It was mid-day on May 20, 2016, when a shirtless man suddenly loomed over a couch and started stabbing.
Derek Descoteau, then 20, and his girlfriend Janelle Guyatt were in the basement suite of Descoteau’s dad’s house in Chemainus, eating lunch and watching a movie. Descoteau died that day from multiple knife wounds. Guyatt survived, albeit requiring several surgeries for nerve damage that will never completely heal.
Five years later, the pain still fresh and the case still before the courts, Descoteau’s friends remain a constant source of comfort to his family.
“We are still so thankful that Derek’s friends have continued to welcome us into their lives – so many stories, memories, tears and laughs,” noted mom Brenda Smith of Duncan. “Janelle and her parents, Leah and Bill, have become an important part of family. We are amazed at the strength Janelle showed throughout her surgeries, constant pain and physical rehabilitation. She’s just a beautiful girl inside and out, she is a hard worker and is now focused on her future.”
“As the five-year anniversary approaches, all the intense emotions that we first experienced on that horrific day come rushing back – it seems like yesterday.”
The trial of Colin John, the man accused of the second-degree murder of Descoteau and the attempted murder of Guyatt, opened in 2018, but remains unresolved – partly due to a long period of determining his mental fitness to stand trial and partly due to COVID.
The future that was taken away from Descoteau for no apparent reason is still tough for the family to fathom. But the amazing will of his friends to never forget him has provided strength to Brenda, her husband Steve, Derek’s dad Paul and his wife Tammy, Derek’s sister Paula Phillips and family, and numerous other relatives.
The family had already experienced tragedy just three years before Derek’s death when his brother Dustin was killed in a car accident.
Memories of both brothers are forever linked to a memorial cruise that started after Derek’s death and the DD memorial site on the road to Port Renfrew that has grown to include a pathway, garden, seating area and overall tributes. People linked to the pair make a habit of stopping there regularly.
“The Renfrew memorial cruise was our ritual to celebrate Derek’s life, but with COVID it will be cancelled for the second year,” said Brenda. “We visit the site often in small groups, but it’s not the same.”
Regardless, the site will always remain a place of healing.
“Every time we drive up, we literally bump into somebody there spending the afternoon,” said Brenda. “We’re just totally surprised for how much respect people have for the site – just seeing all the signatures, people from all over. I think this site is what saved us. It’s a place so many people use.”
There has also been a memorial ball tournament in honour of the brothers that ran for two years in 2018 and ‘19 before also being halted by COVID.
“It’s just non-stop the respect all of his friends have for him,” Brenda said. “We focus all that energy on positive thoughts and trying to be strong for all the people around us.”
While there’s no replacement for the losses, their family from all the friends has actually grown larger.
“They all feel like my kids,” said Brenda. “Five years later, his friends are starting to get engaged, buying houses, having babies and we’re sad that Derek never got to fulfill his dreams and we will never know what his life would’ve looked like.”
Her husband added his wife isn’t someone who’s going to curl up on the couch.
“You’ve got to deal with it, but nothing’s going to change the fact he’s gone,” reasoned Steve Smith.
Derek was very industrious and likely would have been well set up, approaching the age of 26.
The entire family has obviously followed John’s case very closely. He currently remains at the Colony Farm Psychiatric Hospital in Coquitlam, pending the continuation of his trial.
The prosecution side of the trial wrapped up in August of 2019 before the defence lobbied for an assessment of John’s mental fitness. He was deemed fit to continue by the Review Board in October of 2020.
There will be a formality this August for the court to confirm he is fit to stand trial that’s due to resume in mid-November with the defence side of the case.
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