left to care for Olivia due to her mother’s struggles with mental illness.

Following several unsuccessful attempts to reach her, police officers looked in the windows of White’s home and saw red tape around the inside of the windows and doors, indicating a possible suicide attempt. They forced entry into the home. White was found unresponsive, face down on the floor. Olivia was found wrapped in ice packs in her bed.

Police found plastic and tape sealing the home. Charcoal was located throughout the home, and officers identified a noxious substance in the air that made them feel dizzy. Three notes written by White were found in the home, including one in which she apologized to her daughter.

Family members in the courtroom wept after hearing details of the deaths.

It’s up to the six-member inquest jury to make a final determination on cause of death, but post-mortem reports completed on the two bodies recommend that the cause for both mother and daughter be ruled as acute carbon monoxide poisoning and that Olivia’s death be ruled a homicide, while White’s should be ruled a suicide. The inquest is being overseen by Dr. Craig Malone.

Earlier in the day, Olivia’s father, Danny Rodd, testified that White suffered from several mental health conditions, including depression and bipolar disorder and that she had self-harmed and been hospitalized for these issues in the past. But White always swore she would never hurt their daughter, he said.

Rodd was emotional on the stand describing the day he dropped Olivia off at White’s home for what turned out to be the last time in July 2020.

Through tears, he told the courtroom he had no concerns about his daughter’s safety during that last drop-off and that Olivia happily ran into her mother’s house.

Later Monday, Det. Darren MacDougall of Charlottetown Police Services detailed an incident involving White. He says he was contacted by the Canada Border Services Agency about a package they had intercepted addressed to White that contained a controlled drug that could be used to kill oneself.

COVID-19 restrictions were in place at the time, but MacDougall said he took it upon himself to visit White at her home to perform a wellness check on April 22.

White was in good spirits when he spoke to her, was well-kept and did not look like she was experiencing mental health issues, MacDougall testified. He said she acknowledged ordering the package, but that she’d done so six weeks earlier in a “knee-jerk decision,” and that she was in a better place and police needn’t be concerned about her, MacDougall said.

One of White’s psychiatrists, Dr. Heather Keizer testified White had borderline personality disorder and suffered from chronic suicidal feelings.

White had missed several appointments with Keizer in the spring of 2020 but they did connect by telephone on April 24, 2020 — two days after the wellness check by MacDougall. She said COVID-19 restrictions prevented an in-person meeting. During this conversation, White asked for medication to help with troubled sleeping, Keizer said.

She had no concerns for Olivia’s safety, Keizer testified, adding that if she had felt White was at imminent risk of suicide, she would have admitted her to hospital. "I wish I had, but I didn't," she said.

This is the second coroner’s inquest in six years into a murder-suicide involving a mother and child in P.E.I. The last one, held in 2015, delved into the deaths of Trish Hennessey and her four-year-old son, Nash Campbell, who were found dead in the back of a burnt-out Jeep on a secluded road in western P.E.I. in 2013.

The jury in that case made recommendations that have since led to a number of changes to the way child welfare cases are handled in cases of high conflict and risk.

The inquest will resume Tuesday, when Rodd, who was granted standing in the case Monday after attempting to ask questions, will be given an opportunity to present evidence before the Crown delivers its closing arguments.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 6, 2021.

Teresa Wright, The Canadian Press

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