In a year when Powell River saw the doors open at the new Powell River Public Library location, Salish Orca docking for the first time in Westview and the election of a new NDP provincial government, Peak editorial staff chose the story about the shooting deaths of Braxton Leask and Dylan Buckle as the top newsmaker of 2017. It detailed the heartbreaking loss of two young men who were best friends, and how the community found togetherness through tragedy.
More than six months after the devastating news, Buckle’s mother Terry said the families and close friends have remained tightly knit.
“It sounds so weird, but it brought everyone together,” said Terry. “We're all staying so close. Everyone has really pulled together, not just the community, but the families, the friends; it's just incredible. I can't get over what the community has done.”
On the morning of June 17, the fatal shootings of Leask and Buckle, both 20, left a profound emotional scar on the community and the lingering question of, why?
As news quickly spread out across the district from the scene of the crime in the village of Lund, it sent people reeling in shock.
The call came into Powell River RCMP at 5:15 am on Saturday morning. There was a report of a shooting at a residence in the 1500 block of Scotch Place.
Shortly afterward, a neighbour reported the small cul-de-sac was overrun with fire trucks, ambulance and RCMP.
When police entered the home, they discovered the bodies of Leask and Buckle, the victims of what appeared to have been a targeted act.
“You can wrap your head around your child being in a car accident or something, but you are never prepared to hear your child has been shot and killed,” said Terry at the time. “Unfortunately, they had only told me about Dylan, so for the majority of the day I only knew about him and not Braxton. I had no idea what had happened, so when I found out of the details I was very shocked.”
Compounding the heartbreaking loss of Leask and Buckle was that fellow Powell River youth Jason Timothy Foulds, 19 years old at the time, was charged with their murders and the attempted murder of Zane Hernandez, a third occupant in the house. Foulds has been held in custody since his arrest and awaits a preliminary inquiry that will begin in Powell River Law Courts in May 2018.
Three families were left in ruin as the community reeled.
“Trying not to be angry is the biggest thing,” said Braxton's mother, Nichelle Guignard, at the time. “I’m angry because Braxton can’t continue to be the great person he was.”
Everyone was shocked. It seemed as though the whole community knew the men through some degree of separation, especially the young people.
“All of the kids in Powell River know that if you saw Braxton, you saw Dylan, and if you saw Dylan, you saw Braxton,” said Terry at the time. “They were always together. So this isn’t about just one child gone for me; this is two brothers gone.”
As grief engulfed them, groups of young people gathered in parents' basements, drawing comfort from each other as they tried to process what had happened. Two of their friends were dead and one of their friends charged with the crime.
“Everything came to a stop. It was a wicked act,” said Braxton’s future sister-in-law, Ariana Sian, speaking at an Evergreen Theatre memorial service attended by hundreds of people, many of whom had never met Leask or Buckle, but had only heard good things about them.
Guignard’s final words at the memorial captured the essence of the lives of the two men and what they would have wanted.
“Spread your love,” she said. “That’s what I would like you to leave with today.”
Friends and family had gathered at Guignard’s house since the day of the terrible news in sadness and despair. Her pain did not abate.
"In the mornings, I’m pretty good. I just try to get up and get going and do as much as I can,” said Guignard after the memorial. “As the day goes by, I can’t seem to do much. He’s never out of my mind.”
At the memorial, in the eulogies delivered by friends and family, the young men were described as being as close as brothers. They graduated together from Brooks Secondary School in 2014 and left Powell River, Leask to Alberta and Buckle to London, England, but came back because it was home. They had missed it, especially their friends.
Braxton planned to become an apprentice pipefitter and Dylan wanted to be a firefighter. They both would play for their beloved Powell River Villa soccer team again.
In the weeks following the memorial service, Terry said she and her family tried to adjust to a new kind of normal.
“I’m still waiting for the boys to come home,” she said in August. “It seems like they’re still just away. Dylan was living in London, England. I feel he’s still there and he’s just not home yet.”
In August, the families announced a scholarship fund had been established in Leask and Buckle’s memory. It will provide financial assistance to high school graduates from Brooks Secondary School to pursue careers in trades and athletics.
Other tributes followed. Leask and Buckle were described by Villa team management as "Villa boys with Villa hearts" and the bond remained throughout the ordeal.
“Braxton and Dylan were a big part of our organization and tight-knit group,” said Villa president Jamie Zroback. “They are very loved, and they are missed and they will not be forgotten.”
On November 5, Villa players took to the field for the first time wearing new jerseys with Leask and Buckle’s initials on the sleeves.
“Years down the road, when you have new players who come on who may not have known the boys, the story will live on of who they were, and their characters and what they meant to the team,” said Zroback.
During the holidays, Terry said life has been difficult, but random acts of kindness, some from complete strangers, have taken some of the heartbreak away.
“I have to admit that all of the things they have been doing really helps,” she said. “To see all of these people coming together, these are just awesome things that are happening. I've heard so many good things about the boys and that's what has made it bearable.”
It is a poignant time of year and an emotional struggle for the families.
“Last year was the first year all of the kids were together at Christmas since 2005,” said Terry. “If only you could go back and say how important that moment was. We have a couple of pictures and they're all sitting around the table laughing, and Braxton is there as well.”