On May 20, 2016, the unthinkable happened to a family that had already experienced a terrible loss as recently as 2013.
Derek Descoteau was stabbed to death at his dad Paul’s house in Chemainus. He was just 20 years old.
Descoteau had split time between his dad’s place and his mom’s in Duncan while working at the Western Forest Products Cowichan Bay sawmill.
Less than three years earlier, Derek’s brother Dustin died in a car accident on the Coquihalla Highway at the age of 29.
It was a confusing and frightening time for family members upon hearing of the incident involving Derek, not knowing if he had been severely injured or, in fact, died at the scene or on the way to hospital during the start of the Victoria Day long weekend.
“I was at work when I got the phone call,” recalled mom Brenda Smith. “It was a nightmare when I got the call.”
“It doesn’t even seem real at times,” conceded Paula Phillips, who’s turning 32 this week.
She’s named both her sons after her brothers to complete her family with daughter Farrah Phillips. Son Cooper Dustin Phillips is three and son Levi Ray Derek Phillips is one.
Coming to grips with not one tragedy, but two, has been difficult for everyone. But the love and overwhelming support of friends has gone a long way.
“I just said this isn’t happening,” Smith indicated. “How could it happen again? It just crushed us.”
Derek’s girlfriend, Janelle Guyatt, 16 at the time and now 18, was also stabbed, but survived. The accused, Colin John, will stand trial late this year in Supreme Court in Duncan on one count of second degree murder and one count of attempted murder.
“I’ve been all right,” said Guyatt. “There’s a couple of moments when it’s hard. It was a tragic thing that happened.”
She’s undergone three surgeries since the incident and faces one more yet.
Guyatt received 28 stitches on her face, a wound on the back of her neck and one on the side of her neck that severed all nerves to her arm.
She had known Descoteau for several years prior and had been dating him in the last few months before the shocking attack.
It’s going to take a long time to heal all the wounds for Guyatt literally and Derek’s family figuratively.
“It seems like it’s pretty raw, for sure,” said Phillips.
“I truly don’t feel like it’s been two years,” conceded Smith.
“The pain never goes away,” added Smith’s husband Steve, who had known Derek since he was a toddler.
“For us, the grieving is still every day,” added Phillips.
There’s a memorial bench at the Crofton Seawalk honouring Descoteau.
“It was a spot he and Janelle liked to come to,” noted Phillips.
“We thought this would be a nice spot for us to come and remember,” Brenda Smith indicated.
There are many people who’ve done so much to ease the family’s pain.
The first-ever Descoteau Brothers Memorial orthodox ball tournament is taking place Friday, May 25 through Sunday, May 27 at the Cowichan Sportsplex in Duncan, organized by Dale and Dianna Marsh.
“It gets you through it because it makes you feel close to the boys,” praised Phillips of the event.
A memorial cruise through Lake Cowichan and along the Renfrew Road circle route attracted a huge following just a month after Derek’s death and is still going strong, with the third annual event set for June 24.
“Just seeing the outpouring and how Derek touched so many lives, it keeps you going,” said Brenda Smith.
Only a month before his death, Derek had embraced the idea of going on a memorial cruise for RCMP Const. Sarah Beckett, who ironically died under tragic circumstances in Victoria.
“He was so excited, so pumped,” said Brenda Smith. “That was one of his highlights, he felt so honoured he could go in that cruise. That was the reason we started this cruise.”
There are so many things about Derek that everyone who knew him will always remember and want others to know.
“One of the big things if he saw someone ostracized, he’d be the first one over to make the kid feel wanted,” noted Steve Smith.
“He didn’t care with fitting in with the cool crowd,” observed Phillips.
“He was probably the most caring and loving person and wanted the best for his friends and family, no matter what,” said Guyatt.
“It’s been pretty hard. I don’t know what else you can do, but make the best of it.”