British Columbia

On the road where a body was found, a wreath is quietly laid in Northern B.C.

Debra Dennis, 56, laid a wreath at the spot where Leonard Dyck was found dead as a gesture to his family. She was born and raised in the area, near Dease Lake, B.C., and said the stranger's death hit home.

Debra Dennis, 56, made a wreath as gesture to murder victim's family

Debra Dennis, 56, made a wreath from pine boughs and flowers to leave in the place where a stranger was found dead on Thursday. Leonard Dyck, 64, was found dead south of Dease Lake, B.C., on July 19, 2019. RCMP say he was murdered. (Debra Dennis)

The place where Leonard Dyck was found dead is usually quiet. It's a gravelly road next to a small clearing depressed in the earth, impossible to miss driving along Highway 37. The surrounding grassy banks give a view of the storybook Stikine Forest, not far from Dease Lake, B.C.

Debra Dennis knows the place but didn't recognize it last week.

Homicide investigators descended on the site after Dyck was found on July 19, drawing canary-yellow tape around the banks. News of the man's death, as well as those of a tourist couple to the northeast, sent a chill through isolated communities in the region. 

Dennis and her husband waited six days to drive by the clearing and pay their respects to the stranger who died. RCMP investigators had finally gone.

"We just stood in silence," said Dennis, born and raised in the nearby Iskut community. "Driving back home, thinking about everything, thinking about his family, my heart absolutely goes out to them. I just wanted to honour this man. It saddens me he died this way on our territory.

"I just knew there was something I wanted to do."

Leonard Dyck was a sessional lecturer in botany at the University of British Columbia, passionate about his research which focused on seaweed and how it survived when exposed to different environmental factors. Dyck was found dead near Dease Lake, B.C., on July 19, 2019. He was 64. (Elaine Simons Lane/UBC)

Dennis had the idea to lay a wreath in memoriam, as a gesture to Dyck's family from the community. She gathered a bundle of pine boughs, curved them into shape and laid a few purple flowers and pine cones on top. She looked over her own collection of eagle feathers, many given to her as gifts and picked one to give away.

"I just held it," she said. "When you know, you know."

Dennis drove back to the clearing to set the wreath with her daughter late Thursday. She brought tobacco to spread as an offering, something she says she personally does as a way to give thanks or ask for something from the higher power she believes in.

"I said [to my daughter]: I don't know how to do one, but I guess there's no right way or wrong way," Dennis said.

"I just did what we wanted to do. I prayed for his family. Give them strength for the days ahead. I've had losses in my life. Your hands are on your knees some days, and it's hard to get back up."

Debra Dennis was born and raised in Iskut, south of Dease Lake, B.C. (Debra Dennis/Facebook)

Dyck, 64, is survived by a wife and two sons. He also leaves behind a family in academia, having long studied botany and lectured at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver.

It's been 15 years since Dennis lost two of her own brothers in a 10-month span. Her youngest brother died in a boating accident in 2003 and an elder brother fell victim to gun violence in 2004.

"In a way, I know what they're going through. It is going to be so difficult in the days ahead," she said of Dyck's family. "I heard his friends described him as a mountain of a man. I believe that. I'm just hoping, by this gesture, it would give his family some sense of peace.

"As Tahltan people, we care. This happened on our territory," she continued. "A lot of hearts are heavy."

The two young fugitives at the centre of a national manhunt have been charged with second-degree murder in connection with Dyck's death.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Rhianna Schmunk

Staff writer

Rhianna Schmunk is a staff writer for CBC News. She is based in Vancouver with a focus on justice and the courts. You can send story tips to rhianna.schmunk@cbc.ca.

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