People who knew Raymond Wesley Hill well say he loved his family immensely, loved to tell jokes, and that “his laughter was one of a kind.”
Approximately 100 people attended a vigil for Hill Friday night at the corner of Ellice Avenue and Colony Street, where the 57-year-old collapsed after being attacked on a Winnipeg Transit bus last weekend..
“Knowing Raymond was quite some fun,” said Belinda van Benbroeck, a lifelong friend from Churchill, Man., Hill’s hometown.
“He was quite the character.”
Nana-gale Fagnan, a former common-law partner and mother of Hill’s children, told the crowd that even after the two had separated, Hill would call at least once a week.
“I used to tell him, ‘I hear from you more than I hear from the kids,'” she said. “We’d talk and just joke around and laugh. He’d drive me a little, you know — but that’s Ray.”
Earlier Friday, while driving down Portage Avenue with her sister, Fagnan said she broke into tears because she realized she won’t see Hill or hear his voice again.
“Just such a violent crime,” she said Friday evening.
According to the Winnipeg Police Service, Hill and Justin Gabriel James, 46, stepped onto a Transit bus on Portage Avenue shortly before 3 p.m. on May 24, but they weren’t together.
While the bus was moving, James instigated a fight with Hill and eventually stabbed him, said police, who believe the attack was unprovoked and that Hill did not know his assailant.
“Raymond was a kind-hearted soul,” van Benbroeck said Friday. “He never backed down from anything. But he was not a guy to look for a fight. He just would not do that.”
The bus stopped and Hill was able to wave down a nearby police cruiser, before collapsing at the corner of Colony and Ellice.
WATCH| ‘Raymond was a man that loved his family’
Officers provided first aid before sending Hill to hospital, where he later died from his injuries.
James, who police say has a lengthy criminal record, was arrested and is facing a charge of manslaughter.
At a news conference earlier this week, WPS spokesperson Const. Jay Murray acknowledged that, at least anecdotally, police are noticing an increase in the number of violent incidents where the victim and suspect don’t know each other.
On Friday, as Fagnan spoke to the crowd about Hill, her son stood behind her with a sign that read, “Violence in the city needs to stop.”
Fagnan echoed the sentiment, saying, “Something has to stop in our city.”
Hill “barely” rode the bus, and often chose to walk instead, according to his daughter Creeanne Hill,
He also understood the potential for violence in the city, Creeanne Hill said, which makes his death that much more frightening to her.
“He was not the type of person to be afraid of anything,” she said. “Just knowing how he passed away, and he never knew it was coming … it’s scary.
“You can’t even take a bus without having your back turned.”
The heads of the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1505, which represents Winnipeg Transit employees, were among those in attendance at Friday’s vigil, and they offered their condolences to the family.
“There was a death that started on one of our buses, and nobody deserves to die — everybody deserves to go home safe,” said James Van Gerwen, executive vice-president of ATU Local 1505.
The union has been calling for more safety on buses for years, said Van Gerwen, and this “senseless death” is another reason why “things need to be done.”
He suggested that the City of Winnipeg consider having security teams check buses, or installing a button that a driver can push in emergency situations that will make the electronic signs outside of the bus read 9-1-1.
Raymond Hill was raised in Churchill and taken to a residential school before moving to Winnipeg, said Creeanne Hill.
Hill was experiencing homelessness when he died, and was staying at the Siloam Mission on Princess Street. But whenever Creeanne Hill needed help, her father was there for her, she said.
“He was always there for us, all the time,” she said, her voice cracking. “He never had much to offer, but whatever he could, he would help us.”
There will be a service on Saturday, before Hill’s body is flown to Churchill.
He was the last of his siblings to die, and leaves behind three children.