Brandon Skeffington: Mother urges mental health awareness
Boy (9) stabbed to death by older brother who had psychiatric illness, inquest told
In July 2014, the body of nine-year-old Brandon Skeffington (above) was found with stab wounds at his home in Tourlestrane, Co Sligo. His older brother, Shane Michael (20), was later found dead in a shed outside the house.
The mother of a man who killed his younger brother before taking his own life has said there should be greater awareness around mental health issues.
His older brother, Shane Michael (20), was later found dead in a shed outside the house.
Revisiting the tragedy and what came before, the boys’ mother Carmel said more should be done to understand the nature and potential danger of psychiatric illness.
Two months before the deaths, Shane Michael had been admitted to hospital for evaluation and treatment for a previous psychotic episode after he physically assaulted his father.
Refused to take medication
The inquest on Monday into the brothers’ deaths heard Shane Michael had been released from care after six days but had refused to take his medication and had continued not to upon his return home.
“People need to be educated more. Maybe if we had known the dangers of a psychotic illness or a psychotic episode, that it could happen again...we didn’t really know,” Ms Skeffington told the Today with Sean O’Rourke programme on RTÉ Radio 1.
“I guess we were out of our depth. We didn’t understand what really was wrong.”
Ms Skeffington described the evening she and her husband Shane arrived home from a shopping trip to find their sons’ bodies.
“As I got up near the top of the stairs I seen that Brandon was lying on the ground on his back. At first I thought he was messing because he was a right little joker. But when I got closer I realised that something was badly wrong.”
They dialled 999 and were talked through CPR before paramedics arrived about half an hour later. Brandon had been stabbed several times.
“I didn’t see that when I first found Brandon,” his mother said. “I just noticed that his face was a funny colour and his lips were blue. And I felt his forehead and he was icy cold.”
Shane Michael’s body was found about 45 minutes later in the shed. This week’s inquest returned a verdict of unlawful killing in the case of Brandon and of suicide as a result of “unsound mind” in the case of his older brother.
Ms Skeffington explained how they had sought help for Shane Michael after he had uncharacteristically assaulted his father in May that year. He had not long beforehand stopped smoking cannabis and his behaviour had been strange.
He was subsequently seen by a doctor and was brought to St Columbas in Sligo - a hospital for people with psychiatric illness.
However, when he was there he had refused medication and appeared distressed.
His family was later told he had suffered a psychotic episode and was on medication for paranoia.
“We didn’t know what a psychotic episode was and we assumed he was better when he was being let home. We weren’t expecting him to be let home,” said Ms Skeffington.
“He was meant to take tablets. But I raised the question down there about the tablets: how was he going to take them when he refused medication down there and he had to be restrained?”
When he returned home he neglected his medication and did not attend several follow-up appointments, although he seemed to be doing well.
“He was very quiet. He’d spend time lying down cuddling Brandon or [his other brother] Callum watching cartoons and that with them,” she said.
“He wasn’t as outgoing as he had been. He spent a lot of time on his own.”
The boys are remembered through conversation in the family home, there are photographs of them around the house and a snow globe for Christmas with their pictures inside, she said.
On reflection, Ms Skeffington said more could be done to educate people about the reality and potential threat of psychiatric illness.
Family solicitor Ciaran Tansey echoed this point, saying while medical staff did their best, there should be a better system in place for follow-up care by doctors.
“There really should be systems in there to ensure that events such as these, despite the best intentions of individual people, just can’t be allowed to happen.”