Murder-suicide investigation raises questions about how PEI treats at-risk families

CHARLOTTETOWN –

Coroner’s inquest jury calls for greater oversight of PEI residents who suffer from chronic mental illness and improvements in the way police and other aid agencies share information following the murder-suicide of a nine-year-old girl and her mother.

But questions remain about the effectiveness of the changes put in place in response to an investigation seven years ago in Prince Edward Island after another murder-suicide involving a mother and child. This 2015 survey also called for better information sharing between agencies that work with high-risk families in crisis.

On Thursday, the coroner’s inquest into the 2020 deaths of Danielle White, 47, and her daughter, Olivia Rodd, found White killed Olivia before taking her own life, confirming police findings and post-mortem reports. mort. Both died of acute carbon monoxide poisoning at White’s Charlottetown home in July 2020 after White sealed it from the inside with plastic and duct tape and burned charcoal.

The inquest heard that White had struggled for years with mental illness and had been hospitalized multiple times for previous suicide attempts and acts of self-harm.

Child protective services had been called in numerous times following these and other incidents over the years, but these interactions were primarily necessary to protect White’s other children from a different relationship. Olivia’s father, Danny Rodd, acted as Olivia’s primary caregiver due to White’s mental health issues, but they shared custody.

Despite these incidents, White’s psychiatrist, Dr. Heather Keizer, wrote a letter in 2013 supporting White having more parenting time with her children. Keizer testified that White had a chronic suicide problem, but never considered her at risk of harming anyone else.

The inquest jury made five recommendations, including that people who are “chronic mental health patients” and who have had multiple interventions with authorities be given increased oversight and support. Where children are involved, this enhanced supervision should be mandatory, the jury recommended.

The jury also said police should review their procedures in the event of potential suicide attempts to ensure other authorities are notified.

This follows an incident in April 2020, three months before their deaths, when the Canada Border Services Agency intercepted a package White had ordered from Mexico containing drugs that could be used to kill himself. Det. Charlottetown Police Department. Darren MacDougall performed a checkup on White at her home and she admitted to buying the drug. But she said it was a “reflex” decision and the police need not have worried about her.

MacDougall told the inquest he found it “well maintained” and did not notice the presence of children, so he took no further action or informed other agencies.

The inquest also called for better information sharing within a provincial “bridging program” that brings together service agencies and enables them to collaborate when dealing with high-risk families. The program was created in response to a 2015 investigation into a murder-suicide that killed four-year-old Nash Campbell at the hands of his mother, Trish Hennessey, in western PEI. -E.

This inquest heard evidence showing that child protection officials, police and community mental health organizations had clear warning signs that Nash might be in danger, including an explicit threat from Hennessey that she would commit suicide as well as her son. But the inability of these organizations to share the information due to privacy policies and bureaucracy has left these warnings unheeded.

During the inquest, which concluded this week, the jury was told about the “bridge program” created to help families in crisis after Nash’s death. But for confidentiality reasons, the president of this program, Denise Walsh-Lyle, was unable to confirm whether this program was used to address concerns about Olivia and her mother before their deaths.

On Thursday, Olivia’s father called the lack of disclosure “disrespectful.” Danny Rodd said if he had received more information about White’s mental health risks, including the drug incident in Mexico, he would have done more to keep Olivia safe.

Prince Edward Island Child and Youth Advocate Marvin Bernstein says his office has conducted its own review of the case and will soon decide whether to launch a formal investigation. This investigation could delve into the systemic issues pointed out by the jury in this case with a view to making more detailed recommendations to the government agencies involved, he said.

Bernstein noted that his position as Prince Edward Island’s first-ever independent child advocate is a “legacy” of Coroner Nash Campbell’s inquest in 2015, after that jury recommended the position be created. But he said his work since his appointment in 2020 has been rejected by some government departments and agencies. “I always try to assert that we have a statutory role and we have a unique responsibility,” Bernstein said in an interview.

If his office launches its own independent investigation into Olivia’s death, it will likely review the actions taken in response to the 2015 investigation, given the similarities in recommendations, Bernstein said.

“It’s very disturbing to have, in such a small jurisdiction, such a small province, two situations, two tragedies where there are murder-suicides,” he said.


This report from The Canadian Press was first published on February 25, 2022.

MENTAL HEALTH RESOURCES


Island Helpline: 1-800-218-2885


Canada Suicide Prevention Service: 1-833-456-4566


Canadian Association for Suicide Prevention


Canadian Mental Health Association

Martin E. Berry