Mother-son tragedy news story of year 2013

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Drug addiction another major story in Guardian’s annual News Story of Year choices

Trish Hennessey with her son, Nash David, 4, during happier times in this Facebook posting released by the family to funeral homes.

A murder in Prince Edward Island always garners big headlines.

In a province with a population less than that of many modest-sized cities across the country, this crime is rare. Years can pass without a murder taking place here.

Even the ongoing investigation into the unsolved murder of well-admired Charlottetown teacher Byron Carr 25 years ago made the front page of The Guardian this year.

So when Trish Hennessey ended the life of her five-year-old boy Nash Campbell and her own life in a grisly murder-suicide on June 21, Islanders were both horrified and mesmerized.

The high profile, shocking event has been determined by The Guardian editorial department to be P.E.I.’s News Story of the Year for 2013.

“The deaths of Trish Hennessey and her five-year-old son Nash David shocked Prince Edward Islanders on a number of levels,’’ says Guardian managing editor Gary MacDougall.

“It is always tragic when a young mother and child die, but in this case it was doubly tragic when the manner of the deaths was revealed, and that a bitter family dispute likely contributed to the incident.

“The fact so many guardians of society were involved, such as the police, courts, government, families, yet an innocent young boy died is especially troubling — and scary,’’ said MacDougall. “It is important that P.E.I. as a society finds out what happened and takes steps to prevent such future tragedies.’’

Disbelief, sadness and anger punctuated conversations as details started to emerge of a mother and her son found dead in the back seat of a burning Jeep Wrangler on a quiet dirt road in St. Felix, near Tignish, at 1 a.m.

Autopsies determined both Hennessey and Nash died of smoke inhalation. But toxicology results also found both mother and son had ingested prescription drugs prior to their deaths.

The Guardian reported that Hennessey had lost custody of Nash in family court just hours before they were both found dead.

The sad, tragic event still waits conclusion.

While the RCMP, after an 11-week investigation, determined the deaths were the result of a murder-suicide, the province’s chief coroner told The Guardian earlier this month that his investigation is ongoing. Dr. Charles Trainor said he knows people have many questions about how this could have happened and whether anything could have been done to prevent it.

That information is still being gathered.

“This is a tragic event. We don’t want this to happen again in the future and anything that can be done in the future to prevent this sort of thing is what the coroner’s office is interested in,’’ said Dr. Trainor.

“But we need time to complete our investigation before we can go further with this.’’

Independent MLA Olive Crane has called on government to appoint a retired judge to review the case, noting this was done with the Rehtaeh Parsons case in Nova Scotia when questions and concerns emerged about that case that saw Parsons taken off life-support following a suicide attempt in April that her family says was prompted by months of bullying.

“The bottom that I am trying to get to for so many people is, how do we find out what went wrong, and how do we make sure it never happens again?’’ Crane said.

The murder-suicide was far from the only unsettling news to emerge in 2013 here at home.

Addiction to drugs, particularly prescription pills, was raised throughout the year as a problem that has reached epidemic proportions in Prince Edward Island.

A committee of MLAs spent months hearing from those most affected by prescription drug addiction in the province.

The Standing Committee on Health and Social Development delivered its report to the legislature in November identifying an “urgent need’’ to address gaps in access to help.

The provincial government appears to have grasped the severity of the problem, recently announcing plans to spend $1.2 million in new initiatives to deal with prescription drug addiction in the province and in appointing a specialist to come up with a long-term strategy to improve mental health and addictions services.

Last year, The Guardian selected Tory turmoil as the News Story of the Year. Plenty of upheaval carried over into 2013 for the PCs.

Hal Perry crossed the floor to join the governing Liberals. Former PC Leader Olive Crane was unceremoniously booted out of the Opposition caucus by Interim PC Leader Steven Myers for commenting publically on the news that Perry had defected to the Liberal caucus.

The Tory Opposition has been whittled down to a mere three MLAs as the NDP under Mike Redmond’s command is enjoying a high level of popularity and support never seen before in the province.

Other stories that caught the attention of Islanders was the blaze that razed the historic Stanhope Beach Resort and Conference Centre in April; the death of P.E.I.’s adopted son, beloved country and folk singer Stompin’ Tom Connors on March 6; cuts to Employment Insurance, and the implementation of HST in the province.

