Parents of accused killer struggled to help him with schizophrenia diagnosis

·4 min read
From left to right: Michel Sabourin, 66, and Linda Frederick, 64, were stabbed Sunday night in their Barrhaven home. Their son Conor Donnelly, 39, has been charged with second-degree murder and attempted murder. (Facebook - image credit)
From left to right: Michel Sabourin, 66, and Linda Frederick, 64, were stabbed Sunday night in their Barrhaven home. Their son Conor Donnelly, 39, has been charged with second-degree murder and attempted murder. (Facebook - image credit)

When Linda Frederick would leave her dear friend Kim Kennedy after their countless dinner parties, or when she and her husband would bike over for a driveway hello during the pandemic, she always said the same thing.

"Love ya and talk to ya soon.'"

On Monday morning when Kennedy and her husband heard the news of a homicide on Frederick's quiet street in the Ottawa community of Barrhaven, her husband said out loud: "Oh dear God, I hope it wasn't Conor."

They brushed away those sinister thoughts and the doting friend gave Frederick a call later that morning, eventually leaving a voicemail when she thought the couple must be out on their bikes, or running errands.

"Hope everything's OK over there," Kennedy said.

It wasn't. On Sunday night, police allege 39-year-old Conor Donnelly stabbed his mother, 64-year-old Frederick, to death and stabbed his stepfather Michel Sabourin, 66, multiple times before engaging police in a nearly four-hour stand-off while barricaded inside his parents' Sherway Drive home.

Tactical officers arrested Donnelly inside the home's garage just before 2 a.m. Monday. Ottawa police have charged him with second-degree murder and attempted murder for the alleged attack on his parents.

Radio-Canada
Radio-Canada

'It was just like we had known each other our whole lives'

Kennedy met Frederick more than 30 years ago when living in the same neighbourhood. She was a nursing student and Frederick was in dental assistant school. At the time, Frederick was divorced and a single devoted parent of two children — her son, Conor, and her daughter. The two women instantly forged a connection after long phone calls discussing the kids and everything else.

"It was just like we had known each other our whole lives," Kennedy said. "That's just the way she was."

Before long, Frederick met the man they would all come to know as "Big Mike" for his large stature — a "gentle giant" named Michel Sabourin who worked for Canada Post and would deliver the mail to Frederick's dental office. He stood upwards of 6-6 and Frederick would stand somewhere around the middle of his chest.

"He was charming and gentle and funny and the girls in the office apparently were all giving her a hard time," Kennedy said. "They told her to 'pay attention to him, he likes you.'"

She finally agreed to go on a date with him. "And that was it." They were inseparable, Kennedy said.

The couple purchased their home at 72 Sherway Dr. in 1998. They didn't have children together, but he helped raise hers.

"I can't even put into words, her life was her kids."

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Facebook

Donnelly diagnosed with schizophrenia

Over the years, Frederick told Kennedy about the challenges she had raising her son. After years of issues and points of friction, there was a diagnosis — paranoid schizophrenia. Kennedy said she went through everything with Frederick, from Donnelly's admission to The Royal Ottawa Mental Health Centre and stays at the Civic campus of The Ottawa Hospital.

During what Kennedy said was Donnelly's first major episode, he believed people were after him with guns. Staff at The Royal wouldn't let Frederick in to see him because they said he was so volatile. Frederick called Donnelly in tears, desperate to see and be near her baby. Kennedy comforted her friend by saying that it would all work out.

"She and Mike tried everything, everything in their power to help him," Kennedy said. "It was up and down."

Donnelly would take his medication then decide to go off them and his mother, Kennedy said, was beside herself.

A childhood friend who knew Donnelly described times of turmoil at the family home and periods where he would stay with her family and not his own.

As time wore on, the updates on Frederick's son would become less detailed. Frederick would talk about "good weeks" or "bad weeks," Kennedy said. In recent years, Donnelly was working as a porter at the Queensway Carleton Hospital, had tried his hand at rap music for a while, and lived in a room on Monterey Drive near his parents' home.

On the day of the homicide, Ottawa police did respond to that address, some 12 minutes away from the Sherway Drive home, for a call about a dispute between Donnelly and another neighbour, according to sources. It's not clear if police made any contact with Donnelly at the time.

Patrick Louiseize/Radio-Canada
Patrick Louiseize/Radio-Canada

Belligerent court appearance

At his court appearance on Monday, Donnelly was belligerent — insulting the justice of the peace, calling him a loser and a "loogin." He was also angry a Crown prosecutor misspelled his stepdad's name, and called the whole thing a farcical court. He didn't have a lawyer.

Kennedy said she is numb thinking about it all. They won't get to endure their husbands' gentle teasing anymore or share hours of endless laughter.

Frederick's daughter also just had a baby and she was "over the moon" to be a grandmother to a "beautiful baby boy."

"She saw the best in everybody," Kennedy said.

"I can't even put into words how it feels."

Donnelly is next scheduled to appear in court Wednesday. Court has ordered he undergo a mental fitness assessment.

Frederick's is the city's 15th homicide of 2021.

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