Friends, family mourn Penacook drowning victim
Flowers placed in memory of Daron Graham lay by the Merrimack river under the Veterans Memorial Bridge; Monday, July 8, 2013. On Saturday Daron Graham of Penacook, known to friends as Rilla, drowned while swimming near the bridge. One day earlier, Gary LaCroix, also of Penacook, drowned downstream at Sewalls Falls.
(ALEXANDER COHN / Monitor staff)
Love and loss are visible near the base of the Veterans Memorial Bridge in Boscawen over the Merrimack River, where 20-year-old Daron Graham last hung out with his friends before drowning in the river’s fast-moving waters Saturday.
“Always remembered, never forgotten,” reads one of many messages scrawled in red paint along the side of one of the bridge’s piers, located down a dirt path near the Hannah Dustin monument. Beer cans litter the ground around a bonfire pit from an informal memorial held Sunday. A fresh bouquet of red, yellow and blue flowers rests on a rock next to a folded blue-and-black polo shirt, and a pair of worn brown Nike sneakers is nearby.
Graham had spent the afternoon with friends, flying from a rope swing off the side of the bridge into the water. The river was deeper and the current faster than usual due to recent heavy rainfall. About 4:30 p.m., Graham was swept under the water while out in the middle of the river. His friends tried to swim out to save him, but the water was moving too fast. After three hours of unsuccessful searching that day, authorities stopped and resumed the
next morning, finding his body about 9:05 a.m.
Graham grew up in Brooklyn, where his mother still lives, but had been living in New Hampshire for the past nine years. He spent most of that time with his sister Iyodele Graham in Concord, but moved out to Penacook with friends within the past year. He had attended Merrimack Valley Middle School and then Concord High School. He made his money working at Kentucky Fried Chicken and also doing landscape and construction work, Iyodele said.
But his passions were rapping, playing basketball and just making people laugh.
“He could make anybody else happy,” Iyodele said.
He also had a penchant for fixing things and loved to work on cars. When something was broken, he took it as a challenge, often proudly declaring “I told you I could do it. See? See?”
As a rapper, he was known as “Rilla Ron.” That’s how many of his friends chose to remember him in their memorial messages on the pier. Graham was always a fan of rap but first got serious with his own rapping about four years ago, Iyodele said. He’d created several of his own songs and would perform around the area when he had a chance.
Gripped with grief, his friends and family found it hard to believe that he was gone Saturday. Officers from the Boscawen and Concord police departments, Penacook Rescue Squad, New Hampshire Fish and Game and New Hampshire Marine Patrol assisted in the search. By about 7 p.m. Saturday, they determined Graham had already been under too long to survive. Iyodele arrived at the scene shortly after. Their mother called Iyodele from Brooklyn when she heard the news before coming to New Hampshire. Iyodele begged the authorities to keep searching.
The next morning, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers reduced the Pemigewasset River dam in Franklin to minimum flow to slow the water dumping into the Merrimack. A Fish and Game dive team began the search again at 8:20 Sunday morning. They found Graham’s body on the second dive, just after 9 a.m. about 75 to 100 feet down the river from the rope swing, Sgt. Jim Kneeland said.
The reality that Graham’s life has been cut so short is a terrible one for Iyodele. Graham also leaves behind his mother, Clarise, and another sister, Christina. He will be buried in Brooklyn.
“I can’t . . . imagine burying my 20-year-old brother,” Iyodele said. “He doesn’t have any children, he’s never been married.”
But he did have many friends. Said one of the messages scrawled in red: “I (heart) you Rilla, Rest easy!”