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'I can't look. I can't look': Jury hears Port Alberni mother calling 911

When a B.C. Ambulance dispatcher asks Samantha Dittmer if her son’s attacker is still nearby, she says: “No, no. He was attacking me. My baby”
Samantha Jesselynn Dittmer was charged with second-degree ­murder after the shooting death of her son Jesse McPhee. JESSE McPHEE VIA INSTAGRAM

A Port Alberni woman accused of murdering her son two years ago told a 911 dispatcher that her son had attacked her.

That emergency call, made by a distraught Samantha Dittmer at 6:13 p.m. on Aug. 29, 2021, was played for the jury Monday in B.C. Supreme Court.

Dittmer is charged with the second-degree murder of her son Jesse McPhee. The Crown alleges she shot the 37-year-old at point-blank range with a hunting rifle. Dittmer has pleaded not guilty to the crime, describing the shooting as “accidental.”

At the beginning of the 911 call, Dittmer gives the B.C. Ambulance dispatcher her address, and adds, “you have to come.”

The dispatcher tells Dittmer they already have a file and are “coming as quickly as we can.”

Dittmer says she had been trying and trying to call and has been put on hold.

When the dispatcher asks if she is with the patient, Dittmer says: “Yes, he’s downstairs.”

“OK so just tell me exactly what happened,” says the dispatcher.

“I can’t. I can’t tell you. I can’t tell you,” Dittmer replies, sobbing. “This is horrible. This is horrible.”

The dispatcher tries to calm Dittmer down with deep breaths, but Dittmer keeps repeating: “I can’t do this.”

The dispatcher asks Dittmer to go down to the patient to try and help him.

“I don’t think I can look,” she cries. “My baby. My baby.”

The dispatcher asks if the attacker is still nearby.

“No, no. He was attacking me. My baby,” says Dittmer.

“Are you down with him now?”

“I can’t look. I can’t look,” she replies

The dispatcher continues to urge Dittmer to help the patient. He asks her four times to go down to the patient to try and help him. “Are you with him now? We need to try and help him.”

“I’m looking at him. I think he’s dead,” says Dittmer.

The dispatcher asks if the patient is breathing.

Dittmer keeps repeating: “I can’t look. I can’t look. I can’t look.”

“We got lotsa help on the way there, but you need to look at him and tell me if he’s breathing,” said the dispatcher.

“No he’s in a puddle of blood. I think he’s dead. I think he’s dead,” Dittmer replies.

The dispatcher asked Dittmer several times who shot him. She doesn’t say.

Police arrive on the scene.

“And they have guns. And they have guns,” says Dittmer. “I have to hang up. I have to hang up.”

Also on Tuesday, Dr. Alexander Fong, who said he was the family doctor for both Dittmer and McPhee, testified by video that on Aug. 12, 2021, he had a telephone consultation with ­Dittmer, who told him she felt very stressed due to her son’s health and legal issues.

Dittmer sounded out of breath on the phone, Fong testified. She told him she was having a panic attack and felt heaviness in her chest.

“People who are experiencing anxiety to the level of panic attacks are under a tremendous amount of stress and feel very unwell,” the doctor testified. “Symptoms of severe anxiety and panic attacks include feeling out of breath, having chest pain, high blood pressure, which may cause a headache, neck soreness.”

Fong prescribed anti-anxiety medication and made a referral to Island Health for Dittmer to receive psychiatric support and community counselling.

Because Dittmer was short of breath, Fong advised her to go to the emergency department for further assessment.

Dittmer, then 61, had cardiac risk factors including high blood pressure, high cholesterol, ­diabetes and smoking, said Fong. He testified that he did think her anxiety disorder was the most likely cause of her symptoms.

In his referral letter, Fong noted that Dittmer had experienced several months of worsening anxiety, with current triggers including her house burning down, financial ruin and a son who suffered from mental illness, he wrote.

During cross-examination, Fong testified that he would often see McPhee alone or with his mother.

Fong agreed with defence lawyer Brian Coleman that McPhee complained of a head injury that left him with nausea, panic attacks, irritability and difficulty sleeping.

“You indicated to me that they were quite close. There was no privacy between them as far as sharing information,” said Coleman.

“Jesse permitted me to allow Miss Dittmer to know everything about him, including managing his prescriptions. He, without question, would allow Miss Dittmer to make a medical decision on his behalf,” Fong replied.

“He was somewhat dependent on her,” Coleman suggested.

“I would agree with that,” Fong said.

Dittmer constantly expressed concern about McPhee’s physical and mental conditions, agreed Fong.

The doctor said he was also aware that McPhee was a binge drinker.

The trial continues Thursday.

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