Organizations: News Story of Year, The Guardian, RCMP Standing Committee on Health NDP Employment Insurance

Geographic location: Prince Edward Island, Charlottetown, Tignish Nova Scotia

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Recent comments

  • Totally Disgusted
    December 31, 2013 - 21:46

    Whoever thought this was a front page story is sadly mistaken,it is done,people want to forget This ever happen and I am sure her family does not need the media to make them relive the worst day of their lives. Get on with other news and let the past be!

  • HuH
    December 31, 2013 - 00:51

    Gees Louise, Saturday come Sunday-it is all irrelevant !My intelligence say that all is for NOT. Now I may be 62 but we did not kill our kids. Killing be for fish and the like.

  • Sad girl
    December 30, 2013 - 19:54

    Everyone is so quick to judge Trish, The Guardian... Nash's Dad. None of these are where the problem lies. Stop trying to place blame. This article is suggesting that the system is flawed. There are not enough supports in the system for mental illness OR drug addiction. Instead of bitching and laying blame, why can't we be united in our efforts to create a first-of-its-kind system to combat drug addition and place better supports for mental illness.

    • Jeff
      December 31, 2013 - 15:37

      Sorry?? Of course everybody is quick to judge the mother... Haven't you read the story?? That being said, I agree that the system needs a major revamp from bottom to top.

    December 30, 2013 - 14:38

    I agree with reality in that he is a coward, because he called everybody else cowards' and then posted anonymously. If he is so brave he should be able to use his real name.

  • Shed some light
    December 30, 2013 - 14:09

    I agree with "Reality". A completely innocent child's life was selfishly taken away in this tragedy. I'm not unsympathetic to the feelings of family and friends and I can understand the views of the others commenting here but mental illness is all too often swept under the rug in PEI and unfortunately it takes horrible tragedies like this to shed some light and open up the eyes of Islanders.. No one can understand her reasoning behind this.. but what we can do is ensure this NEVER happens again! Many people were effected by this.. I know many of the first responders who thought they were only responding to another nuisance car fire and are still haunted by the sight they found in the back seat. Agree or not, this was one of the top news stories of the year. I find The Guardian can be inappropriate and inaccurate in their reporting now and then (like any small town paper).. and while I might not have chosen this specific story.. I don't disagree with this.

  • Are you for real
    December 30, 2013 - 12:01

    Are you for real people ,this person loved life and all that came with it , judging someone with out knowing any of the facts is typical of pei !!!!!

  • candrayo
    December 30, 2013 - 11:45

    As a Mother who had to place her child with her father full time because of MY mental illness, I hope we don't do what Islanders love to do best and that is to sweep this under the rug!!! Mental Illness is not OUR SHAME, it is on those who DID NOTHING FOR US WHEN WE WERE VULNERABLE ONCE!!! Then we grow up and live what we were taught and TRY to navigate society without being re-victimized time and time again in our quest to find happiness! SOCIETY MUST ACT!!!!

    • Sue
      December 30, 2013 - 12:45

      Candrayo - I applaud you for having the strength to see you were not strong enough to take care of your children and seek the help of their Father. You didn't take the cowards way out and hurt or murder your children. they are safe with their Father. I wish you luck in your recovery, You are a far better Mother, then you think. My prayer and thoughts are with you, even if a don't know you personally.

    • candrayo
      December 30, 2013 - 17:17

      @Sue….Words can not express how deeply your words touched me! Thank you from the bottom of my heart!

  • Piet Hein
    December 30, 2013 - 11:29

    For all you people attacking the Guardian please read the comment by Reality. It says it all.

  • iwonder
    December 30, 2013 - 11:20

    i wonder ... if it had been the father respnsible for Nash's death, then his own .... would those condemning this article being "news story of the year"? somehow, i think not. i think it's time for society, and the justice system in particular, to accept the fact that women are/can be just as vicious and violent as men. it's time to start dealing with family violence and not just violence against women.

  • Seriously?
    December 30, 2013 - 11:06

    The "news story of the year"? I'm sorry, but this is one of the most insensitive and cruel things I have ever seen. This is the personal and deeply painful experience of a family, not fodder for the gossip train. I would have no problem with the Guardian doing stories about mental health, the legal aspects of custody, even stories specific about parents harming their children---but you don't need to use the names and pictures and specific information about the real-life victims. The media has been publishing these kinds of stories for years (Columbine, for example) with no documented preventative results in terms of keeping it from happening again. In fact, often times, the publication of tragic events creates an increase in tragic events, not the opposite. You want to help stop this from happening again--look for the studies and the research and the evidence that has been documented and do a story on that. There is more than enough research out there to do a hundred stories. Leave the poor family to grieve in peace.

