POLITICS

Soldier's ex-girlfriend gives chilling testimony in suicide hearing

05/10/2012 04:00 EDT | Updated 07/09/2012 05:12 EDT
OTTAWA - A young soldier believed by his family to be under constant military supervision managed to sneak out to meet his longtime girlfriend in the days before he committed suicide, a hearing was told Thursday.

But despite that, his former girlfriend says she believed the military wanted to help Cpl. Stuart Langridge.

"I feel that there were options there for him, possibly sometimes not in the most perfect moments," Rebecca Starr said Thursday.

"It's hard to walk back on to the base when you are already embarrassed about something to go get help. But I believe that if he had accepted the assistance when it was given, he would have had the opportunity."

How the Forces handled the life and death of the Afghan vet is the subject of the Military Police Complaints Commission hearing.

The 28-year-old soldier struggled with drug and alcohol addiction, and possibly post traumatic stress disorder, in at least the last two years of his life. He hanged himself in the Edmonton barracks in March 2008 and his parents complained to the commission about how his file was handled.

They allege the investigations into his death were biased and focused on absolving the Forces of responsibility.

Starr painted a chilling portrait Thursday of the young man's final months.

His mood was volatile, she said, alternating between wanting to be the best soldier he could be and wanting to leave the military altogether. He cycled in and out of rehabilitation facilities and hospitals, and attempted suicide several times.

The day he died, he was back living at the military base after just being released from hospital.

Though Langridge had been afraid to leave the hospital, the military wanted him back on the base and under supervision to prove that he was committed to getting clean, Starr said. He agreed to the conditions placed on him because he wanted to get help, she added.

Starr believed he'd been given permission to go see her but later learned that wasn't the case, she testified.

She was in touch with his parents at the time but their relationship soured after Langridge's death, she told the hearing.

Starr was initially designated next of kin, giving her control over the funeral arrangements. Langridge's mother, Sheila Fynes, has testified she felt like a second-class citizen and was given little decision-making power over the funeral.

Later, other documents would be found naming the Fynes as next of kin.

Starr testified she was encouraged by her family to include the Fynes in as much as possible and she did. She said her family advised her: "Even though it hurt, I should remember that Sheila was his mom and he was going to be her son forever."

Fynes has testified that when she arrived at the funeral, there was nowhere for her to sit but Starr said they all sat together in the front row, as per military custom. At the burial service later, Starr said the Fynes wouldn't even look at her.

She broke down sobbing as she recounted how the family all had roses to toss in Langridge's grave, but she had nothing.

"It was the worst day of my life."

During Starr's testimony, Langridge's parents sat stoically in the same seats they've occupied since the hearing began.

Starr detailed the soldier's descent into drug and alcohol addiction, saying he never spoke much about his time in Afghanistan, but would sometimes grow quiet and tell her he was thinking about something that had happened there.

The month before he died, he checked himself back into hospital only a day after he'd checked out.

On that occasion, Starr returned to the house the two shared only to discover Langridge had torn it apart.Pills and empty beer bottles were strewn everywhere, a bathtub was half filled and surrounded by knives and, in the basement, was a set of nooses.

That was February 2008 and by then Langridge had attempted suicide at least twice.

Starr cleaned up the house as best she could.

"It's kind of a strange thing when you've gone through so many suicide attempts," she said.

The day he hanged himself in the barracks was the day before Starr's birthday.

She had been preparing to go out for the night with friends, confident that her boyfriend was being taken care of at the base after recently emerging from rehab.

"They told me that he would be looked after and I wasn't to worry," Starr told the hearing during an emotional morning of testimony.

When she picked up the telephone on March 15, 2008, one of his good friends was on the other end of the line, and she invited him out that night. But when he said, "oh, you don't know," she realized what had happened.

It took six or seven hours, she said, before she could get the military to tell her what everyone on the base already knew.

"They kept saying they would call me back," she said, her eyes filled with tears.

In the military's eyes, Starr and Langridge were considered common-law spouses, having signed a declaration to that effect so she could be part of his rehabilitation treatment. But that relationship was later called into question because they hadn't been living together long enough to qualify for that designation under Alberta law.

While the hearing has been told that Starr and Langridge had split up before he died, she said they were still a couple.

"There was never a time when we weren't planning on spending the rest of our lives together."

Their final conversation was up and down, including "sappy" stuff and a fight over money, she said. But as he hung up he told her he loved her and he would see her in a few days.

"He sounded ok," she said.