A little more than a month has passed since the family and friends of Ronny “Ron-Dog” Knapp gathered to honor the fallen man. He was the victim of the Weil’s Building fire that erupted on January 2nd of this year crippling our historic downtown area. About 75 friends and family, and some locals too, gathered to have a candlelight vigil to reflect on his life cut so short by the acts of an arsonist, Roel Leon. Leon is now in the Washington County jail awaiting a trial proceeding that now has a murder charge attached to it after the remains of Knapp were found.
Leon is sick, mentally. There is no doubt of that. The Herald has spoken to his mother who accounts stories of trying to find help for her son as a child. There was none to be found in a story that is all too familiar in the world we live in today.
Ronny had his own struggles, also battling bipolar disorder and other mental health challenges. As he entered the Weil building that night, through an unlocked door, he was looking for shelter from the storm. Not the one outside on Main Street but the one in his head. He was not homeless as so many have opined. Far from it. He had several family members that supported him and his own place, as well as beds around the valley open to him. But he knew when things got to a point where he could not be with those that loved him, he could hide out from those problems in places like this building.
Ronny entered the side door of the building at about 12:15 AM the morning of the 2nd. He went upstairs and probably was sleeping when Leon entered the building at 2:30 AM with the intention of burning it down. The film we have obtained makes that clear and undebatable. As Leon went to work lighting the building ablaze he must not have known that Knapp was upstairs; that is yet to be determined. And in a twist of fate almost too unbelievable to comprehend, it turns out the two men knew each other. More on that later.
Rumors of a possible body inside the building persisted for over a month before they were confirmed by a police dog in early February. Security camera footage provided to authorities on January 3rd confirmed that a man had entered the building before the fire; never leaving again from that door. When the discovery was made, it only took a few hours for Knapp’s family to be contacted.
A week later the family arranged to have a candlelight vigil at the firewall. Jose and Lucia at LaMixteca Oaxaca made their space available and provided water, coffee, tables, and chairs. We helped too, being among the first to meet Donnica Olson and the family as they gathered in front of our office on Main Street when the news broke. The vigil was simple and yet so meaningful. As candles were lit and speakers took turns, the story of Ron-Dog Knapp came to life.
The words love, compassion, joy, forgiveness, understanding, and fun, were woven throughout the accounts of those who testified. One of his best friends, Frodo Ballard, wrote this beautiful heartfelt poem.
I wasn’t asked to write something for this man that we have lost.
As you can tell I felt compelled no matter what the cost.
I may break down in tears, or spout profanities in vain.
But you and me could all agree that Ronny might do the same.
He lived as if a pauper, a proper peasant in disguise.
Yet all could see his generosity when he looked you in the eyes.
To be more kind and gentle, to give others what they lack.
I’ve seen Ronald William Knapp give up a shirt off of his back.
He wasn’t quick to anger and often showed refrain.
I hope someday that is a skill that I can still obtain.
His senseless over-giving, his heart of gold so pure.
If that was my affliction I would never want a cure.
And now every time I hear it, no matter who’s lips those words pass through.
It will always be your voice I hear in the words God Bless You
Photos were taken by several in attendance including Kevin Cowley, whose wife Anne Marie works at the adjacent business, The Artful Garden. The faces, emotions, tears, smiles, and laughs, were all a part of this wonderful yet simple event that lasted about 45 minutes.
Donnica who is Ronny’s aunt and who raised him on and off most of his life asked those in attendance to light a candle and hold it out for Ronny’s spirit to see. In her family’s tradition, the lights of the candle are to bring the spirit to them and the group that gathered. Once all were lit some moments of silence were had as the group encouraged Ronny to move on to his next stop and away from the wreckage of the building.
“We do not want him to linger or stay there in that place,” said Olson. “This tradition of light ensures that he saw us, came to the light, and moved on. It was important that we did that.”
Important indeed. So as the machines now crunching up the remains of the Weil’s Building do their work and the facade is removed forever, let us not forget the life of Ronny “Ron-Dog” Knapp. Buildings come and go, and so do people. But we can remember them fondly for what they gave us all. It is important that we grapple with the loss of Ronny, the plight of all of those with mental illness, and move on past this fire never forgetting what happened here on Main Street in 2022. Never forgetting Ronnie.
From his family: RIP Ronald William Knapp AKA RonDog- we are sorry that something so tragic took your life. Ronny didn’t have the easiest life even since a child with his parents passing at such a young age. He was raised by his grandfather and grandmother. Once his grandmother passed his aunt and uncle took on the role of raising him. Ronald had a free-minded soul, yes he had his quirks but he was a very loving and giving friend and family member who made an impact on all who crossed his path. Sometimes it’d look like a tornado followed him, especially after making a midnight snack, but that was Ronny. He grew up close to his Aunt, uncle, and cousins making for some interesting and impressionable memories and he treated them as his siblings as they did he! He’d stay with friends off and on and considered them family as well as they considered him. Ronny would give you the shirt off his back in 5-degree weather even if that meant him freezing. Ronald made a great impact on many lives and he was loved by so many, he had a great smile and always thanked people with a “God bless you” for he was thankful for all the little things!
Evan Acey And Influence Music Hall Artists Perform
In addition to the candle lighting remembrances, local musicians and Influence Music Hall founder, Evan Acey, have produced a heartfelt tribute for Ronnie Knapp that includes original songs. They were performed at the March Artwalk a few weeks ago. This is a wonderful tribute and the music is terrific. The Herald salutes Evan and all who helped make this tribute possible.