A tulip tree was planted in memory of Ron Graham in the backyard of the property near where his body was found a short week before. Homeowners Kevin Dick and Tammy Commanda were good friends with Mr. Graham and were honoured to have a memorial tree on the property. His nephew, James Cousineau, who took his uncle’s remains back to his native British Columbia, said he hoped this way his friends would know a part of Mr. Graham was always there. Stepson Dustin Commando said although it is emotional to revisit the scene, there was also a solace in being there. “He is where he liked to be,” he said.

Pikwakanagan – The nephew of an Eganville resident who was attacked and murdered at the Pikwakanagan First Nation at Golden Lake in the early morning of July 10 is hoping justice will be served when the case comes to trial.

James Cousineau of Surrey, British Columbia, is a nephew of Ron Graham, the man who was murdered at a residence on the First Nation where he was volunteering to provide security for the owners, who were friends of his.

Mr. Graham had escaped serious injury or perhaps death at the same residence just nine days earlier. He had been visiting homeowners Kevin Dick and Tammy Commanda and was alone in the residence napping when an afternoon fire caused significant damage. He was alerted to the danger by the barking of dogs and managed to get out safely. It is believed the fire started with a faulty electrical outlet on the deck of the home. The owners moved a small trailer onto the site and various individuals were providing volunteer security to protect the contents and building material. It was during Mr. Graham’s shift that the attack took place resulting in first-degree murder charges being brought against 23-year-old Zachary Marquardt of Bonnechere Valley Township.    

The president and CEO of ProPics Canada Media Ltd., Mr. Cousineau spoke with the Leader following the Celebration of Life for Mr. Graham last Wednesday at the Cultural Grounds in Pikwakanagan. His mother, Mary Cousineau of Vancouver, is the last surviving member of Mr. Graham’s siblings and he noted she was unable to attend due to the long drive east that it would have involved.

“It’s very tough on her. She’s trying to be strong right now,” he said. “But it’s been very tough. This is her last brother.”

Mrs. Cousineau lost her mother quite young in life and she mostly raised Mr. Graham and three other brothers.

“She’s always been the matriarch of the family so to speak, so it’s been very difficult for her,” he said. “She is the only one left.”

Mr. Cousineau said Mr. Graham’s stepson, Dustin Commando had called him about 10 or 11 o’clock the morning of July 10 advising him of Mr. Graham’s untimely death.

“Out west, it was 6 or 7 o’clock, or whatever it was, so I ignored the phone for a few minutes because in business, I always get sales calls at that hour. But when they called the third time, I knew it had to be important, so I picked it up and received the news.”

A Violent Crime

Mr. Cousineau described the crime as a senseless act.

“We don’t know the story. We won’t probably know until the trial, if we ever know the truth as to what really happened,” he said. “But, in speaking with the coroner, the really sad part is there were not any defensive wounds on uncle Ronnie.

“So that would indicate that he was unconscious when a lot of the beating took place,” he added.

Mr. Cousineau said the family was informed the victim had a broken nose, a broken bone in his throat, several broken ribs, as well as other major injuries.

“The coroner said it was one of the worst he had seen as well,” he remarked. “It was just horrific.

“It was very brutal, very brutal,” he added. “Regardless as to what this individual was going through, if he would have just asked Ronnie for help. Whether it was, his last dollar, or if he needed some counselling, Ronnie would have sat there all night talking to him and helping him to find the help that he needed or given him his last dollar to help him. It’s just really sad.”

Mr. Cousineau said it was almost painfully ironic his uncle had survived the earlier fire at the residence only to die at the same location a week later while doing volunteer security at the property.

“He got out of the fire with some minor burns and suffered smoke inhalation, so he was hospitalized overnight. I said to Dustin that in a way somebody was looking out for him to give us an extra week with him, because that very much could have been the end there.

“So, we just cherish that extra time that he was given.”

Multiple Emotions

He said anytime you lose a family member it’s difficult, but it’s even tougher to cope with the situation when you lose someone in this manner.

“It’s difficult. A week before Ronnie passed, I had lost my younger step-brother to a heart attack and that’s something you don’t see coming. But it’s health-related. It’s something that happens.

“Whereas this could have so easily been prevented by the individual involved, that it just . . . shock is the word, and anger, frustration and we’re going to hope htat the justice system does its job.”

Mr. Cousineau does not believe his late uncle knew the individual, adding he had shown up at the property earlier on the Friday looking for someone else he knew at the First Nation.

“But that’s the first time anyone had any interaction with him or saw him. He was from the area, but in terms of knowing him, nobody knew him there.

“Then apparently he came back later that night and that happened,” he added. “There are unconfirmed reports that he did not come back alone, that there were some females with him who tried to yell and scream for help and to stop him. But, understandably, they very well could have been victims too had this person turned on them.”

He said if that is confirmed, he hoped the family would not put any blame on them because they had allegedly tried to stop him.

“We wouldn’t want them to do more because we wouldn’t want them to risk their safety as well. And Ron would never want that either.”

He said his uncle had spoken with the individual when he arrived earlier in the day but there was no negative interaction between the two of them then.

“He was looking for another individual on the reserve but they didn’t know who it was that he was looking for. There was no negative interaction at all, and Uncle Ronnie would make a friend out of anybody and chat with them.

“There was absolutely no indication that this person was in that kind of a mental state,” he continued. “Then he came back later that evening and . . .”

He noted his uncle would do anything for anyone, and he was doing exactly that that night as he was volunteering as security at the fire scene. He died doing what he loved doing, helping others, he said.

“They’re (the homeowners) suffering with a lot of guilt too and I just keep trying to re-emphasize that there’s one person to blame for this, and it sure as heck isn’t them or uncle Ronnie would have insisted, had they tried to say, ‘okay, don’t guard tonight’, he would have insisted he was staying to help.

“He wanted to feel helpful and useful and to be there for people,” he added.

Process Frustrating At Times

Mr. Cousineau described the communication with police at first as “lacking”.

“But once I reached out to them and got through to them, they’ve been nothing but excellent in communicating with us. But unfortunately, they can’t release much detail just because they can’t risk jeopardizing the investigation at this point.

“So, they really have been tight-lipped on the details just for that purpose,” he continued. “And we’re totally supportive of that and understand it. But it’s frustrating as family to not know. But at the same time, we appreciate all the work they’re doing and understand why they have to do it  that way.”  

He was amazed at the number of people from the community who came out during both the wake and the Celebration of Life to offer support and pay their respects.

“It’s been overwhelming,” he lamented. “I’m really thrilled with the number of people that have come out to honour him, and it just shows that he would make friends with anybody. And the community showing their support really is proof of that.”