Co-worker who discovered injured Elisabeth Salm testifies at murder trial

Elisabeth Salm’s face was bloodied and so swollen it made it difficult for Janet Dudley to recognize her when she found her lying on the floor of the Christian Science reading room. 

Dudley, a fellow librarian at the Christian Science reading room, testified Wednesday in Ottawa’s courthouse about discovering her colleague shortly before 1 p.m. on May 24, 2018 and calling 9-1-1.

Salm, 59, was taken to The Ottawa Hospital Civic campus and died the next day.

Tyler Hikoalok has pleaded not guilty to first-degree murder in a jury trial presided by Ontario Superior Court Justice Anne London-Weinstein. 

Dudley had been scheduled to relieve Salm that Thursday afternoon four years ago. When she arrived for her 1 p.m. shift, Dudley said she couldn’t see Salm for their usual handover conversation.

“What struck me was the complete quietness, the silence,” Dudley told court during her examination in chief by Crown attorney Lisa Miles.

Dudley said she called out for Salm and when there was no answer made her way to the study room in the back of the Laurier Avenue outreach centre.

Flowers adorn the entrance to the Christian Science reading room in Ottawa the week after Salm’s death. (Kristy Nease/CBC)

When she saw her, Dudley told the court with a quiver in her voice, she told Salm everything would be alright.

“She was on the floor on her back. Her trousers down, hooked on one foot. Her head bloodied. [She was] breathing with difficulty and her eyes closed,” Dudley said.

“There was blood pooled around her head.”

Dudley said she called 9-1-1 shortly after and was directed to provide chest compressions, which she did “tentatively,” while waiting for help to arrive.

She said Salm had a “liquid gargle” when she’d take a breath, but wasn’t conscious and didn’t speak. Dudley said she turned Salm on her side and more blood came from her mouth.

Dudley said the Christian Science reading room was an open space where people could come and ask question about the church, engage in prayer or study and the librarians would note new and returning visitors.

During cross-examination, defence lawyer Michael Smith put to her that people would sometimes come in just to get out of the weather, while they were intoxicated or experiencing mental health issues.

Dudley agreed that there was no need for appointments or limit on time spent in the reading room.

“Every person who came in, came in because they needed something.”

Dudley said she told 9-1-1 operator she believed Salm had been attacked.

Dudley agreed with Smith’s suggestion that, given when she arrived, she didn’t know how long Salm had been on the floor or why she had ended up on the floor.

Dudley said she had known Salm and her husband Lyle Young for about a decade through their church, but they didn’t work directly alongside each other in the reading room regularly.

The room is generally staffed by a single librarian, though she did shadow Salm for one shift when she began working there in 2017, she said.

Dudley said she was impressed with how thoughtful and gentle Salm was whether it was with her church, community  or choir.

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