An RCMP officer testifying before a fatality inquiry sobbed Tuesday as he described in grim detail what he saw when he entered the home of Lionel Desmond, an Afghan war veteran who fatally shot his wife, mother and daughter before turning the gun on himself.
Staff Sgt. Addie MacCallum, district commander for the Guysborough area at the time, said he and another officer were dispatched to the home in Upper Big Tracadie, N.S., shortly after 6 p.m. on Jan. 3, 2017 following a 911 call reporting a “suicide in progress.”
MacCallum testified that he knew Desmond suffered from PTSD and had served in a combat role with the military, which the officer described as “very high risk factors.” He also said he knew Desmond and his wife were having marital problems.
When they first arrived at the scene, MacCallum and the other officer briefly met with Desmond’s sister, Chantel, and her partner, both of whom had just stepped out of the Desmond family’s double-wide modular home.
“She was hysterical and I really couldn’t understand her,” said MacCallum, who added that he was told there were either three or four bodies inside the home. “We knew this had just happened.”
MacCallum said he and the other officer entered with their guns drawn, being careful to use doorways as concealment in case they encountered an active shooter.
Taking the lead, MacCallum said he spotted a large pool of blood near one female body whom he could not identify – but he confirmed that person was not moving and appeared to be mortally wounded.
“She had a significant wound to her neck or upper chest,” he said, adding that he would later learn the body was that of Desmond’s 31-year-old wife Shanna.
MacCallum said the small, tidy home was silent, except for muffled voices coming from two television sets that were still on.
In the dining room, the officer said he spotted what he believed was Lionel Desmond’s lifeless body on the floor, with a rifle lying across his outstretched arm. MacCallum recalled that Desmond was wearing camouflage clothing.
“It would be almost impossible to identify who the person was because of the extent of the injury,” MacCallum said, noting that the rifle was a military-style carbine, which is a type of rifle with a short barrel.
Court documents released last year confirmed Desmond had shot himself in the head.
MacCallum said he also saw shell casings on the floor, a large hunting knife on the kitchen counter and a box of red-tipped ammunition that was missing seven shells. The magazine for the rifle was also on the counter, with one live cartridge inside.
As the two officers moved into the living room, MacCallum saw another body slumped near the home’s front door, but the officer said he couldn’t tell if it was a male or female because their face was turned away from the room.
The body was that of Desmond’s 52-year-old mother, Brenda.
Moving toward the other side of the living room, MacCallum said he saw one more body.
“I noticed that it was a child,” he said, taking a deep breath as his voice cracked. “She was lying in a pool of blood …. She appeared to be dead.”
After ensuring there was no one else in the home, MacCallum returned to check the bodies for vital signs.
He started with the child, Desmond’s 10-year-old daughter Aaliyah.
“I rolled her over,” he said, pausing to regain his composure. “I knew I couldn’t help her.”
As MacCallum testified, crime scene photos were shown on large screens in the hearing room. However, the images showing the bodies were purposely blurred to the point that only shapeless forms could be seen.
MacCallum said when he emerged from the home, only minutes after he arrived, a crowd of about two dozen people had gathered in the darkness on the snow-covered driveway.
“It was extremely chaotic,” he said. “People were very distraught when I was outside.”
Among other things, the inquiry will examine whether Desmond had access to mental health and domestic violence services -and whether he should have been able to buy a gun earlier that day.
It will also look at whether the health-care providers who interacted with him were trained to recognize occupational stress injuries or domestic violence.
The inquiry, led by a provincial court judge, will make findings and recommendations but will not make a finding of legal responsibility.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 28, 2020.