Pikwakanagan – An Eganville man well known at the Kokomish Gas Bar and Golden Lake Variety Store where he is employed is remembering his stepdad who was murdered at Pikwakanagan First Nation through the night Friday as the type of person who would give you the shirt off his back.
“He loved people,” Dustin (Dusty) Commando said.
Ron Graham, 67, a native of British Columbia who lived most recently in Eganville and Pikwakanagan, was found dead outside a residence that had been destroyed by fire nine days earlier. At the time of the incident a 27-year-old man was found nearby with non-life-threatening injuries and was transported to the Pembroke Regional Hospital by Renfrew County Ambulance. That individual, Zachary Marquardt of Bonnechere Valley Township, was later charged with first degree murder and failing to comply with a probation order.
Ontario Provincial Police officers from nearby Killaloe had responded at around 3 a.m. in the early hours of Saturday morning to a 911 call at a residence on a dead-end street that runs north off of Kokomis Inamo, the main road through the reserve. The street runs a short distance towards the lake and has four residences on it. The scene of the murder took place at the end of the street.
The accused appeared in court via video link Sunday morning and was remanded into custody with a scheduled appearance date of July 19 at the Ontario Court of Justice in Killaloe.
Although police had still not released the identity of the victim as of Monday, it was common knowledge throughout the First Nation community of 450 early Saturday morning Mr. Graham had been murdered.
It is not without irony the murder occurred at the scene of an earlier tragedy at Pikwakanagan slightly over a week previous when the Dick residence was badly destroyed by far. In fact, Mr. Graham had escaped from the burning home on June 29 where he was taking a nap after a faulty electrical outlet started an afternoon fire at the residence. The home is owned by Kevin Dick and Tammy Commanda, good friends of the deceased. Mr. Graham was alone in the house at the time and was having an afternoon nap when a barking dog alerted him to the fire that started on the wooden deck at the front of the home, spread up the walls and into the rafters. He escaped uninjured from that fire.
A few days after the fire, Mr. Dick purchased a used travel trailer to use while he made plans to repair the house which sustained substantial damage. According to neighbours, different people had started taking shifts in the trailer to protect the property from theft of contents from the residence. Mr. Graham was doing security Friday night when he was killed.
There was a heavy police presence at Pikwakangan on Saturday with numerous OPP SUVs and crime scene investigators. OPP officers were still guarding the scene Tuesday as the investigation continued under the direction of the Criminal Investigation Branch in partnership with the Office of the Chief Coroner of Ontario and the Ontario Forensic Pathology Services.
Ron Logan, who lives adjacent to the murder scene, woke up about 4 a.m. to go to the washroom and noticed police cars and ambulances.
He said his daughter, Tankika, heard screaming around 3 a.m. He said Mr. Graham was keeping an eye on the property.
“They have a lot of stuff lying around from the fire and he was staying here, watching this stuff,” he said.
Mr. Graham was the spouse of the late Arlene Commanda who grew up at Pikwakanagan. They met in 1989 in Toronto and lived together as a couple until her passing six years ago shortly after they moved to Pembroke in 2014. He retained his strong connection to the community and relationship with his stepson and family.
Mr. Commando, a member of the First Nation who has worked at Kokomish Gas Bar for nine years and part-time at the Golden Lake Variety Store for about a year, is well known throughout the Pikwakanagan community. He and his wife, Elaine, and their 18-year-old daughter, Isabel live in Eganville. Mrs. Commando also works at the Kokomish.
Since it is a small community, both he and his wife knew the accused from serving him at the gas bar. Mr. Commando isn’t sure of what happened through the night Friday, but said he understood the accused had been at the scene earlier Friday night, looking for someone else and remained there until the incident took place. A white pickup truck allegedly belonging to Mr. Marquardt was still at the scene and Mrs. Commando recalled serving him at the gas bar several days prior to the murder.
Mr. Commando considered Mr. Graham his father and the two were very close. Just last Thursday night, he said they played cards until he finally said to his dad around midnight it was the last game because he had to get up at 6 a.m.
“It was that father and son bond,” he said.
In Eganville, Mr. Graham loved taking dogs for walks and would often take the neighbour’s dog on long walks.
“He made friends while he was out,” Mr. Commando said. “He was a very outgoing and a very friendly person who would do anything for you.”
Mrs. Commando said he also touched lives in her family. She is originally from Prince George, BC and came to Pikwakanagan in 1996 to provide care for an elderly woman who was ill.
“He loved dogs,” she said. “If you had your dog next to you and he chatted with you for two minutes he would take his attention and put it on the dog and then ask if he could take the dog for a walk and he’d be gone like for three hours.
“He loved animals. Even if he saw a goat, he’d try to catch the goat and pet it, or if saw a goose on the road he would take it off the road so it wouldn’t get smacked by a car. He was a very big animal lover.”
Nightmare for Family
Reflecting on the tragedy Monday afternoon, Mr. Commando said he still couldn’t believe something like this had happened.
“It feels like a nightmare, like it’s not real,” he said. “He’s been gone since Friday and today is Monday and you expect him to be here.”
Just two weeks ago, Mr. Graham’s nephew, Jamie, was travelling through the area from BC and stopped in Eganville for a visit. He returned home only to learn of the tragedy and was due to arrive back yesterday (Tuesday). Mr. Graham is also survived by one older sister. Three other siblings are deceased.
Mrs. Commando said the family has been overwhelmed with support from people in the community and beyond.
“People just come up and say ’hey, how are you doing?’ and they just hug us and hold us.”
Mr. Commando is extremely grateful for the support from his aunt and uncle, Karen and Derek Whalen who own Kokomish, the staff and others in the community like Val Smith whose home is just three away from the murder scene and where the Commandos have been spending a lot of time.
“Val and her family have been a huge support to me and my family,” he said. “And Kokomish has been there for us as well. The community members here have been supportive too. We are so thankful and grateful for all of the support.”
He was also appreciative of the police during the investigation, saying officers were kind, co-operative and patient.
Mr. Commando also expressed his condolences to Kevin and Tammy Dick because of their close friendship with Mr. Graham over the years.
A sacred fire was started at the pow wow grounds Sunday night and it will burn until Thursday. The fire is a healing custom for the survivors as well as the lost ones, those who have passed on. When the body is released to the family, Mr. Commando said he would like to have a service locally, but he said the final decision will be left with Mr. Graham’s family back in BC.
Anyone with information on this investigation is asked to contact the Killaloe OPP at 1-888-310-1122. Should you wish to remain anonymous, you may call Crime Stoppers at 1-800-222- 8477 (TIPS), where you may be eligible to receive a cash reward of up to $2,000.