    • Jeff
      December 31, 2013 - 15:33

      This IS a story of mental health, legal aspects of custody, and parents harming...or worse... their children. The names and pictures are all part of it. It is NOT The Guardian's or any news organizations responsibility to ensure that there is a preventative action initiated. The story IS most certainly the biggest of the year. Looking through the number comments of the past coverage on this proves it. Maby this will finally be the "straw" that makes somebody investigate why the "SYSTEM" is in tatters. There were no sides taken, or any fingers pointed in either article written until the facts were given by the RCMP. The negative story all started with us... This was a perfect pick for story of the year. Unfortunately, it wasn't all fluffy bunnies and pink clouds.

  • News Story of the Year - Why?
    December 30, 2013 - 10:48

    Given many of the posted comments, I now better understand why the Guardian often forgoes investigative journalism. If so many readers don't understand the difference between examining an issue and "making headlines' then the paper best stick to weather, recipes and sporting results. For my part, no . . . I don't think this is the news story of the year. I never would have chosen it. However, I sure respect The Guardian for having made me re-think my position; I now see why why it's so important to ask Islanders to reflect on how this tragedy happened. Thanks.

      December 30, 2013 - 12:22

      So I guess if the Guardian and other papers don't publish these stories, then they never happened, right? Feel better now?

    • Right, wrong and somewhere in the Middle
      December 30, 2013 - 16:42

      The story behind the story is what's private and what's public. People like "Upwester" appears to hold the position that this story ought to be private. People like "Why?" feel there's merit in the story being public. I doubt there's a right or wrong to this debate, just weak or strong arguments. The position that wins me over, so far, is that publishing the story may bring understanding and prevent similar things from happening again.

  • Roger the Owl
    December 30, 2013 - 10:37

    This was a very tragic story, but I don't agree it should be the story of the year. The story of the year should have been the imposition of the hst, a broken election promise that affects everybody. My heart goes out to the family and friends of this terrible murder-suicide, but tugging at hearts' strings makes for a bad and tasteless journalistic choice when the wider effects of a news story should have been uppermost.

  • Kate
    December 30, 2013 - 10:10

    Its a story about a murderer and her victim on PEI. Of couse it's going to be big.

    • candrayo
      December 30, 2013 - 12:23

      This is a story about MENTAL ILLNESS and all that society is NOT doing to help people like me who are suffering/recovering/healing from it. Most especially this to me points out how badly SOCIETY is FAILING OUR CHILDREN!!!!

  • LCB
    December 30, 2013 - 09:54

    I was shocked to see this on the front page AGAIN !!!! We say rest in peace??????....... obviously NOT.!!!!!!!! Please put this story to rest for the sake of all involved and concentrate on todays news.I agree with the person who said this was rubbing salt into the wounds of this family who probably did just have the worst Christmas ever.Bringing this up yet again is in very poor taste. I hate living here sometimes because of this type of news when there is other more current news out there which needs to be followed rather than dredging up this pain.

  • Reality
    December 30, 2013 - 09:53

    I am upset, not at the Guardian, but at the supporters of the murderer. You can't just sweep this under the rug and forget about it. I am sure all murderers would like their story hidden and not reported but when a innocent child is murdered it is societies business to discuss and learn so it doesn't happen again. The only disrespect here is what you are showing this child and possibly future children by trying to hide the story. Shame, Shame. Like it or not we live in a democratic society and the people need to stand up and say this can't happen again, then you get politicians like Olive making comments that will hopefully lead to changes. Changes don't happen by themselves. Sweeping it under the rug to protect the "family and friends" of the murderer is gutless. Look at how brave Rehtaeh's family is standing up saying changes are needed and N.S. has made huge changes to their bullying laws. That is brave, the supporters of the murderer are cowards.

    • clearly you're right....
      December 30, 2013 - 11:00

      Because calling a family's personal tragedy the "story of the year" will clearly help ensure this doesn't happen again. Right. And the difference with Rehtaeh's story is that they themselves are making it public, making their own choices about publicizing their story. That's a very different situation.

