Former partner describes soldier's spiral into suicide

The Military Police Complaints Commission continues hearings into the military's handling of the suicide of Cpl. Stuart Langridge. His former common-law partner, Rebecca Starr, testifies today.

For almost five hours, 28-year-old Rebecca Starr told an often emotional tale of Cpl. Stuart Langridge's downward spiral into addiction, severe depression, post-traumatic stress disorder and finally suicide.

Starr, the former common law partner of Langridge, was appearing Thursday before the Military Police Complaints Commission, which is hearing complaints filed by Langridge's parents into how the military handled their son's death.

Starr testified about what kind of person Langridge was in 2005 when she met him: "Stuart loved to have fun, he was a happy guy, he had tons of friends."

Rebecca Starr, former partner of Cpl. Stuart Langridge, appears before a Military Police Complaints Commission hearing into his suicide, in Ottawa. (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)

They moved in with each other within months, and eventually made a formal declaration to the military that they were common-law partners.

But, Starr related, Langridge began to profoundly change, especially after his biological father died.

Langridge began to drink heavily, she said, and she later discovered that he was buying cocaine on a regular basis. He would go on to attempt suicide six times before he finally succeeded.

In tears, she spoke of how his friends found him still alive in his Jeep with the exhaust pipe hooked into the window. Once she came home and found him almost unconscious in bed after he'd swallowed two bottles of his medications.

She described a frightening scene of entering the townhouse they had shared and finding knives and a half-filled bathtub in a bathroom, and nooses hanging from the rafters in the basement.

Starr also talked about a series of symptoms Langridge was experiencing: chest pains, profuse sweating, night terrors in which he'd wake up suddenly, "being afraid and being angry and not remembering where he was." Among other things, these are signs of possible post traumatic stress syndrome.

Langridge's mother and step-father, Sheila and Shaun Fynes, say their son was suffering from PTSD due to his experiences in Bosnia and Afghanistan, and that the military ignored his illness. The military contends that Langridge was an alcoholic and a drug addict who was depressed — and that it did all it could to help him.

Cpl. Stuart Langridge, a veteran of Bosnia and Afghanistan missions, hanged himself in his Edmonton barracks in 2008. (Courtesy Sheila Fynes)

This week at the MPCC hearing a senior military officer who aided the Fynes after their son's death, testified that he was told that Langridge, who’d been ordered to live in barracks, was on a suicide watch. Today, Rebecca Starr said she too been assured by the military that Langridge would be taken care of: "It was my understanding that after talking to the addiction counsellors that he would be with someone 24 hours a day."

But Langridge hanged himself in his room in the barracks at the base in Edmonton where he was supposed to be under close supervision.  A lawyer representing the military police said it would have been a medical decision to put him on suicide watch, and that the military are not doctors.

One of the most contentious issues for Shaun and Sheila Fynes is that Rebecca Starr was designated Langridge's next of kin and that she made all the decisions about his funeral. The Fynes and other witnesses have testified that Langridge and Starr had broken up. And an earlier military inquiry into Langride's death concluded that his suicide was a result of the split with his girlfriend.

Today, Starr insisted she and Langridge had every intention of spending their lives together, despite the fact that she had moved out of the townhouse she and Langridge shared, and that she asked him to remove her name from the ownership of their Jeep. 

The MPCC hearing into Langridge's death is expected to hear witnesses until some time in June.