Ryan Eakin’s presence permeates the family home near Baxendale a few miles west of Helena.
A large, framed pastel-and-charcoal portrait of a bison that he drew adorns a living room wall. Old traps, which Ryan painstakingly cleaned using vinegar, hang from the fireplace mantel. A photograph of him at 9 years old, posing with the mountain goat that he hunted with his father, is at the base of the stairway. In the corner rests a wooden walking stick Ryan carved—not to use, but to keep his hands busy.
“He found it while we were exploring the rocks near our house at Baxendale,” his sister Haley Eakin said. “He carved it while we watched TV. We used to go exploring every day when we lived in Rimini—we would pack a lunch and go to the Big Rock or go catch frogs by Tenmile Creek.”
“He decorated this place,” added his father, Kirk Eakin, pointing to the collections of license plates, arrowheads, tobacco tins and vintage beer cans that Ryan collected and now accent one of the bathrooms and other rooms of the house.
“That sign above the toilet—DuPont Explosives—was a wooden crate sign he found in an old cabin the family owns in Rimini. He thought hanging it there was funny. He found a lot of the other old items in boxes in the cabins, and would spend hours cleaning and polishing to add them to the house.”
Ryan’s hands and heart were stilled on Thursday, when the 20-year-old was shot and killed in a parking lot near Montana and Bozeman streets. Austin Lee Kroll-McLaughlin is jailed, facing charges of deliberate homicide and tampering with or fabricating physical evidence in connection with the case.
Ryan’s parents, Kirk and Cathy Eakin, and his sisters Haley, 19, and Ashley, 14, are trying to cope with the unexpected loss of their son and brother. On Sunday, they mixed laughter with tears as they shared memories of the young man with the shy smile who loved to hunt and fish, ski, shoot hoops and spend time with his family and friends
“Our favorite thing to do together was to go on drives” in the Toyota Celica that he loved, Ashley recalled. “We would always listen to music and he would sing along, mostly to rap songs.”
Ryan was an Eagle Scout who earned his badge making a raptor rehabilitation house for Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks’ Montana Wild Center. He graduated from Capital High School in 2014 and was taking business classes at Helena Technical College. Ryan was artistic and lively, an incredibly organized and a gentle soul with a positive outlook, according to his family.
“We met with some of his friends today, and they said that he was always there for them,” Kirk said. “He was always positive, making negative situations positive. ‘Everything will be all right’ was his saying whenever it looked bad.”
Ryan was nicknamed “The Baseball Kid” in a Helena Independent Record article in 2007, after the then-12-year-old wrote an award-winning essay on slugger Reggie Jackson. When he was 9, Ryan traveled to California with his dad to represent Montana, after winning a Mutual of Omaha Wild Kingdom essay contest on how to save the threatened Canada lynx. He also was a Montana junior duck stamp design winner or finalist five times.
In his fanatically organized bedroom—his mother used to tease him about his insistence on making the bed even if he was late for school—are collections of matchbox cars, old wooden fishing lures, a sculpture made from Red Bull cans and a fort made out of toothpicks that he cut, glued together and painted.
He didn’t know what he wanted to do with his life, but his family felt that his childhood artistic abilities should have been further pursued.
“Ryan wanted to be an architect when he was young,” Cathy said. “He was a really good kid, and anyone who knows him knows that.”
Kirk laughs, recalling the time he and Ryan took a beginners fly-tying class at Cross Currents. Kirk wanted to take remedial fly tying again, but Ryan moved on to the intermediate class.
“He’d sit with the old guys, tying flies with them, when he was only 9 or 10,” he said.
They’re not sure what led up to their son’s shooting, saying they don’t know much more than what was reported in the newspaper and on television. But they want the Helena community to know that regardless of the circumstances, Ryan was a good young man whose life was cut short too soon.
A celebration of Ryan’s life is set for 1 p.m. Saturday, July 16, at Our Redeemer’s Church on North Benton.
Eve Byron is a freelance reporter in Helena and can be reached at 406/422-6601 or at email@example.com