ORIENT — With the holidays coming, Earlene Merrill finds herself thinking about her nephew, 10-year-old Jesse Ryan more and more.
But that, she said, is no surprise. She thinks of Jesse, who was one of three people slain during a triple homicide in Amity on June 22, every day, no matter what time of year it is. She also feels his loss “every single second.”
“It is really hard for me to put into words how much Jesse meant to us,” Earlene Merrill, who is the sister-in-law of Jesse’s mother, Jamie Merrill, said during a recent interview. “And it is really hard to sit and wait and watch the legal process unfold. This never should have happened. Jesse is without us, and we will spend the rest of our lives without Jesse.”
The 10-year-old, who spent most of his life attending Hodgdon Elementary School in Hodgdon, was killed along with his father, 55-year-old Jeffrey Ryan, and 30-year-old family friend Jason Dehahn. All three were stabbed to death at the U.S. Route 1 home owned by Jeffrey Ryan. Jeffrey Ryan and Dehahn lived in Amity, which is where Jesse Ryan resided for most of his life. In the months before their deaths, however, he resided with his mother in Lewiston. Jeffrey Ryan had picked up Jesse in Lewiston on June 19 to take him to his Amity home for Father’s Day so they could go fishing and spend some time together.
Thayne Ormsby, 20, was arrested and charged in July in connection with the stabbing deaths. He has pleaded not guilty to three counts of murder and one count of arson. Ormsby grew up in Ellsworth but in the weeks before the killings, he lived a short distance from the crime scene at the Orient home of Robert Strout. Strout, 63, was arrested and charged in September on a Class B charge of hindering apprehension and a Class A charge of arson in connection with the triple homicide. Police say that Strout admitted helping conceal evidence in the killings.
Strout also has pleaded not guilty. He made bail shortly after his arrest and is living at his Orient home. Ormsby remains held without bail at the Aroostook County Jail in Houlton.
According to an affidavit written by state police Detective Josh Haines, Ormsby confessed to the killings to state police Detective Dale Keegan.
Ormsby told a detective that he killed Jeffrey Ryan because he believed Ryan was a drug dealer, the affadavit stated. Ryan’s family has denied the claim, and a criminal background check on Jeffrey Ryan revealed no history of drug-related offenses.
Strout told police in July that a bloodied Ormsby came to his home after the killings and threatened to kill his family if he did not help Ormsby cover up evidence of the crime, according to the affadavit.
The court document went on to say that Ormsby told Strout that he had stolen Jeffrey Ryan’s truck and had to get rid of it. Strout, in his own Dodge pickup, followed Ormsby, who drove Jeffrey Ryan’s truck to Tamara Strout’s Weston residence where Ormsby reportedly burned his blood-soaked clothing in the woman’s furnace.
Tamara Strout is Robert Strout’s daughter. She also has a teenage daughter with Jeffrey Ryan. Ormsby was connected to the Strout family because his mother, Maria Ormsby, is acquainted with Tamara Strout.
After Ormsby burned the blood-soaked clothing, Robert Strout followed Ormsby as Ormsby drove Jeffrey Ryan’s truck to Weston to burn it, the affidavit states.
The arson charges lodged against both Ormsby and Strout stem from the burning of Ryan’s truck.
Strout told police that he drove Ormsby to a bog where Ormsby got out and threw a knife into the water, the affidavit said. State police divers searched the bog but have refused to confirm whether they recovered a weapon.
Strout also reportedly told police that on June 25 he drove Ormsby to New Hampshire to stay with his son, Robert Strout II. Ormsby was arrested in New Hampshire on July 2.
An aunt’s anguish
Earlene Merrill wanted to watch Jesse Ryan grow up.
“He was 10-years-old,” she said. “His life pretty much ended before it really began.”
Merrill watched her nephew grow and play in the woods around Amity and Orient. He spent “countless hours” with his cousins, her sons, Orion, 12, and Xavier, 10. The three loved to play games in the woods, and Jesse Ryan was a prankster with a “contagious laugh.” He especially loved playing tricks on her, such as pretending he was hurt to lure her out of her house and into the woods. Once he’d see she was fooled, he’d laugh hysterically.”
She knew Jeffrey Ryan quite well, describing him as a “nice guy, a guy who everybody liked because he gave everyone a chance.
“He was so close to Jesse,” she said. “The pain is especially hard to take right now, because it is hunting season. Jesse and Jeff loved to hunt together. They would be up at the crack of dawn and out there in the woods together.”
Her two children, she said, “are devastated.”
“They aren’t doing well,” said Merrill. “Jesse loved his cousins and they loved him. The minute Jesse would get off the school bus, he would call and ask if he could come play down here or if his cousins could come up to his dad’s house to play with him. In a few weeks, Houlton will hold its holiday light parade. We always took Jesse to that parade with us. One of my boys just said the other day ‘Jesse can’t go with us this year.’ It is so hard for them.”
She said that she is haunted by something that she never got a chance to do.
“A few days before the murders, Jesse called and wanted to come down here and play,” she said. “But I was sick, so I promised him that I’d see him in a few days and take him out for pizza. I never got the chance.”
Merrill didn’t know Thayne Ormsby. She only saw him for the first time in person when he was arraigned in Aroostook County Superior Court in Houlton in July.
“He was creepy,” she said. “He kept staring at us, like he wanted to intimidate us.”
Like other family members, Merrill is struggling with what she feels is the slow progress of the case. She wants to see those responsible brought to justice as soon as possible.
“I know that people are doing their jobs, but this is taking so long to move forward, and I don’t want the public to forget these people, especially Jesse,” she said. “A baby has been murdered. I am speaking out because I want this to remain in the news so that people remember.”
Jason Dehahn, who had stopped in to visit the Ryan family at the time of the slayings, also is missed by her family, said Merrill. She said that Dehahn had been friends with her family for “some time.” He left behind a wife, Crystal, and three young children, Skyler, Jake and Isabella.
“He was a great guy,” she said. “He and Jeff were quite close. They were great friends.”
Merrill said that she often speaks to the Dehahn family.
Merrill pointed out that she and her sons “talk about Jesse and Jeff every day.”
“We have some of Jesse’s clothing here, and one of my sons wears his jacket,” she said., “Another wears Jeff’s hunting cap.”
She said that she sees Robert Strout “often.”
“It is hard to be in the same town with him,” she said.
Merrill also struggles with certain thoughts that go through her mind “constantly.”
“What was Jesse thinking when this was happening?” she said. “Was he begging for his mother? Was he begging for me?”
“I don’t even want to know the answer to that,” she said.