May 20 is a dark day in Chemainus history, but the victim of a senseless crime on that date remains a bright light and inspiration for all who knew him.
Last Wednesday marked the fourth anniversary of the murder of Derek Descoteau while girlfriend Janelle Guyatt sustained serious injuries but survived a knife attack from a neighbour while the two were at Descoteau’s dad Paul’s place in town.
Colin John was eventually charged with the second degree murder of Derek Descoteau and the attempted murder of Guyatt. The case has remained in the news periodically ever since as developments arose, but is still before the courts and likely to remain without resolution for some time due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The mental fitness of John to stand trial was still being assessed. He has been detained in custody since his arrest and four different psychiatrists have assessed his fitness to stand trial.
Descoteau’s mom Brenda Smith and husband Steve, along with the Guyatts, travelled to a Review Board hearing at the Colony Farm Psychiatric Hospital in Coquitlam in October of 2019. At that time, another Review Hearing was scheduled to be held within 12 months, but could have been rescheduled earlier if they found the accused fit before that date.
But the COVID crisis has just become another hurdle in the process.
“We desperately need closure, but it is out of our control at this time,” conceded Smith.
As time’s gone on, the horrific nature of the crime has diminished and she prefers to focus on the positive thoughts of her wonderful son and how much she obviously misses him and his caring nature.
The memorial was marked in low-key fashion, with Smith, her parents Ray and Irene Ellison and other family members visiting the memorial bench for Derek at the Crofton seawalk.
“My dad, he has never been to the memorial,” said Smith. “Dad was able to meet us down there. It was a nice little walk.”
Smith and her former husband Paul Descoteau also lost another son, Dustin, before Derek in a car accident in September of 2013. Their resolve has obviously been severely tested in dealing with two tragedies.
There’s a DD memorial site on the way to Port Renfrew, a 20-minute drive from the Honeymoon Bay turn-off.
“It is a beautiful, peaceful place to visit,” noted Smith. “The site is visited by hundreds of friends, family and passersby each year.”
She finds it very comforting and goes to the site on most special occasions, including Christmas for some festive decorating.
An annual memorial cruise that usually takes place around Derek’s Birthday in June is also quite a spectacle, but has been cancelled due to COVID restrictions. A Descoteau brothers memorial ball tournament in Duncan has also been cancelled so there will be a lot of celebrating to catch up on in future years.
The In Loving Memory of Derek Descoteau Facebook page has nearly 700 members. It’s been a sounding board for numerous friends to express how much he meant to them. Smith has been astounded how so many of them have contacted her and the family over the years.
“We knew a handful of kids he went to school with,” she explained. “So many kids have reached out to us, so many different groups of friends.
“However, it happened, we are so thankful and cherish all the friends we only got to know after we lost Derek.”
Typical of the responses is Alivia Jewel Pike’s Facebook post.
“You were one of the best friends I ever could have asked for D, and you were always, always there,” she wrote. “I remember calling you in complete tears one of my first days at school in Lake Cowichan, you said you’d just sat down for breakfast but you’d be here in 30 minutes. You showed up with your breakfast to go and made me have a picnic with you until you took me home.
“I can’t even count how many times over the last four years I’ve wished I could still call you when I cry. I miss your advice and your effortless way of making me laugh in the worst of situations. Your selflessness and the care you gave to everyone around you could not be taught. I aspire to keep that spirit and care and love alive for you because our world just is not the same anymore without it.”
“Derek touched so many hearts and those hearts have given back to us,” enthused Smith.