Desmond inquiry: social worker reveals details about final call with former soldier

PORT HAWKESBURY, N.S. — A social worker who spoke to Lionel Desmond the day before the former soldier killed three family members and himself told an inquiry Wednesday she wished she could have spent more time with him.

Helen Luedee was hired by Veterans Affairs to act as Desmond's clinical care manager in August 2016, more than a year after he was medically discharged from the military.

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The inquiry has heard that Desmond served as a combat soldier in Afghanistan in 2007, was diagnosed with severe post-traumatic stress disorder and major depression in 2011 and left the military in June 2015, after receiving more than four years of treatment.

Luedee said she never received any documents from Veterans Affairs, though she said she received background information from the former soldier's case manager, Marie-Paule Doucette, who was also employed by the department.

On Tuesday, the inquiry heard it took Veterans Affairs six months to appoint Doucette to oversee Desmond's complex case.

Luedee told the inquiry she met Desmond only twice — on Nov. 30 and Dec. 9, 2016. She decided the former infantryman required extensive, long-term support to deal with PTSD and challenges he faced re-integrating with his family and civilian life.

During the first meeting, Desmond at first appeared reserved, anxious and uncomfortable and did not make regular eye contact, Luedee said. But as the three-hour meeting progressed, he presented as friendly, forthcoming and eager for support.

"He actually seemed hopeful," Luedee said. "On a scale of one to 10, he was an 11 … He was very engaged and motivated to begin."

Desmond, however, did not appear to have much of a support network and it was apparent he was still suffering from the trauma he experienced as a soldier, she said. He was socially isolated and appeared to be easily overwhelmed, she added.

"I got the sense this would not be a brief intervention," Luedee said.

During their second meeting, Desmond said his wife, Shanna, wanted to take part in couples counselling because their marriage was in trouble. He also said his wife complained about having to raise their young daughter on her own while he was in the military.

Luedee said she talked to Desmond about seeking couples counselling through the Family Services Association, and there was discussion about other steps he could take to improve his mental health.

"He had a lot of needs," she said. "He required a lot of support."

Aside from the two meetings, Luedee said she spoke to Desmond by phone on Dec. 12, 2016, and Jan. 2, 2017.

She confirmed Desmond appeared to be facing a crisis when he called her the second time. The former corporal talked about an argument he and his wife had on New Year's Eve, and that it appeared his marriage was falling apart.

"He said he felt he was trying very hard to get help for their marriage, but she had checked out," Luedee said.

The social worker said she explained to Desmond that as his clinical care manager, it wasn't her role to provide counselling. But she told the inquiry it was clear her client needed someone to talk to.

She gave Desmond a list of things to do, which included contacting his psychotherapist and the Family Services Association.

During the call, Desmond made it clear he wasn't experiencing any suicidal or homicidal thoughts, though it was clear he was struggling, Luedee said.

The former rifleman also talked about how he had sought help the night before at the emergency room at St. Martha's Regional Hospital in Antigonish, N.S., though he indicated the overnight visit didn't help him much.

As well, Desmond admitted he had trouble controlling his temper, saying he sometimes raised his voice and would "blow up in an inappropriate way," Luedee said. And he complained about feeling isolated and having to move out of his home.

Luedee said that once she was confident Desmond was not a threat to himself or others, she helped him plan his next, immediate steps toward seeking help — a process that seemed to calm her client.

The next night, at around 6 p.m., Desmond fatally shot his 31-year-old wife, their 10-year-old daughter, Aaliyah, and his 52-year-old mother, Brenda, before turning the gun on himself in their rural Nova Scotia home.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 21, 2021.

— By Michael MacDonald in Halifax.

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