    • Marie
      December 30, 2013 - 21:29

      You're absolutely right, Reality! Things need to change -it's such a shame that it took a tragedy like this for people to get their blinders off! The murder of little Nash is something I will never forget

  • Can't believe the comments
    December 30, 2013 - 09:30

    Wow! I am shocked by the negative comments. I would be even more shocked if the story of a mother taking her own life and that of her son's did not make the top news story of the year. I cannot think of a story that pulled at our heart strings more, that we were more interested in, and that stirred so many emotions because it hit a deep part in all of us (our maternal/paternal instinct to protect children). Top news stories are ones that get the most attention because they are so unusual and tragic. It makes sense that this story is the top one.

  • Captain Canuck
    December 30, 2013 - 09:13

    So do these comments mean everyone believes it was not a big news story? Please tell The Guardian which story was the big story of the year. Hey, The Guardian, did you know that you guys know nothing about journalism? These other commenters will have your jobs. Watch out!

  • This was a big news story
    December 30, 2013 - 09:03

    Yes, it is very tragic for all involved but, like it or not, this was a big news story in 2013 for many reasons. If we went by the logic of the posters here who are upset for the family, our media should no longer cover any negative story that involves a human being because of the toll it takes on the person's family. It is a great sentiment but, in reality, what would be left to report on? Everybody who makes the news has a family who loves them. The media would no longer report on criminal activity (people who commit crimes have devastated families). They couldn't report on the downfall of politicians because they have families too. They couldn't report on any tragedies because they always involve families. I think you get my point. This was a very, very sad story but it is newsworthy and deserves to be one of the top stories. We should all be very concerned about how this little boy died, especially when so many people were involved who were supposed to protect him. If that is not newsworthy, I don't know what is. I care enough about that little boy to want to make sure this doesn't happen to another child. That he didn't die in vain.

    • Mel
      December 30, 2013 - 09:58

      Well said "This was a big news story". It is news and should be reported. Olive Crane is right in calling for the government to appoint a judge to review this case. Unless we want things like this to continue we better find out what happened in this case.

  • Danny Edmonds
    December 30, 2013 - 08:39

    Classless. Pathetic. Are the words describing your cheap attempt for year end headlines.

    December 30, 2013 - 08:18

    Near time you guys put tragedy to rest. How would you feel if it was your family? Think about it. These families have suffered enough, and ae still suffering,without making the headlines again. The Guardian should hide their heads!!!!

  • Susie
    December 30, 2013 - 08:11

    Seriously.....This is so disrespectful to this family. Pick another news story , not this tragic event that devastated so many lives ..

  • Karen
    December 30, 2013 - 07:34

    I cannot believe after all the family have been through with this terrible tragedy , the Guardian would choose to publish this all over the Front page again . Sad .

  • a bit amazed
    December 30, 2013 - 06:50

    with all the ink reporters and editors from the Guardian spilled on the Duffy story it is surprising that it is not even mentioned, good, really, to see the editorial board move on however.

  • Islander
    December 30, 2013 - 06:48

    I'm not usually very sensitive to these types of things....but news story of the year? I'm sure it was wonderful for the family to see this so soon after what must have been their worst Christmas ever.

    • Heart Still Aching
      December 31, 2013 - 07:17

      Tell me any single person on this small island forgot about the child who was murdered by his mother in 2013? The mother obviously thought this out, drugging herself and her son, and then setting a fire. Mental Illness played a role, so did selfishness. She could have chosen to get help, become stable and fight to earn custody back. Her friends and family do hold some responsibility, she should never have been left alone to take him. The judge in this case should have removed custody IMMEDIATELY and Nash would may still be here. Although I am sure her first visit alone would have given her opportunity too. Mental health and addictions destroy lives. They destroy families. Enablers are not doing anyone any favors. They are making the monsters more powerful. The song that was sung at her funeral is a clear indication that her friends and family make poor choices too. A song where a woman burns her husband and herself when she felt there was no way out of an abusive situation. Note, she sent their child out of the house to protect them. That is what Mom's do. Protect. The father may not have been father of the year. Obviously he made some drastic changes . How often do you see father's gain full custody? Mental Illness? Addictions? Selfishness? Yes, they are all factors here. A system that failed? Yes, in a lot of way. However, I strongly feel she failed herself, her child, and she did so with a lot of support from those around her.

    • Underwhelmed
      December 31, 2013 - 11:05

      Completely agree Islander. Shame on the Guardian. Seriously .. Again; My sincere condolences to the family, friends and loved ones left to mourn. and Let me apologize for the ignorance of the guardian. As a reader it is our role to let them know what we want to read. They listen to our$$$'s like any other business. I've bought my last rag on PEI.