Ryan Snutch was born in Ottawa on Dec. 22, 1984, six weeks sooner than expected. In the early hours of the morning, Ryan’s mother Kitty went into labour and was whisked off to the hospital by her husband, Don, leaving their house full of family and friends. After all, it was three days before Christmas.
Born at that moment of happy togetherness, Ryan carried this sentiment to others in the early years of his life. As a baby, when it was time for bed, he couldn’t fall asleep without holding onto one of his parent’s fingers. “You had to sit there with your hand through the crib,” recalls Don. When his little sister Kayla was learning to speak, Ryan would “translate” on her behalf, telling Kitty and Don that he could understand her because he still knew “baby talk.”
A few years later, when Ryan was in Grade 3, Don showed up at Ryan’s school for a volunteer appreciation day. He was approached by a woman who vigorously shook his hand and thanked him “for raising such a good boy.” Apparently, the woman’s son, who was in kindergarten, was dejectedly playing by himself one day. Defying all playground conventions of cool, Ryan veered away from his own friends to go join him. It was something that regularly happened as Ryan grew older: his parents learned much about Ryan’s good nature from the stories people would tell of his caring generosity. “People constantly come up to us and compliment us on our son,” says Don.
Ryan was also never one to press his parents for money or toys. When every other kid they knew had a Nintendo, Ryan never hassled his parents to get him one. “His needs weren’t great,” Don says, emphasizing that, even at a young age, Ryan appreciated the simple things in life—like quality time with loved ones. “He was very mature,” says Don. “Ryan was never ashamed to come up to his mother and give her a kiss and say ‘I love you.’ ”
At 15, Ryan became the first teenager to join the adult dart league, which was organized by his father. He was a natural. At dart tournaments, Don says Ryan was the only person who would pick a 57-year-old mentally challenged person to be on his team—every time. The two of them even won darts championships together. “This guy worshipped Ryan,” says Don.
Ryan was quick to make friends and easy to talk to. As his father puts it, “he could have made a great bartender.” Perhaps because of this, two of his friends from high school chose him to be the godfather of their respective children. Don says Ryan worked exceedingly hard to spend time with them every week—especially for Tristan, diagnosed early on with autism. Before he got his driver’s licence, Ryan would walk or take the bus—sometimes for over an hour—to see his godchildren.
In the summer of 2005, Ryan went to a music festival at the Whispering Pines campground, about 70 km east of Ottawa. That’s where he met RoseAnn Garde, whose parents ran the place. They were introduced by some mutual friends. “It was pretty much love at first sight,” RoseAnn remembers. And so Ryan started coming back regularly. Soon enough, they were going steady, and Ryan was heading out there almost every weekend, driving from work in the city.
On Jan. 25, 2010, Ryan and RoseAnn had a baby. They named him Julian. “They look so much alike—his laugh, his giggle, even his smile,” says RoseAnn. Everyone could tell that Julian meant the world to his father. RoseAnn’s mom Eileen remembers Julian scampering through the woods at the campground, screaming “Daddy!” when Ryan would turn up after a brief absence. “It was so beautiful,” she says.
This Labour Day weekend, Ryan, RoseAnn and Julian spent the holiday with family and friends at Whispering Pines. Early that Sunday, storm clouds dragged across the morning sky, bringing thunder and rain as the three of them slept in a tent nestled within a grove of evergreen trees. In that moment of togetherness, a bolt of lightning flashed into their tent, entering Ryan’s body with a deafening crack. Instinctively, Ryan pushed RoseAnn to get her away from danger. With electricity coursing through him, his hand left a burned imprint on her back—the shadow of his last act of love. Ryan was rushed to hospital, where he died soon thereafter. He was 26.