Veteran had nightmare about killing his wife before triple murder-suicide, N.S. inquiry hears

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On Jan. 3, 2017, veteran Lionel Desmond shot his daughter, mother, wife and then himself in a home in Upper Big Tracadie, N.S. An inquiry into the fatalities continued on Thursday. (Dave Irish/CBC - image credit)
On Jan. 3, 2017, veteran Lionel Desmond shot his daughter, mother, wife and then himself in a home in Upper Big Tracadie, N.S. An inquiry into the fatalities continued on Thursday. (Dave Irish/CBC - image credit)

Three days before Lionel Desmond left an in-patient psychiatric facility, his wife called the hospital to say she worried about him coming home amid his rising paranoia and anger toward her, a fatality inquiry heard Thursday.

Shanna Desmond never said outright that didn't want her husband to come home to her and their daughter in Guysborough County, N.S., Lionel's social worker at the Montreal facility testified.

But, according to Kama Hamilton, Shanna did say she wanted her husband to improve his anger management skills.

In the phone call, she recalled about a nightmare her husband had told her about in which he found her in bed with someone and then "he chopped her in a million pieces," Hamilton testified.

The fatality inquiry in Guysborough has been called to consider recommendations to try to prevent future deaths, after Lionel killed Shanna, his 10-year-old daughter Aaliyah, and his mother Brenda, before turning the gun on himself.

CBC's Laura Fraser was liveblogging the inquiry Thursday:

The shootings happened on Jan. 3, 2017, less than five months after he was released from Ste. Anne's Hospital in Quebec, where he'd been getting treatment for severe and chronic post-traumatic stress disorder.

The illness emerged after what's been described as a particularly brutal seven-month tour of Afghanistan in 2007.

Shanna told Hamilton in an earlier phone conversation, in June 2016, that her husband came back from combat a changed man. That description echoes the evidence from Shanna's parents, her brother, Lionel's four sisters and his best friend.

But the evidence submitted by the various clinicians who saw him in the years after he was first diagnosed with PTSD at CFB Gagetown in 2011 suggests that not all of his actions may have been connected to that diagnosis.

Lionel struggled to trust others, something that may be explained by a latent diagnosis of borderline personality traits that happened during his stay at Ste. Anne's from May 30 to Aug. 15, 2016.

Those trust issues featured prominently in Shanna's first conversation with Hamilton, something that happened after Lionel gave the social worker permission to speak with his spouse.

Desmond is seen in this family photo with his mother Brenda, and daughter Aaliyah.
Desmond is seen in this family photo with his mother Brenda, and daughter Aaliyah. (Submitted by Cassandra Desmond)

In that conversation, Shanna first disclosed the violent nightmare that her husband had described.

But at that point, Hamilton said that Shanna had no concern that he would act on it — or ever be violent with her or Aaliyah.

"The context of him sharing this with her was not in a threatening way," Hamilton testified. "He was very upset by the fact that he was having this dream. It was not, 'This is what I'm going to do if ever you leave me,' it was a case of, 'I'm having these horrible, really violent nightmares and you're involved.'"

Hamilton testified she had some concerns about Lionel returning to live with his wife and daughter — and had suggested he rent an apartment in Antigonish, N.S., to give everyone time to adjust.

Due to Shanna's going to school in Nova Scotia and Lionel's deployment in New Brunswick, the family had not lived together for about four years. And Hamilton said it might make sense to live separately as Lionel continued his therapy and other stress-management techniques.

Interviewing a spouse

The fact that Hamilton was able to speak to Shanna was an improvement in the relationship from April 2016, when Lionel had told his doctors in New Brunswick that they couldn't share any information with his wife.

That corroborating information is extremely helpful, Hamilton testified.

And she agreed with a potential recommendation suggested by Tara Miller, the lawyer representing Brenda Desmond's estate, that Ste. Anne's should strongly encourage that spouses are part of an intake interview at the hospital.

In fact, Miller had suggested that the interview be made mandatory, but Hamilton hesitated to agree with that, saying there might be exceptions as it could be a barrier to veterans wanting to take part.

Desmond was deployed to Afghanistan for seven months in 2007.
Desmond was deployed to Afghanistan for seven months in 2007. (Facebook/The Canadian Press)