BANGOR, Maine — The family of the 27-year-old man found dead last week near Walmart said Monday that they do not know what happened, and not knowing is painfully hard on them and others who loved or cared for him.
“I, of course, fell apart,” Debbie Arsenault-York of Orrington said about learning of the death of her son, Derek McLeod.
“I was asking [police], ‘When? Why? How?’ And they didn’t know the answers,” she said later with her husband, Chris York, sitting beside her. “They still don’t know, so we don’t know.”
McLeod worked at Schooners restaurant in Brewer until it closed and then got a job in the kitchen at Kobe hibachi grill, where fellow cooks would constantly feed him unique items from the menu, his mother said.
“They gave him a chicken foot and he ate it,” she said. “They were amazed he would eat anything.”
The last message Arsenault-York sent to her son was before he went to work on Wednesday.
“The last thing I sent was a text message at 2:24 [p.m.] when I asked him how he was getting to work,” she said. “He sent back, ‘Bus action.’”
The following morning, just before 9 a.m., a person walking on Stillwater Avenue found her son deceased on the snow-covered ground near the sign marking the entrance to Walmart, his backpack near his body.
Shortly thereafter, two police officers arrived at her home to notify her of his death and found her husband there.
“I got a knock at the door, the dog went off, and there were two cops at the door — that’s never good,” Chris York said. “They said Derek had passed [but] they didn’t really know why. They said, ‘You’re going to have to ask detectives.’”
York went directly to his wife’s workplace in Brewer because he wanted to inform her in person.
Investigators with the department’s Criminal Investigation Division did not find any signs of foul play. His autopsy is pending toxicology tests, which can take months for results.
McLeod’s mother said she knows his medical history and believes an ailment from his past may have played a role in his death. She said alcohol played a role in his life, but she does not believe it played a role in his death. She’s waiting for the medical examiner to give her answers.
“With his past medical history, I believe his heart just failed,” Arsenault-York said. “He’s been battling it [anxiety and depression] for the last couple months.”
Her son grew up in Millinocket and Old Town, graduating from Old Town High School in 2004, and later settled in the Bangor area to be around his mother and siblings. He lived with a roommate on Essex Street and loved animals, including his roommate’s kitten. He loved to fix computers, play paintball, was an artist and had a talent for cooking, she said.
His former boss at Schooners described him as “a really good kid” and said he was saddened by the news of his passing.
“He was really well liked,” said Mike Kessock of Brewer, who recently sold the restaurant.
Arsenault-York posted about 85 photographs of her son on her Facebook page for his extended family in Millinocket and his friends, who have come out of the woodwork to reach out to her and her family.
Their messages have been heartwarming and are a reminder of how many friends her son had. He was a quiet, shy person but had a way with people, she said.
It’s hard waiting for the medical examiner, but the worst part of her son’s death is that he was alone and some people thought he was homeless.
“With every tragedy there is a family history, so nobody who dies alone is truly alone — and he wasn’t,” she said. “Right now there is no real information, so we’re waiting.”
“He died way too young,” his stepfather said.
A celebration of Derek McLeod’s life will take place at 2 p.m. Sunday at the East Orrington Congregational Church.
Police continue to investigate the incident, and ask anyone who had contact with McLeod Wednesday night into Thursday morning and may have information on the case to call Bangor police at 947-7384.