Deaths in Upper Big Tracadie leave relatives, community shocked

Published on January 4, 2017

The property in Upper Big Tracadie where four family members were found dead Tuesday.

©TC Media

UPPER BIG TRACADIE, N.S. - A 911 call that came into the Guysborough RCMP detachment Tuesday evening has left a rural Nova Scotia community grieving the loss of a young family.

RCMP vehicles outside a yellow, mobile home sitting on a hilltop off the main roadway drew attention Wednesday morning, Jan. 4,  as people looked for answers to what happened in the dwelling located in Upper Big Tracadie, Guysborough County.

A family member who spoke to TC Media by phone confirmed that all four deceased were members of a family – a man, woman and their child – as well as the husband’s mother. She said the family was shocked by the news, but would not speculate on what might have happened.

According to The Canadian Press, a National Defence source identified the husband as retired corporal Lionel Desmond, 33, who served with the Second Battalion of the Royal Canadian Regiment in CFB Gagetown, N.B., and who family members said suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder.

The other victims were his wife, Shanna Desmond, 31, their 10-year-old daughter, Aaliyah, and Lionel Desmond’s mother, Brenda Desmond, 52.

"The male’s wounds appear to be self inflicted and there was no signs of forced entry into the residence," said RCMP Inspector Lynn Young who is heading Nova Scotia Major Crimes.

However, she said, the RCMP are not prepared to state on the record that it was murder-suicide because the investigation by Major Crimes is in the very early stages.  

“We are going to depend on the outcome of the investigation and conversation with our medical examiner’s office,” Young said. “It will take some time before that information is available.”

Two weapons were found in the home and a search is continuing of the residence.

Social media posts from family members started to be shared Tuesday evening with many people saying they couldn’t believe such a tragedy could happen and prayers were offered.

Catherine Hartling, a neighbour and Shanna's aunt, told CP that  Lionel Desmond trained as a sniper and was diagnosed with PTSD after returning home from Afghanistan.

“He was bad then. They tried to get him help,” Hartling said. “They sent him up to Montreal, and they sent him back and put him on medication.”

Another relative, Rev. Elaine Walcott, also told CP that Lionel Desmond had recently tried to check himself into a mental health unit at St. Martha's Regional Hospital in nearby Antigonish and was told there were no beds.

“Lionel loved his mother, his family, and he was a victim of post-traumatic stress disorder and the memories he didn't want to have,” said Walcott. “He was troubled.”

Hartling said Desmond and Shanna went to high school together at nearby Guysborough Academy, and he joined the military after graduating. Shanna Desmond was a nurse at St. Martha's.

Hartling said she was convinced the post-traumatic stress disorder was behind the deaths.

“He seemed sometimes normal, but he could fly off and get upset, swear and go on and on,” she said.

He didn't get the care he needed, Hartling said.

“It's hard when you send someone home to live in a community after what they've seen and been through…. It has to stop. I hope they do an inquiry into this,” she said.

Brenda Desmond was visiting for the holidays, said Hartling. She said Brenda Desmond was “a very jolly and outgoing person. Always smiling and joking around. She loved to tease.”

Aaliyah had just turned 10 three days after Christmas, and had begun horseback riding. She wanted to be a veterinarian, Hartling said. Tuesday was the girl's first day back in her Grade 5 class after the holidays.

The RCMP said an update to the case could come as early as Thursday. Autopsies are expected to take place this week.

With files from the Canadian Press