The small community of Upper Big Tracadie, Guysborough County, was shaken last Tuesday (Jan. 3) as news started to come to light about a murder-suicide at a residence located off Highway 16.
In a 2:30 p.m. press conference the following day in Antigonish, RCMP Major Crimes Unit Inspector Lynn Young confirmed that four persons were found deceased in the residence.
“Shortly after 6 p.m. last evening, RCMP officers in Guysborough responded to a 911 call to a residence in Upper Big Tracadie,” Young read from a prepared statement.
“Upon arrival, officers located four deceased individuals inside the home. Three females – aged 52, 31 and 10, and a 33-year-old male, appear to have died from apparent gunshot wounds.
During the press conference, Young noted the Nova Scotia Medical Examiner’s Office would be conducting autopsies to confirm cause of death and on Friday, Jan. 6, it was confirmed in a RCMP press release “all four individuals died as a result of gunshot wounds.”
“Further investigation also confirmed that the 33-year-old male’s gunshot wound was self-inflicted. As a result, the RCMP can confirm that the incident was a triple homicide and suicide,” the release stated.
During the press conference, Young added that “presently” two firearms had been located in the residence but, at the time, a search was still ongoing.
“The RCMP Major Crimes Unit is taking over the investigation to determine the circumstances which led to this tragic situation,” Young said.
“I extend my condolences to the families and the Upper Big Tracadie community … I know the loss of these lives will deeply impact you.”
Young was asked if the victims had been identified but declined to offer names citing the Privacy Act. She would only confirm they were related to one another.
The names have been circulated widely since in many media outlets, including the Canadian Press and CBC, which identified the deceased as married couple Lionel and Shanna Desmond, Lionel’s mother Brenda Desmond and the couple’s 10 year-old daughter Aaliyah, a student at Chedabucto Education Centre/Guysborough Academy.
The media reports include information about Lionel serving in the military as a corporal with the Second Battalion of the Royal Canadian Regiment in CFB Gagetown, New Brunswick. It also noted he served in Afghanistan in 2007.
Young was asked about speculation that Lionel Desmond suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) from his time in the military, and that led to the tragic evets which unfolded the previous day.
“We have no answers to that right now,” she said, adding the RCMP was “not working with military officials at this time.”
She was asked about an earlier message from the RCMP about not fearing for public safety, following their initial response to the location, as an indication that this was, indeed, a murder-suicide situation.
“Given the circumstances, the investigators believed this was an isolated incident and not something that would be a threat to the public,” she said.
Asked if the RCMP was working with any local community groups or outside organizations at the time, Young noted only the medical examiners’ office, which she had earlier alluded to.
She was asked about first responders who arrived on the scene and the support they might be receiving.
“This is incredibly tragic for everyone involved,” she said. “Resources are available and support is being provided for all first responders and anybody involved in the investigation.”
“This is an incredibly tragic situation; there is not much more I can say other than that,” Young said to conclude her remarks.
“Obviously, we take it very seriously; we’re doing a thorough investigation … it’s incredibly tragic circumstances we’re dealing with here.”
Strait Regional School Board (SRSB) co-ordinator of communications/community relations Deanna Gillis spoke to support being provided following the loss of the young student.
“It is with great sadness that we can confirm the heart-breaking loss of one of our students at Chedabucto Education Centre/Guysborough Academy,” Gillis wrote in an email response to the Casket.
“Today, members of the school and our regional incident response teams are at the school offering support and counselling services to students and staff. This support will involve school administration, school guidance counsellors, school psychologists and other staff who will be onsite to provide support and counselling services. This support will be in place as long as it is needed.
“The Strait Regional School Board extends its most sincere sympathies to the student’s family and friends, and broader community,” Gillis said.
Cape Breton-Canso MP Rodger Cuzner issued this statement on Jan. 5.
“I want to offer my profound condolences to all of those affected by the devastating tragedy that took place in Guysborough County,” Cuzner said.
“My thoughts and prayers are for the family, friends and community members who are having to deal with the intense emotions that no words can describe.
“Although the coming days and months will be difficult, I know the community will help in bearing the pain of the family and support them on their path to healing from this tragedy.”