Riley Fullton Shannon was born a wintry day on Jan. 24, 1996, in Ingersoll, Ont., to Scott, who worked at a carton printing company, and Sandra, a teacher. Riley had two siblings: Sam and Sophia.
From the start, Riley “liked to stretch boundaries and see how far he could push things,” says his father. “He was always on the go.” Once he was found balancing on his belly on the top rail of his crib, like a bodysurfer. Another time he got his head stuck between its rails, and Sandra had to call a friend to pry the bars apart to release him.
Riley had a strong connection to his grandparents, especially his grandfather Ivin, who had a 100-acre farm near Seaforth, Ont., with a small dairy herd and chickens. When he was about 13, after years of just pretending, Ivin finally let Riley drive an old tractor up and down the farm lane. He could not have been happier. Riley often visited his Italian grandmother, “Nona,” as well. He’d show her his new haircuts, or mow her lawn, and feast on pasta afterwards.
“Riley wasn’t an academic kind of kid,” says Scott. “It was hard for him to sit still in class. So during his high school years, my wife and I waged a constant battle with him to try to keep him focused and his grades up.” But he was naturally athletic, running track and playing football, volleyball and soccer during his school years. He was artsy as well, taking part in a couple of plays at Ingersoll District Collegiate Institute.
You only had to be within distant earshot of Riley to know he loved country music. “He loved to sing, which he did often around the house, at the top of his lungs,” laughs Scott. In the shower, doing chores, pretty much anywhere, anytime, Riley sang. Accompanied by his close friend Amanda, a talented piano player, he’d often sing Hallelujah.
His sister Sophia was more selective about who she’d sing in front of. But she’d sing with Riley. “I think he had a beautiful voice. He was never shy, though, on showing people how he could sing.”
Riley also had a deep cowboy streak in him; he had two pairs of cowboy boots and often wore a floppy cowboy hat. He’d go horseback riding with his friend Reece’s mother. But with his fringed beard and long hair, he looked almost Mennonite, friends agreed.
Riley had grown his hair long the past two years in competition with a friend to raise money for cancer research. His uncle Joe and two grandparents had died from the disease. In late April, Riley got his 12-inch locks lopped off for charity.
If Riley had a favourite thing besides singing and being with his close pack of friends, it was mud bogging. He owned a white 1995 Chevy diesel pickup he sometimes drove at the Walton Raceway’s five mud pits. But more often, he’d go mudding together with Reece in beat-up trucks purchased for $300 or less. They’d cut out the fenders and slap on big gnarly tires.
“We all loved it,” says Reece, who had a mud pit on a family acreage where he and Riley tested out their trucks. Three times a year, they’d enter a big mud bogging event at the raceway, camping out the night before and enjoying beers (Riley’s brand was Bud Light). Riley, says Reece, “was always out there, louder than everyone and just happy to be there.”
Riley had worked as a roofer at a Home Hardware and, most recently at a John Deere warehouse in Woodstock, Ont. Lately, he’d been going to night school so he could qualify for studies at Fanshawe College to become a paramedic.
In high school, explains his mother, Riley did a co-op in the local hospital’s emergency department. For Riley, says Sandra, becoming a paramedic was a way to use his empathetic nature and natural gift with people to help others.
On March 12, Riley joined a small gathering of friends at Amanda’s house in nearby Dorchester. Around midnight, three young men, also there but not well known to Riley, asked Amanda to show them her dad’s machinery stored in an outbuilding. Without permission, the three jumped aboard a 5,300-kg, track-wheeled John Deere skid steer and began joyriding in it. When they refused to stop the machine, Amanda texted Riley for help. He was run down and killed as he tried to stop the men. Two 18-year-olds and a 19-year-old man have been charged with, among other things, criminal negligence causing death. Riley was 21.