Four family members found dead in an Upper Big Tracadie, Nova Scotia home on Tuesday evening were shot, RCMP confirmed Wednesday afternoon.
Global News has confirmed the victims are 33-year-old military veteran Lionel Desmond, his wife Shanna Desmond, 31, their 10-year-old daughter, Aliyah, and his mother, Brenda, 52.
RCMP spokesperson Cpl. Jennifer Clarke said in a release that Lionel Desmond’s wounds “appear to be self-inflicted,” and that an autopsy will be done by the Medical Examiner to determine the exact cause of death.
Clarke added that investigators found two firearms at the home, and continue to search the scene.
She said there are no signs of forced entry into the home. The major crimes unit has taken over the investigation to determine the circumstances leading to the tragedy.
Lionel Desmond suffered from PTSD, relative says
Desmond was a member of the Canadian Forces and had recently served in Afghanistan, Catherine Hartline, Shanna Desmond’s aunt who found the bodies, told Global News Wednesday morning.
WATCH: RCMP Inspector Lynn Young gives an update on the four people found dead in an apparent murder-suicide in the Nova Scotia community of Upper Big Tracadie
After returning to Canada, she said he had sought treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in Montreal.
“He didn’t get the help. He should have had the professional help he needed and it was not done right away. When the man showed the signs he should have been put somewhere to have a full recovery,” Hartling said.
Hartling told Global News the man took his own life after killing his family members.
“I would have never, ever thought this would happen. He showed signs of acting out but he didn’t seem violent,” she said.
“It’s heart wrenching.”
The military confirmed Desmond enrolled in 2004 and was deployed to Afghanistan from January to August of 2007. He was posted to the Joint Personal Support Unit in June 2014 until being released in July 2015.
Trevor Bungay, who served with Desmond in the 2nd battalion of the Royal Canadian Regiment in Afghanistan in 2007 told Global News he tried to get him into the Trauma Healing Centres after noticing Desmond’s posts on Facebook.
“In Afghanistan, 2007 was a very trying time for us, there was a lot of death and a lot of destruction,” Bungay said.
“The last three months we spent there, we fought every single day, we were in gunfights with Taliban, we lost a lot of brothers and sisters.”
Bungay works with Trauma Healing Centres, which works to help veterans, first responders and civilians who suffer from PTSD as well as other things like trauma, pain and disabilities.
Bungay said Desmond should be regarded as no different than any other veteran, and that he should be “remembered as a hero.”
“The Canadian public needs to realize that this is something that controls you to a point where things no longer seem real anymore. and obviously, Desmond was in that state,” Bungay said.
A Halifax-based veteran says the military needs to take a more proactive approach to identifying and reaching out to those suffering with PTSD.
“It’s up to the military to help people identify that sooner than later. There’s an intelligence assessment that needs to happen by supervisors. You need to be able to read your people and maintain a conscious effort into their well being,” said the retired member, who asked not to be identified due to their PTSD being a personal matter.
“Unless you’re willing to do that there will be more problems there will be more things that will happen. Divisional systems need to step up and look after their people. Follow up care is something that needs to happen.”
After receiving a medical discharge following more than two decades of service which included a tour on the ground in Afghanistan, they began to experience symptoms of depression and PTSD.
” I didn’t know what was going on with myself day to night. Wasn’t sleeping. In terms of emotions there was mostly one – that was anger. No fear, no other sense of emotion, caring and sadness, those things didn’t exist. I still have problems to this day,” they said.
“I was lucky enough that I have a very strong family attachment. They identified it. If it wasn’t for my wife I wouldn’t be here today.”
After finally deciding to seek medical help, they were met with a less-than-helpful response when they arrived at a hospital and was told it would take up to three months to receive treatment. He said he was initially met with a “cookie-cutter” approach which wasn’t sufficient for the level.
WATCH: Why is it so hard for veterans to get mental health treatment?
“I went in there a broken person and their initial response didn’t work for me at the time. I became quite upset. I came unglued in the hospital. I needed to see somebody then because I didn’t know what was going to happen,” they said, adding that it was only after this incident that he was taken seriously and began to receive treatment the next day.
They said oftentimes military members will not self-identify as having PTSD and will fail to seek proper treatment. While part of the onus is on the individual, the military does have a responsibility to ensure that people are getting the help they need once they retire from duty.
“There’s always more that can be done. A more rigorous follow-up process by military division systems, by CFB Halifax when people return from deployment, by Veterans Affairs when people release… more regulation check-ins would really help. Some people might deny it. Some might say that things are fine. Would it hurt? No it wouldn’t.”
As for their own personal journey, they have since learned the tools necessary to live a happy and productive civilian life, although there will be many struggles along the way.
“For the rest of my life I’m going to be medicated. Sleep comes and goes. There are some things that I can and can’t do. Can’t watch certain movies or TV shows. Crowds are not a fun thing be in. Some people can’t deal with it but it’s all a part of life right now. I’ve been given the tools and I’ve become quite effective at using them.”
Grief counsellors in school, community
Grief counsellors will be at the local school and in the community Wednesday to help those dealing with the tragedy, municipal councillor Sheila Pelly said.
“It’s terrible. It’s devastating, four lives gone,” Pelly said.
“We’re small as it is, four lives taken from this community makes it that much smaller.”
Aliyah was a student at Chebucto Education Centre/Guysborough Academy, according to the Strait Regional School Board.
“It is with great sadness that we can confirm the heart-breaking loss of one of our students at Chedabucto Education Centre/Guysborough Academy,” spokesperson Deanna Gillis said in an emailed statement.
“Tomorrow, members of the school and our regional incident response teams will be at the school offering support and counselling services. This support will be in place as long as it is needed.”
— With files from Ross Lord, Global News
If you or someone you know is in crisis and needs help, resources are available. In case of an emergency, please call 911. 911 can send immediate help. For a list of available mental health programs and services around Canada, please refer to the list here.