GUYSBOROUGH, N.S. — 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.
Later in the day, MacCallum testified that he had talked to Desmond twice before the killings in 2017, including Nov. 18, 2015, when Shanna Desmond called police to complain her husband had stopped taking some of his medication and was in a manic state.
“He was calm, lucid and polite,” MacCallum said, recalling his interview that day with Lionel Desmond.
MacCallum said the former soldier, who served two tours in Afghanistan in 2007, told him he was aware of his mental illness and had lined up appointments with two doctors for the following week. The officer said Desmond didn’t say anything that raised any major concerns.
The officer said he received a call from Desmond two weeks later, asking about a .308-calibre hunting rifle that had been seized from his possession.
The inquiry was told the seizure was prompted by the chief firearms officer in New Brunswick, who suspended Desmond’s firearms licence and ordered him to relinquish his guns following an unspecified incident in Oromocto, N.B.
Desmond’s licence was reinstated five months later, but the inquiry was offered no details about what happened.
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.
As the hearing drew to a close, one of Desmond’s four sisters, Cassandra, told reporters it was a difficult day for the family.
“As a family, we are experiencing a lot of emotions. We have to relive and watch the pictures showing the tragedy of three years ago,” she said as two other sisters looked on. “It puts a damper on the heart and mind.”
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 28, 2020.
Michael MacDonald, The Canadian Press