AMITY, Maine — This past Sunday, children across the nation joined their dads on Father’s Day, gathering for barbecues and golf or to watch their favorite sports teams compete.
But in Texas, Shannon Ryan, 36, could only sit and think about the father he lost.
“Father’s Day was really tough for me,” said Ryan, the son of 55-year-old Jeffrey Ryan, who was slain one year ago along with the elder Ryan’s youngest son, 10-year-old Jesse Ryan, and 30-year-old family friend Jason Dehahn. “My dad is really missed by my entire family, and his death is one thing that can never be fixed.”
It was just after 9 p.m. June 23, 2010, when the bodies of the three were found in and around Jeffrey Ryan’s U.S. Route 1 mobile home. All three had been stabbed to death. On July 2, Thayne Ormsby, who was 20 at the time, was arrested and charged with three counts of murder and one count of arson. Ormsby allegedly took a truck from Jeffrey Ryan’s home and burned it in a field road in Weston after the slayings.
According to a police affidavit, Ormsby confessed to the killings to Maine State Police Detective Dale Keegan. He has pleaded not guilty to all of the charges and remains at the Aroostook County Jail in Houlton.
According to the affidavit, Ormsby told a detective that he killed Jeffrey Ryan because he believed Ryan was a drug dealer. Ryan’s family has denied the claim, and a criminal background check on Jeffrey Ryan revealed no history of drug-related offenses.
Shannon Ryan said he is happy that the case against Ormsby is moving forward. A hearing in the case will take place June 30 in Houlton, Assistant Attorney General Bill Stokes confirmed Tuesday. The hearing will deal with Ormsby’s request to suppress statements he made to police, based on the claim that he was not properly informed of his Miranda rights.
Stokes said he hopes a trial will be held in the fall, but that depends on a number of factors, including the outcome of the June 30 hearing.
Jamie Merrill, who is Jeffrey Ryan’s ex-wife and the mother of Jesse Ryan, said she doesn’t plan to attend the June 30 court hearing.
“I don’t want to be anywhere near that guy right now,” she said of Ormsby. “I don’t even want to look at him. I can’t take it.”
Jesse spent most of his life living in Amity, but moved to Lewiston with his mother in early 2010. He returned to Amity just a few days before he was killed to spend time with his father.
Merrill organized a daylong balloon launch on the Facebook page she set up for her son. She planned to release balloons for all three victims at 8:30 p.m. June 22, which is the anniversary of the last time she heard her son’s voice.
Police initially suspected that the three were killed on June 23, but a subsequent investigation determined that they likely died sometime on June 22.
Merrill said earlier Wednesday that she planned to attach notes with expressions of love pinned inside plastic bags to the balloons. Other friends, relatives and strangers planned to take part.
“We have more than 300 people from as far away as Hawaii that are going to release balloons or have released them already,” she said. “Jesse’s baby brother, who is 9 months old, is going to release a red heart balloon.”
Members of the Dehahn family declined to comment for this article.
Ormsby, who listed his hometown as Ellsworth on social networking sites, was living in Orient at the home of Robert and Joy Strout in the weeks before the killings.
Robert Strout, 63, was arrested last September and charged with Class B hindering apprehension and a Class A charge of arson. Police say he admitted helping conceal evidence in the killings.
Strout allegedly drove Ormsby to his daughter Tamara Strout’s home in Weston to burn bloody clothing and followed Ormsby to the location where Jeffrey Ryan’s truck was burned. He also reportedly drove him to a bog where Ormsby got out and threw a knife into the water, then drove him to New Hampshire to stay with his son Robert Strout II. Ormsby was arrested in New Hampshire.
Strout has pleaded not guilty and remains free on bail awaiting a court date on his charges. He told police that a bloodied Ormsby came to his home after the killings and threatened to kill his family if he did not help him cover up evidence of the crime, according to an affidavit written by state police Detective Josh Haines.
The triple homicide shocked the town and the state. A year later, artificial flowers placed by visitors remain attached to a fence outside the Ryan home, which has been uninhabited since the deaths. Jesse Ryan’s small above-ground swimming pool and tree house sit untouched. His empty swing set rustles in the breeze.
In Texas, Shannon Ryan still struggles with a grief that festers just as painfully as it did in the days after the slayings. His mother and Jeffrey Ryan separated early in his life, and he grew up in Massachusetts but spent summers in Maine with his father. He lived in Weston for a time while attending East Grand High School in Danforth. Today, a number of people in the Amity-Orient area still refer to him as “Jeff Jr.” or “Young Jeff.”
“On Father’s Day, I spent time with my 11-year-old son,” Ryan said Wednesday. “I told him that I wished I could say, ‘Happy Father’s Day’ to my own dad. He told me, ‘Daddy, you can, he is always listening to you.’ I realized what he was telling me. I couldn’t say the words to my dad since he wasn’t standing right in front of me, but he could still hear me, so I told him how I felt and I felt better after that.
“I miss my dad every day,” he said. “Certain things that I see or smell make me think of him. We just still don’t understand why this happened.”
As he struggled through the first Father’s Day without his dad and a future that will not allow him to see his brother grow up, Shannon Ryan had a message for others.
“I hope that everyone who reads this takes advantage of the relationship they have with their father,” he said. “I am living proof that you never know when your life will suddenly change. Don’t hold a grudge, and say you are sorry, even if it was not your fault.”
You never know, he said Wednesday, when the time you have together will run out.