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‘He should have been watched all the time,’ close friend of soldier testifies

By Chris Cobb, The Ottawa CitizenJune 13, 2012

http://www.ottawacitizen.com/story_print.html?id=6778411&sponsor=


A federal inquiry into the suicide of Afghan war veteran Cpl. Stuart Langridge
Photograph by: Courtesy, Langridge Family

OTTAWA — The army should have done more to help prevent the suicide of troubled Afghan veteran Stuart Langridge, one of his closest friends told a military inquiry Wednesday.

“He should have been watched all the time,” said an emotional Jon Rohmer, who served in Afghanistan with Langridge — in different units — until early 2005.

Rohmer, medically released from the army with Afghanistan-related injuries, also worked with Langridge during the last two weeks of his life doing relatively menial work.

“Stu was a soldier and he wanted to be at the pointy end,” said Rohmer, adding that Langridge disliked the cleaning and similar tasks he was ordered to do after returning to CFB Edmonton from a month of psychiatric treatment.

Other than reporting in after work every two hours, Langridge was free to come and go as he wished.

He hanged himself in his room at the base in March 2008.

The Military Police Complaints Commission inquiry was launched after allegations by Langridge’s parents, Shaun and Sheila Fynes, that military police officers who investigated their son’s suicide were biased in favour of the military.

Meanwhile, in the House of Commons, Defence Minister Peter MacKay faced another round of criticism from Opposition defence critic Jack Harris who accused him of a “litany of failure” in the Langridge case.

Harris also blasted MacKay for censoring and blocking the release of documents related to the case. MacKay accused Harris of “politicizing a very tragic case.”

Langridge’s parents claim Stuart’s addictions were related to trauma he suffered during his tour of Afghanistan where served in the mountains with a reconnaissance unit.

Military officers have testified that Langridge’s root problem was his addictions.

At Wednesday’s hearing, Rohmer and another close friend, Master Cpl. Jason Hillier, both testified that their late army buddy was a heavy drinker, a long-time marijuana smoker and latterly a cocaine user.

Other than fretting about the plight of Afghan children, neither Hillier nor Rohmer recalled Langridge talking about his war experience and didn’t know whether he had suffered trauma.

“I didn’t experience what the surveillance troops went through,” Rohmer said.

Hillier said it wouldn’t have been unusual for Langridge to keep that to himself.

“Guys, especially army guys, don’t talk too much,” he said.

Both friends gave their versions of fights in 2007 with Langridge — the first between Rohmer and Langridge and the second between the late soldier and Hillier.

Rohmer, suffering from a chronic back injury, was angered by remarks Langridge made about his girlfriend and during a scrap between the two, Hillier arrived to end the altercation.

Hillier said Langridge took a swing at him and missed but he (Hillier) blackened and bloodied Langridge’s eye.

“Jonny broke his back in Afghanistan,” said Hillier. “He shouldn’t have been tossed about like that.”

Later that evening, after a message from Langridge’s worried girlfriend, the two men set out to find Langridge, who had driven away in his Jeep and disappeared.

“We took a shot and went to a place where they do off-road driving,” said Rohmer.

The pair found Langridge parked in his Jeep.

“He was drinking beer and Crown Royal,” Rohmer said. “He had a hose from the exhaust going through a back window. I pulled it out.”

Hillier sat with Langridge, eventually persuading him to go to hospital.

“We talked and cried and finished three beers,” he said. “Stu joked after that I had blackened his eye and saved his life all in the same day.”

Langridge later apologized to his friends, but gave them no explanation as to why he had attempted suicide.

Rohmer said Langridge’s comments about his girlfriend cooled their friendship and it wasn’t until about nine months later — about two weeks before the suicide — that the two rekindled their relationship while working together.

The day before his death, Langridge was happy, excited and joking about the prospect of going for addiction treatment in Guelph.

His death “was a big shock,” Rohmer said.

Both men said there were awkward moments at the funeral because Langridge’s mother Sheila believed Hillier had contributed to their son’s sickness and did not want him there.

“He had drug problems before I met him,” Hillier said, “so obviously I don’t think I’m to blame.”

The inquiry, which has heard numerous complaints about censored documents from commission lawyers and Fynes family lawyer Michel Drapeau, continues next week.

For a second day in the Commons, NDP critic Harris accused the Conservative government of prolonging the Fynes’ “agony and withholding documents.”

“Is (MacKay) afraid of more facts coming to light?” Harris asked.

“The family was not told about the existence of his suicide note for 14 months,” said Harris. “Cpl. Langridge put himself in to psychiatric care but was not allowed to remain there even when he said he was considering suicide. He was put onto menial cleanup duty when he should have been on suicide watch.”

MacKay said the government is spending $3-million on the inquiry to ensure its fairness.

“The Military Police Complaints Commission has received nothing but co-operation and compensation from this government with respect to this matter to get to the bottom of what really is a tragedy,” he said.

MacKay accused Harris of giving false information about the withholding of documents and said Supreme Court rulings on solicitor-client confidentiality prevents him from releasing certain papers to the inquiry.

ccobb@ottawacitizen.comTwitter.com/chrisicobb
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