WARNING: This story contains disturbing details.
A high-ranking constable in Nova Scotia at the time of the mass shooting more than two years ago says he doesn’t believe the victims’ families were properly supported – and that the crime scenes wouldn’t have had to be returned uncleaned.
Supt. Darren Campbell testified for two days this week before the Mass Casualty Commission conducting the public inquiry into the April 18-19, 2020 murders, and also spoke with the commission through two interviews in June and July.
Campbell now works in New Brunswick, but was the support services officer – one of the most senior RCMP positions in the province – at the time of the shooting.
He told the commission how he met many of the families of victims the summer after the tragedy, where a gunman shot and killed 22 people in several communities across the province while driving a replica RCMP car. .
Many of their concerns included what they saw as the RCMP’s failure to disclose information and issues with Const. Wayne (Skipper) Bent, the only liaison officer responsible for dealing with almost all of the victims’ families, Campbell said.
“These were very emotional meetings,” Campbell said in an interview with the commission.
“I’ve dealt with a lot of families and I’ll say…I’ve never been in meetings with people who have touched me more, or been that difficult.”
Some families of victims, including those of Heather O’Brien and Gina Goulet, said they were left to clean up the scenes where the women died.
Campbell said the O’Brien family told him that there were bullet casings left in the vehicle, along with what they called “body parts.” According to Campbell, he asked both Bent and a member of the forensic team how this could have happened.
Usually, after the forensic team processes a car for evidence, Campbell says it might leave stains or fabrics behind, but then it’s turned over to an insurance company to have it taken care of. clean it or destroy it.
“It’s no different than an actual crime scene at a residence. You know, we normally don’t allow the family to come back and see a horrible, messy scene,” Campbell said.
“It would be traumatic.”
Campbell apologized to his family in person
But Campbell said Bent told him the O’Brien family wanted the car returned as quickly as possible, even in the condition it was in. Bent testified before the commission last month that he wasn’t going to argue with the O’Briens because it was their property, so the car was returned.
Campbell said he faced similar situations when families asked to see loved ones after they were killed. While he doesn’t want to deny the families, Campbell said he still tries to talk them out of it because their loved one’s appearance is “not who they are.”
He said the same logic applies to a crime scene in a house or a car – it’s “not good for people” to see that.
During his meeting with several members of the O’Brien family, who covered issues such as the condition of the car and how one of them had a gun pointed at them by an approaching officer. at a crime scene, Campbell said he offered his condolences and told them “as a person, I’m sorry.”
He also let them know what steps they could take to file a professional complaint if they wanted to, he said.
Campbell said he never issued a written apology and was not aware of any formal apology to the O’Briens from the RCMP.
On Tuesday, after her second day of testimony, Campbell broke down in tears and apologized to all the families for “failing” them.
In Goulet’s case, the inquest released a summary of a meeting between the commission and his daughter, Amelia Butler, and son-in-law, Dave Butler.
Amelia did not receive official notification from the next of kin, and the document says that, although at least four different police officers gave their information, no one called the couple to let them know when Goulet’s property was ready to be delivered.
Instead, Dave Butler put up ‘no trespassing’ signs and entered the house himself, finding ‘blood all over the door and other things he shouldn’t have see,” the document says.
The butlers made their own arrangements with insurance to have Goulet’s house cleaned, but the police hadn’t told them that was an option. At one point, the couple found a casing near the bathroom door and a “lump of lead” in Goulet’s vanity.
Bent testified that he felt “really bad” that the butlers went through the experience and arranged the cleanup before contacting them on April 21, two days after Goulet died.
Amelia Butler told the commission that she originally believed Bent was their personal liaison, and he never explained how he actually represented the families connected to 21 victims. Dave Butler said Bent “wasn’t able to keep his stories straight” and often couldn’t remember who he was talking to.
Campbell said in a commission interview that he was unaware of what the butlers went through, but what they describe “should never have happened”.
He said usually Bent, or another member of the investigation team, would be the one to speak with each family about cleanup options through insurance.
When asked if the support offered by Bent was enough, Campbell said that given the scale of the mass shooting, the RCMP would probably never be able to provide enough help and that there is ” always more than we could do”.
But when asked if this assistance met the minimum standard of care, Campbell said “no”, based on feedback from families.
“If it was good, there would be no complaints,” he said.
Campbell said Tuesday he knew Bent had worked very hard for months to help families, and that the strain had left a “lasting impact” on him.
In testimony on Monday, Campbell said he raised concerns with the Major Crimes team who appointed Bent as liaison that it would be a ‘heavy burden’ for one person to bear. .
But Campbell said while the team was talking about it, they finally told him that Bent could handle it on his own.
In his own interview with the commission, Bent said he “was a little selfish” after working hard to build relationships with people and wanted the same message to go out to every family.
Bent had no specific training in the role of family liaison, and on Tuesday Campbell said he would like to see a specially trained national team that could respond to natural disasters, terrorist attacks or mass shootings. all over the country.
Family members of a victim, Const. Heidi Stevenson, were the only ones not dealing with Bent. Stevenson’s husband and children had an officer assigned to them, while his parents dealt with another RCMP member, Campbell said.