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Doctor who examined Lionel Desmond tells fatality inquiry what he saw

Last Updated Feb 3, 2020 at 4:38 pm PDT

The Desmond Fatality Inquiry is being held at the Guysborough Municipal building in Guysborough, N.S. on November 18, 2019. An inquiry investigating why a mentally ill Afghanistan war veteran fatally shot three members of this family before killing himself enters its second week of hearings today. Lionel Desmond, a 33-year-old former infantryman from rural Nova Scotia, killed his mother, wife and 10-year-old daughter before turning a military-style rifle on himself in January 2017. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Andrew Vaughan

GUYSBOROUGH, N.S. — An inquiry investigating why a mentally ill Afghanistan war veteran fatally shot three members of his family before killing himself has heard from an emergency room doctor who assessed Lionel Desmond two days before the killings in rural Nova Scotia.

Dr. Justin Clark told the inquiry Monday that Desmond was initially assessed by a triage nurse at St. Martha’s Regional Hospital in Antigonish, N.S., when he sought help following a heated argument with his wife Shanna on the night of Jan. 1, 2017.

Clark told the inquiry Desmond received a score of 2, which on a scale of 1 to 5 indicated he required treatment as soon as possible, given the fact that a score of 1 is regarded as a full-blown emergency.

The doctor, who at the time had six months of experience in emergency rooms, said when he met with Desmond around 7 p.m., he was aware the patient had been diagnosed with PTSD in 2011 and was suffering from a post-concussion disorder.

However, Clark said the 33-year-old former infantryman was calm and co-operative when he revealed he had damaged some furniture while arguing with his wife, who insisted he had to leave their home for the night.

Despite the fact Desmond did not appear to have any suicidal or homicidal thoughts, Clark said he was concerned enough about Desmond’s mental health that he recommended he receive a further assessment by a psychiatrist, which happened in the hospital shortly after 7:30 p.m.

Clark said that kind of immediate response was impressive, given the fact that most patients seeking mental health care after 5 p.m. usually have to wait until the next day to see a psychiatrist.

The inquiry has heard that Dr. Faisal Rahman also found Desmond showed not signs of suicidal or homicidal thoughts, but the psychiatrist decided it would be prudent for Desmond to spend the night in the hospital’s emergency observation room.

The recollections of the doctors are important because some of Desmond’s friends and relatives had complained he was turned away from the hospital before the killings — an allegation the hospital has denied.

Desmond killed his mother, wife and 10-year-old daughter before turning a military-style rifle on himself on Jan 3, 2017.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 3, 2020.

The Canadian Press