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Mother-son tragedy news story of year 2013


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Trish Hennessey with her son, Nash David, 4, during happier times in this Facebook posting released by the family to funeral homes. Hennessey and her son were both found dead in a badly burned Jeep in St. Felix during the early morning hours Friday. The fire has been deemed suspicious.

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.

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