POLITICS

Mother recounts to commission last days of soldier son who committed suicide

04/26/2012 04:05 EDT | Updated 06/25/2012 05:12 EDT
OTTAWA - When she returned home from running errands on March 15, 2008, Sheila Fynes saw the military had called.

In that moment, she told a hearing Thursday, she knew her son Cpl. Stuart Langridge was dead.

And with that, the Fynes family was thrown from the hell of dealing with a son struggling to cope with his experiences at war and into the pain of dealing with a military machine they came to believe was bent on destroying the truth.

How the Canadian Forces handled Langridge's life and death is the subject of a public hearing launched by the Military Police Complaints Commission earlier this year, after his family raised concerns about the military's investigation.

They have accused them of being more determined to protect the military chain of command than understand what happened to their son.

His mother's testimony at the hearing comes after weeks of physicians and soldiers detailing how and what they knew and did in the days before and after Langridge's suicide at the Edmonton barracks.

Fynes knows her son's story so well that she rattled off dates, times, doctors names and details of conversations without needing to glance at any of the thousands of pages of evidence submitted as part of the hearing.

And in a windowless room in downtown Ottawa painted in the drab greens and browns of the military, she stoically recounted the final months of her son's life.

Langridge, who was 28 when he died, was a happy-go-lucky boy who'd always wanted to be a soldier, his mother said.

He was proud of his work with the troops and was excited to deploy overseas, first to Bosnia and then Afghanistan.

But upon his return from his second deployment, he withdrew and eventually sunk into a cycle of drug and alcohol abuse that saw him bounce in and out of hospitals and rehabilitation facilities and attempt to kill himself multiple times.

He had been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder, Fynes said.

After he left one rehab facility, Fynes met him at the airport desperate to convince him to stay in for treatment.

But he wanted to go back to being a soldier. So he returned to Edmonton, gave up the townhouse he shared with his common-law wife and moved back on the barracks.

Two days before he died, an addictions counsellor told Fynes not to worry because her son was under constant supervision.

Military personnel who have testified at the hearing have said they did everything they could to look out for the troubled young man and he received the same, if not better, standard of care as a civilian.

On March 14, 2008, Langridge phoned his mother's home in Victoria.

Fynes was pleased, she said, because he'd remembered her birthday.

It meant he was thinking outside his world and considering other people, she said.

"But the flip side was I never ever heard him sound as depressed as he was that day," Fynes said.

"It was horrible."

She told him that his ex-girlfriend had retained a lawyer in order to sort through their relationship.

Langridge hadn't known, Fynes said.

"This is the struggle that I have on my part on what Stuart did next because I told him that," she said, her voice cracking.

The next day, Langridge hanged himself.

"Sometimes it keeps me awake that maybe that was one more little factor that led to him making the decision he did," Fynes whispered.

The weeks and months later were one frustration after another, she said.

Four versions of his death certificate were riddled with errors and she and her husband were told they weren't his next-of-kin, only to find out months later they were.

They had been shut out of planning his funeral as a result of the mix-up.

Meanwhile, belongings that were placed into storage when Langridge had moved out of his townhouse took over a year to be returned to the family, and prized possessions like a leather chair and samurai sword were first reported as missing, only to suddenly reappear when the family threatened to call the police.

His suicide note also wasn't handed over for 14 months.

The military has said it changed the procedures around handling soldier suicides since Langridge's death, including the requirement that any suicide note and personal effects must be handed over as soon as possible.

They include a soldiers' medals and his uniform, which Fynes kept on the table next to her throughout her testimony.

Her son would have been humiliated by everything that happened after he died, she said.

"I hurt for Stuart that there is all this stuff swirling around his death," she said.

Fynes' testimony is set to continue May 7.