By Eoin EnglishIrish Examiner Reporter
Although raised in a loving home and despite reassurance from his parents that he was loved, adopted Jonathan O’Driscoll was a tortured soul in the months before he killed his twin brothers and took his own life.
A road traffic accident, relationship breakups, the suicide of a close cousin, his quest for information about his birth family, and concerns over a pending court appearance linked to a minor road traffic offence all combined to send him spiralling into depression.
Despite engagement with the mental health services and an improvement in his health in the weeks before last September’s tragic murder-suicide, Jonathan stopped taking his medication just days before he stabbed his twin brothers to death, and took his own life.
The triple inquest was told yesterday that the “disturbing” contents of four letters he left reflected a mind which was disturbed.
Coroner Dr Michael Kennedy told Jonathan’s devastated parents, Helen and Thomas Sr: “The notes you found were not written by the Jonathan you knew. He was suffering from a severe psychotic illness.”
The harrowing details of the deaths of her twin sons Patrick and Thomas, 9, and their older brother Jonathan, 21, emerged yesterday at the inquest into the events that unfolded in Charleville, Co Cork, on September 4 last.
Clutching a photograph of the three boys, Helen and Thomas Sr sat through almost three hours of heartbreaking evidence at Mallow Courthouse.
The inquest was told that they fostered Jonathan when he was just three days old, and that he grew up in a loving, caring home as a happy, carefree child, interested in football, hurling, and boxing. “I gave Jonathan the best life I could,” Helen said in a statement.
Following the birth of the twins, Jonathan was teased in school that his parents would no longer want him.
His parents, who went on to formally adopt him when he was 15, reassured him that he was loved, and they received apologies from the students involved in the teasing.
Helen described him as their pet, and said he doted on the twins, buying them sweets and lemonade, and spending almost €45 of his own money on new hurleys for them the weekend before they were killed.
But the inquest was told that when Jonathan was 17, he became upset after a six-month relationship ended. This was compounded by the death by suicide in 2011 of a close cousin, whose funeral he couldn’t attend.
Around this time, he began researching his birth family but his involvement in a low-impact road traffic accident in November 2012 sent him spiralling further into depression.
GP Dr Thomas Molloy, said Jonathan complained afterwards of pains and aches, and was referred to various specialists who performed various CT and MRI scans and found nothing physically wrong with him.
In April 2013, Helen told Dr Molloy that her son had become angry and aggressive and was spending most of his days at home brooding.
She said she had secured a barring order against him after he pushed her against a wall — an order which was rescinded 10 days later. “I never saw violence in him before that. I never thought he’d harm himself or any of his family. He was my pet,” Helen said.
Jonathan, who became increasingly obsessed with tracing his birth family, felt his parents were hiding information from him about his birth family. They were not.
Tragically, Helen received a letter from a State agency, addressed to Jonathan, just four days after his death saying the adoption file was being opened.
The inquest was told that Jonathan complained of disturbed sleep and hallucinations, became increasingly religious, would post religious pictures to his Facebook page, and was attending Mass twice a week.
For a time, he used his birth name, Kevin, and his birth father’s surname on his Facebook page and on his car registration documents.
Dr Molloy, who had prescribed anti-depressants, referred Jonathan in April 2013 to the North Cork Mental Health Services, but he failed to engage with its home-based crisis team, failed to attend a July appointment, and continued intermittent visits to his GP’s practice.
However, a locum GP was so concerned about Jonathan’s mental health during a visit in February 2014 that he referred him for an urgent psychiatric assessment.
Jonathan complained of paranoia, he claimed his home was bugged, and he said he was avoiding certain chippers in case his food was poisoned.
During a series of visits to the mental health services, it was decided that Jonathan did not require admission and he was prescribed anti-psychotic drugs in April 2014, and was referred by a GP again in May for another urgent psychiatric assessment.
Consultant psychiatrist Dr Bobby Burns met Jonathan in July 2014 and said he felt his patient was displaying signs of early onset schizophrenia or psychosis. He prescribed a new drug, with the dose due to increase incrementally over several months, and Jonathan’s mental health improved over the coming months.
But at yesterday’s inquest, it was confirmed that Jonathan had stopped taking his medication in the days before the murder-suicide.
On September 4, he collected the twins early from their after-school care service at a local creche, with plans to take them to Doneraile Park, while their parents were in Waterford collecting a miniature barrel top caravan for the twins.
Helen said she spoke by phone to Jonathan and Patrick at around 4.30pm and that everything seemed fine.
Within minutes, Jonathan would attack and kill the twins in their bedrooms as they were changing out of their school clothes, stabbing each more than 40 times.
He fled the scene in his car and was found dead on the banks of the River Awbeg in Buttevant, 15km away, some time later.
Gardaí and emergency services were confronted with a horrific scene at the family home — one of the first gardaí to inspect the scene has been unable to return to work since.
Detective Superintendent Sean Healy, the lead investigator in the case, said gardaí considered it inappropriate for family members to see the twins at the scene.
He said blood on Jonathan’s footwear matched Patrick’s blood, and that a footprint in the bloodstained hallway of the family home was made by Jonathan’s footwear.
Although two knives were found in the river below where Jonathan’s body was found, they yielded no usable forensic evidence.
Garda analysis of his computer and phone found search engine results for ‘murder in Charleville’, ‘Irish law on stabbing with a knife’, and searches on the science of a certain method of suicide.
A file on the case was forwarded to the DPP who directed no prosecution.
After returning open verdicts in relation to the twins’ deaths, and a verdict that Jonathan took his own life, the jury said Jonathan’s parents, and the various medical professions, did everything in their power to help him.
Coroner Dr Kennedy said words could not describe the horror which faced the O’Driscoll family.
“My only wish for you is to remember the boys in happier days,” he said.
In a powerful statement outside the court afterwards, Helen urged people struggling with depression or other mental health difficulties to seek help.
And she urged health professionals to be more open to those who engage with their services.
“At the end of the day, it’s your child or my child that walks through the door looking for help,” she said.
“And I know sometimes they may not show it, as has been seen here today with my young fella.” But people presenting at the mental health services are looking for help, even if they don’t always show it, she said.
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