Coroner silent on whether migraines contributed to Chilliwack/Aldergrove triple murder-suicide

Randy Janzen said his daughter suffered from debilitating headaches, found no relief from doctors.

  • Mar. 7, 2016 5:00 a.m.

by Pamela Fayerman

Special to the Langley Advance

The coroner who investigated a father’s murder of his daughter, wife and sister in Aldergrove, will not say whether the daughter’s chronic, disabling migraine headaches were the motive for the triple murder-suicide.

B.C. coroner Timothy Wiles spent seven months investigating the deaths, but he says privacy laws prevent him from releasing his findings on the migraines.

Randy Alan Janzen shot his 19-year-old daughter Emily Janzen, his 56-year-old wife Laurel and his 53-year-old sister Shelly last spring, each with two bullets to their heads. Wiles said he found the events in the home east of Chilliwack unfolded just as Randy said they had in his May 7 Facebook confessional post.

Janzen said he shot Emily to relieve her of the chronic pain and depression she endured and then shot his wife Laurel because “a mother should never have to hear the news her baby has died.”

Although the coroner’s service had announced after the deaths that a full investigation would look into the possible triggering factors and circumstances, each of the four reports are brief and largely silent on the matter of Emily’s intractable migraine headaches.

Wiles said he explored Emily’s migraine history since it was a potential motive and a source of much family stress. Yet he made no recommendations and did not include what he learned about Emily’s medical history because of privacy laws.

Days after shooting his family members, Randy lay on his bed May 7 with a rifle and pointed the barrel at his forehead to commit suicide, Wiles said. Police had surrounded the Fraser Valley home to arrest Janzen, 50, and had spotted him through a window. But a fire erupted inside the home, preventing police from entering. It is presumed Janzen started the fire just before shooting himself.

It wasn’t until three days later that the charred bodies inside the structurally unsound home could be recovered. Shelly Janzen’s body was found in her Langley home the same day. Her brother shot her as she was returning home from a shopping trip.

Janzen said on Facebook that he shot his hearing-impaired sister to spare her the trauma and shame of the murders. Wiles said Emily and her mother were shot April 28, 2015 but police and the coroner’s service were not aware of the multiple deaths until Randy confessed to the killings on Facebook.

Philip Wheaton, a pastor at Bethel Mennonite Church, had known the Janzen family for years and spoke to the media at the time.

Randy and Shelly‘s parents were Langley farmers and among the first Mennonites in the area. They had helped establish the church in 1936.

Shelly was a gentle, quiet individual with a loving personality, said Wheaton. She had lived in pain with an arthritic condition and had a hearing impairment, things that “seemed to wall her off from people a little bit.

Shelly had lived with her parents her entire life, and worked as a pet groomer at Birch Bark Kennels for at least 15 years. She had a habit of donating her tips to animal rescue, said Dodie Zilke at Birch Bark.

After Shelly‘s father died about a decade ago, she and her mother – since deceased – moved to a house in Aldergrove.

Barbara McLintock, spokeswoman for the coroner’s service, said Wiles “did look most thoroughly into the issue of Emily Janzen’s migraine headaches. However, because this was not directly related to the cause or manner of death, and because it did not result in any recommendations, Emily’s privacy rights meant this information was not included in the public reporting out on the death.”

In his report on Randy Janzen, Wiles said: “Mr. Janzen’s past medical history was limited. There is no known history of either homicidal or suicidal ideation and he was not followed by a psychiatrist at the time of his death. In 2014, Mr. Janzen reported mild sleep disturbance and psycho-social stress to his family physician. Mr. Janzen attributed this stress to the ongoing care of his daughter and her battle with chronic migraines.”

Both Emily and her mother had complained on social media about how ineffective migraine treatment had been and Emily had documented her frustrations and various emergency department visits over several years.

According to medical literature, migraines are far more common in women; about 18 per cent of women and six per cent of men get migraines.

Emily’s experience is not unusual as more than half of those with migraines never find permanent relief. It would appear Janzen never attended a clinic at the University of B.C., where patients can seek expert advice on prescription medication issues.

In the 26 months since it opened, The Pharmacists Clinic has had 3,000 patient visits, including 181 patients who report having migraines. Since the Janzen tragedy, however, there has been a spike in migraine patients seeking help.

Barbara Gobis, director of the clinic, said she can’t say for sure if news coverage of the murders/suicide — and the related increase in awareness of migraines — had a direct impact on the increase in visits but “I think it is safe to say that we are seeing more … and they are requiring more time to get their issues resolved.”

From Feb 12, 2015 to May 12, 2015, 33 patients with migraine headaches had 45 appointments, while in the three-month period after the murders, 39 patients with migraine headaches had 64 appointments, an 18-per-cent increase in the number of patients and a 42-per-cent increase in the number of appointments.

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