Shanna Halleran spent the last two days of her life awake in a St. John’s hospital bed, critically injured, but able to answer questions from police about how she got there, her family says – if only the police had shown up.
Halleran died on August 17, 2019 without ever being questioned by police, her family says.
It has left a huge void for the people who loved her and left traces of capturing the person responsible for her death.
“I’m extremely angry about it,” said Stacey Halleran, Shanna’s younger sister.
“And it’s on both: the people involved and the police. It feels completely ignored and pushed aside, that’s how it feels.”
The Royal Newfoundland Constabulary (RNC) says her death is “suspicious” and that it involved a vehicle. The force refuses to answer questions about her handling of the case or about the status of the investigation into her death.
The medical examiner has determined that the 36-year-old’s manner of death is not decisive.
But Halleran’s family is convinced that what happened was not accidental.
Misdiagnosis led to substance abuse
To understand why Shanna Halleran was on an isolated section of Minerals Road in Conception Bay South on August 15, 2019, her family says you need to know about her life in the months and years leading up to her death.
Barb Houlihan says her firstborn baby was friendly, fun and athletic. Halleran played basketball and baseball and was involved in cheerleading throughout the school.
But when she was in her teens, Houlihan said, Halleran was misdiagnosed with social anxiety.
There was a time when Halleran asked her mother to bring her to the hospital, Houlihan said, because she thought she was going crazy.
Halleran got Paxil against social anxiety, but as the anxiety got worse, Ativan was added to the mix. When she could not sleep, her doctor suggested sleeping pills, Houlihan said.
Abuse of these drugs and an untreated mental illness culminated in a complete opioid addiction.
Then, a year before her death and on her birthday, Halleran’s father died. It made her stop – further in addiction and sex work to pay for that addiction.
“When she lost him, she felt completely alone, and then she started disappearing for a few days,” her sister, Stacey, said.
The day it happened
The day Halleran was critically injured, the family says it has been told by the RNC that she was taking drugs in a truck with two other women and a man.
The family says it was informed by police about what they heard from witnesses: Halleran started getting sick on the drive out of Minerals Road, so they stopped the truck on the side of the road.
“[The police said] Shanna got out, was hit by a car, and the car drove off. And it was a van, “said Stacey Halleran.
Asked if she believes it has happened, she is quick to deny it.
“No not at all.”
CBC News failed to contact two of the people in the vehicle that day. According to the family, they are not considered suspects in the case. CBC News has also not been able to verify the identity of the third person.
The family’s search for the truth in Halleran’s death has been dizzying and frustrating, her sister said.
What is known for sure is that paramedics carried Shanna Halleran on a stretcher, with her pelvis crushed, from Minerals Road around noon. 13 that day.
‘It hurts so much to be treated that way’
Houlihan, her daughter’s relative, says she never received a call from the hospital or police, even though Halleran was wearing her purse and ID when she was admitted. (Eastern Health, the region’s health authority, said it does not comment on specific cases, but relies on patient information.)
Houlihan learned that something bad had happened when her phone rang at 6 in the morning of August 16, the day after the injury occurred. It was her daughter’s girlfriend with a shocking message: “Check the hospitals, Shanna has been hit by a vehicle.”
“When I went over, I did not know what to expect. She seemed fine in bed. They locked me in to see her,” Houlihan said.
“The nurse told me she had trauma to her stomach, but I had no idea what that meant or to what extent.”
Not knowing how serious her daughter’s injuries were, Houlihan figured she would have plenty of time to ask what happened.
But Halleran never got better.
A press release from the RNC around the time of Halleran’s death indicates that officers responded to the incident on Minerals Road, but it is not clear what happened next.
Stacey Halleran said she called police and was told by an officer that he could not find a report of an accident in the system.
“I was frustrated at the time because I was such that you can not tell me anything, the hospital can not tell me anything and my sister is in the hospital with serious injuries – and no one even bothered to call us to tell us that she was there. “said Stacey Halleran.
After explaining to the officer that her sister was a drug addict, she said she received a shocking response.
“He said, ‘I understand that. I think you should ask your drug-addicted sister what happened,'” Stacey Halleran said. “And I was just surprised and did not know how to react and ended the conversation there.”
After CBC’s interview with Stacey Halleran, the family said an RNC officer handling the case called her to apologize for the comment.
Stacey Halleran said she was given the opportunity to file a complaint; she now plans to do so.
“I do not know if they are so tired of having to deal with all these things on a daily basis,” she said. “We understand, we’ve been dealing with Shanna all her life, we understand how frustrating drug abuse is, and how hard it’s, and how hard it’s for the families … but it’s so hurtful to be treated that way. “
Police do not answer questions
CBC News sent the RNC a detailed list of issues, including the time it took for police to become actively involved and the force’s policy of hit-and-run investigations.
The RNC would not answer these questions and instead made a statement.
“The investigation into the events surrounding Shanna Halleran’s death remains open,” says Const. James Cadigan said in an email statement.
“We continue to ask anyone with information that may assist the investigation to contact RNC or Crime Stoppers.”
The force also did not comment on whether an officer has since apologized to the family for the “drug addict” comment two years ago.
The RNC sent a follow-up statement when asked for more information, saying it is launching an investigation after finding out about a possible criminal act.
The family believes that death is not an accident
Neither Houlihan nor her surviving daughter believe Shanna Halleran’s death was an accident.
The roads were clear and dry the day she was injured. It was the middle of the day.
And the family says Halleran would have told them if it was an accident. Instead, they say she seemed scared to talk about it.
The family believes that people know what happened, but are afraid to come forward.
“We just want to know what happened and if we could find out who did it, that would be a bonus,” Stacey Halleran said.
The family believes that the RNC reacted slowly to the incident due to Shanna Halleran’s lifestyle, and that the officers dismissed it as a drug case.
Both women say they wonder how differently the case would have been handled if Halleran had not been an apparent drug user.
“I’m guessing they assume it’s drug related, and with drug addicts you have to expect something like this,” Houlihan said.
“You hear it all the time: if there’s a hit and run, it’s in the news that night asking people if they saw anything to call with information. There was no request for information until long after.”
At her home in the city of Paradise, Stacey Halleran keeps accurate notes of what she has been told about the investigation, a diary of what she remembers the day her sister died.
The ordeal has made her realize that there is more mouthful than action when it comes to helping people like her sister, she said, and that is a key example of why vulnerable people are reluctant to seek help.
“It’s a lack of compassion and empathy on the part of everyone. It needs to change, but it will never change, it will remain the status quo.”