'He saw dead people.' Inquiry learns about the mental decline of Lionel Desmond

·3 min read

PORT HAWKESBURY, N.S. — Lionel Desmond experienced severe mental decline and horrible visions after he served as an infantryman in the Afghanistan war, a fatality inquiry in Nova Scotia learned Friday.

The provincial inquiry, which resumed this week after an 11-month hiatus, is investigating why the mentally ill former corporal killed his mother, wife and daughter before fatally shooting himself on Jan. 3, 2017.

Desmond was diagnosed with severe post-traumatic stress disorder in 2011 and was medically released from the military in June 2015.

On Friday, the inquiry heard for the first time from the immediate family of his wife, Shanna Desmond, including her parents and younger brother.

The woman's mother, Thelma Borden, submitted an affidavit saying Lionel Desmond was tormented by terrifying nightmares.

"When he came back from Afghanistan, he wasn't the same," Borden said in her statement.

"Shanna told me ... Lionel would wake up in bed at night in sweats, and the whole bed would be soaked."

Borden then described one particularly shocking incident that involved a nighttime flashback.

"One night, Shanna woke up in bed to Lionel choking her, and she had to holler at him and say, 'Lionel, Lionel!'" Borden's statement said. "He told her he was sorry because he didn't know what he was doing because he thought he was back in Afghanistan."

Borden also described how Lionel Desmond could hear "guns and bombs in his head," and how he would become jealous of his wife and accuse her of sleeping with other men.

"Every time he closed his eyes he saw dead people and (he was) walking over dead people," Borden said. "Many of his (Canadian Armed Forces) buddies in Afghanistan were killed alongside him. He had to pick up the bodies and the pieces after they were blown up."

Shanna Desmond's father, Ricky Borden, also submitted an affidavit, saying the former soldier had frequent outbursts and had not responded well to psychiatric treatment he received in 2016.

"Some days he used to go right off, and he went off quite a bit," Ricky Borden said in his statement.

The hearing on Friday concluded with testimony from Shanna Desmond's younger brother, Sheldon Borden, who told the inquiry that the couple often argued.

"You could tell he was fighting things within himself," Sheldon Borden told the inquiry. "There were many times when he and Shanna would fight."

As well, he said he felt guilty for not having the tools or the resources to help his brother-in-law. And he said Shanna once told him about the time her husband choked her.

Earlier this week, the inquiry heard from Lionel Desmond's family, several of whom told similar stories about his struggles with mental illness.

The inquiry is set to resume next Tuesday, when doctors from the Canadian Armed Forces are scheduled to offer evidence.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 19, 2021.

— By Michael MacDonald in Halifax.

The Canadian Press