Nova Scotia

Daughter of veteran killed in apparent murder-suicide 'loved her mom and dad so much'

Shanna Desmond's sister says her brother-in-law struggled with post-traumatic stress disorder for years and her sister feared she would die.

Shonda Borden says her brother-in-law struggled for years with PTSD, and her sister feared she'd die

Lionel Desmond and his daughter Aaliyah are shown in an old photo from Facebook. Aaliyah had recently turned 10. (The Canadian Press/Facebook)

Shonda Borden says her brother-in-law Lionel Desmond used to call her when the voices in his head were the loudest, and she'd do her best to bring him out of the throes of his PTSD.

He phoned Borden Tuesday evening, but she missed the call. Little did she realize how desperate the situation was becoming. Her sister Shanna Desmond did.

"She used to say, 'You guys are not going to be saying Shanna, Shanna anymore when you find Shanna dead,'" Borden told CBC Radio's The Current Thursday.

Shanna Desmond recently started working as a registered nurse in Antigonish, N.S. (The Canadian Press/Facebook)

Shanna Desmond, a registered nurse, was shot dead Tuesday night in her rural Nova Scotia home alongside her daughter and mother-in-law. Afghanistan war veteran Lionel Desmond is assumed to have pulled the trigger on them before killing himself. 

"I never knew it was this bad," Borden said in an interview from her aunt's house overlooking the crime scene. 

"I used to tell her, well stick with him, till death do you part, in sickness and in health." 

She 'always had people's back'

Borden last spoke with her sister by phone on Tuesday — the same day she missed a call from Lionel Desmond. Family members and Canadian Forces soldiers who served with Desmond say he suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder.

Nova Scotia RCMP are investigating the four deaths in Upper Big Tracadie, N.S. Family members say they're still in shock.

"It's too much," said Borden. "It seems like a nightmare."

Shanna and Lionel Desmond hold their newborn daughter Aaliyah 10 years ago in a photo from the Facebook page of Shanna Desmond. RCMP were called to a home in Upper Big Tracadie at about 6 p.m. on Tuesday where they found the bodies of four people who had been shot. (Facebook/The Canadian Press)

The eldest of three children, Shanna Desmond, 31, was starting her career after graduating from St. Francis Xavier University's nursing program in nearby Antigonish, N.S.

"She was a rock for the family, and she always had people's back," Borden said. 

The Desmonds recently celebrated Aaliyah's 10th birthday on Dec. 28. The little girl had an "awesome personality," according to her aunt. 

"She loved her mom and dad so much. Unfortunately, she got caught up in the problems a lot of military families face, PTSD, which is what she had to come home to." 

Ongoing struggle with PTSD 

Lionel Desmond's struggle with post-traumatic stress disorder plagued his family since he finished a tour in Afghanistan in 2007, Borden said. 

He would flip between being a loving husband and father and a shell-shocked veteran. He had nightmares, flashbacks and struggled to find a treatment that would help him. 

Lionel Desmond was part of the 2nd battalion, Royal Canadian Regiment in Afghanistan in 2007. (Facebook/The Canadian Press)

"He was such a loving person. He loved everyone, and he was so great with kids and Shanna. One day he'll be the perfect person ever, the 'reverend Lionel,' and then other days he would have these spasms, mood swings that would completely change his personality, like he was back in Afghanistan."

He tried different medications, medical marijuana and recently spent months at a rehabilitation centre in Montreal, Borden said. 

Escalating situation

Things would be fine for a while, until something reminded him of Afghanistan, Borden said. He was never violent, but there would be moments when he would "freak out."

"He would curse and yell and speed up and down the road and throw things, but he would never ever touch anyone," she said.

The situation had become so bad this week that he had decided to stay at his grandparents' house because he was "getting so out of control." 

"He had all the family support you could imagine. If you don't have the government to back you up, not even the health system to back you up, you're going to remain the same," she said.   

Veterans Affairs Canada has refused to comment or give details on the help he was receiving since his 2015 release from the military, citing privacy concerns.

Shanna Desmond and her daughter were among four of the people killed in an apparent murder-suicide at a home in Upper Big Tracadie, N.S. (Facebook)

With files from CBC's The Current