WARNING: This story contains graphic details that readers may find disturbing. Discretion is advised.
An RCMP investigator has testified about the steps a former soldier took, including researching where to buy a rifle, before he shot three members of his family and himself more than three years ago.
Cpl. Jerry Rose-Berthiaume, the lead investigator in the Lionel Desmond case, testified Wednesday at a public inquiry taking place in Guysborough, N.S.
He said family witnesses had told him the Afghanistan veteran had struggled to cope after returning from war, and had conflicts with his spouse, Shanna, that seemed to spiral out of control after a New Year’s Eve incident.
The officer said, “certain things would just set (Desmond) off.”
Rose-Berthiaume testified that on New Year’s Eve Desmond put his wife Shanna’s pickup truck in the ditch while traveling home from a family gettogether.
The investigator said he believes, based on interviews with family members, that Desmond remained distressed after the incident, and there were tensions through the night until Shanna asked him to leave her home.
“It carried on all night,” said Rose-Berthiaume. “Basically nobody got any sleep in relation to this truck going off the road.”
The officer confirmed earlier testimony that on Jan. 1, Desmond checked himself into St. Martha’s Hospital in Antigonish, N.S., and was released after spending a night there and being seen by doctors.
Rose-Berthiaume said Desmond spent Jan. 2 packing his clothes and bringing them to a relative’s home, but on Jan. 3 he drove into Antigonish and, after making a medical appointment, purchased a gun at Leaves and Limbs Sports – a scene captured on video.
Rose-Berthiaume testified that when Desmond set off to his wife’s home that day, he had changed into a full camouflage outfit.
The officer said there was evidence the veteran had parked his vehicle in the woods some distance away and had slashed his wife’s tires, citing this as evidence Desmond had planned his wife’s murder.
However, he said it’s possible Desmond hadn’t expected to find his daughter Aaliyah and mother Brenda at the home, citing a phone call the veteran made to check if his daughter was at school.
The officer testified that Brenda, Lionel’s 52-year-old mother, called her brother George Desmond at about 6 p.m. and told him, “You have got to get down here right away, the boy just shot his wife.”
However, the officer said George Desmond told him by the time he had arrived, all four deaths had already occurred.
In testimony on Monday, Staff Sgt. Addie MacCallum, district commander for the Guysborough area at the time, had said the home in Upper Big Tracadie, N.S., was a horrific scene when he arrived the night of Jan. 3.
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.
Rose-Berthiaume testified Lionel Desmond’s lifeless body was on the floor, with a rifle lying across his outstretched arm and a single bullet wound.
The body of Desmond’s mother Brenda had one bullet wound, as did the body of his 10-year-old daughter Aaliyah. Shanna had three wounds, the officer testified.
The former soldier had served two tours in Afghanistan in 2007, and had been back in Canada for about a decade.
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 on the day of the killings.
With files from Jesse Thomas, Global News
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 28, 2020.