While a frantic search was going on for missing six-year-old Lee Allan Bonneau, another boy went to his buddies with a chilling story about witnessing a murder.
The 10-year-old seemed scared, but excited, an inquest into Bonneau’s death heard Thursday. The boy, who can only be identified as L.T., told friends a “big guy” had hit a little boy three times with a stick, pushed him down an embankment, then hit him with a rock.
Then his story changed – and L.T. admitted he had killed Bonneau.
“Don’t tell on me,” he told his friends. He was afraid of going to jail, he said.
When L.T. talked to RCMP the next day, he again blamed “a big person” for the crime and even provided a name.
L.T. told police he’d watched the man and asked him what he was doing.
“I’m just killing a little boy,” L.T. said, purportedly quoting the man.
But RCMP Cpl. Donna Zawislak, the primary investigator, is convinced there was no “big guy” – just two troubled boys. An inquest into the death of six-year-old Lee Allan Bonneau is expected to shift focus today from probing why he came into the care of the Ministry of…
“I believe L.T. was responsible for the death of Lee Bonneau,” she testified.
Less than three months after the Ministry of Social Services placed him in its care and protection, the six-year-old was found critically injured after going with his foster mom to a bingo on the Kahkewistahaw First Nation the evening of Aug. 21, 2013.
Foster mother Mary Ramstead saw him step outside the hall to pet a dog around 8 p.m. and initiated a search minutes later when he didn’t return, she said. The critically injured boy was found by searchers some 2 1/2 hours later in a secluded area of field, gravel and tall weeds, about a kilometre from the hall.
Bonneau died minutes after midnight despite repeated resuscitation efforts.
Forensic pathologist Dr. Shaun Ladham said Bonneau died from “blunt force trauma,” mostly to the left side of his head. He had suffered multiple skull fractures – one on top of another – like repeatedly smashing a window, the doctor explained. Such fracturing of the skull “does not happen easily,” Ladham said. “We’re looking at considerable force.”
While L.T. was too young to go to jail – as he feared – or even be charged, Zawislak said she approached the homicide investigation as she had some 40 to 50 others before in her 14-year career. But this was a first, given the killer’s age.
Dressed in baggy, adult-sized white coveralls because his clothes had been seized as evidence, L.T. lay asleep, resting his head on his mom, when Zawislak went into the interview room to let them know Bonneau was dead. L.T.’s mother immediately became distraught. “L.T. did not react,” Zawislak recalled, adding the boy began to comfort his mother.
Deemed a child at risk and in need of protection, he was placed in the care of the Yorkton Tribal Council Child and Family Services and sent off to bed.
In a “forensic child interview” – geared to his age – the next day, L.T. couldn’t sit still for more than a minute at a time, making it tough to get his story, Zawislak said. He insisted he had witnessed a murder not committed it, and blamed the blood on his shoes and clothes from a nosebleed. He did admit playing with Bonneau, whom he described as “crazy in the head.”
The inquest heard that at that point in time, L.T. was awaiting a psychological assessment because he’d been hearing voices.
He was also previously known to the RCMP for incidents ranging from spray-paint mischief to a break-in that culminated in the killing of a pregnant dog and her pups, which had been removed from the adult dog’s body, Zawislak said.
She said the man that L.T. blamed for Bonneau’s killing was investigated – and ruled out as a culprit.
The mounting forensic evidence did, however, point to L.T. – with traces of Bonneau’s blood and DNA found on L.T.’s clothes and shoes. A stick, broken in three pieces that fit together, that had been found by Bonneau’s feet also had the boy’s blood on it, as did a rock.
As testimony continued with evidence of possible bite marks on the boy’s body – at least one of which on his left arm was potentially linked by a dental expert to L.T. – Bonneau’s mother Stacey Merk broke down crying. She was comforted by Children’s Advocate Bob Pringle, who produced a special report on the case last year.
The Ministry of Social Services also did its own internal child death review. Quality assurance manager Arlene Bisskey said good decisions were made about Bonneau’s care, but policies for case work weren’t always met, so three recommendations were made and acted on to fix those issues.
“The service delivery was not perfect,” said Bisskey, adding the internal review found the problem was more an issue of paperwork and had no impact on Bonneau’s death.