From child star to convicted killer: The chilling ‘downward spiral’ of Riverdale’s Ryan Grantham

Grantham killed his mother in cold blood in 2020. He’s since been sentenced to life in prison. Bevan Hurley investigates how he got there

Saturday 08 October 2022 22:49 BST

Standing to address the British Columbia Supreme Court at a sentencing hearing in June, Ryan Grantham’s voice broke as he said he had no excuse for the execution-style murder of his mother.

“It hurts me to think about how badly I’ve wasted my life,” Grantham told the court, the CBC reported. “In the face of something so horrible, saying sorry seems so pointless. But from every fibre of my being, I am sorry.”

The former Riverdale actor, 24, was sentenced to life in prison with a minimum non-parole period of 14 years in British Columbia Supreme Court in Vancouver last month.

He had earlier pleaded guilty to charges of second-degree murder after admitting that he shot his mother Barbara Waite in the back of the head with a .22 calibre rifle as she played piano in their townhouse in Squamish, north of Vancouver, on 31 March 2020.

“He put the crosshairs on the back of her head, closed his eyes and pulled the trigger,” Crown prosecutor Michaela Donnelly told a hearing on 13 June.

The explanation Grantham gave to police was that he couldn’t bear his mother to witness “the violence he intended to commit” on the world and himself.

They said Grantham had been racked with suicidal and homicidal urges in the months leading up to the murder. He had been plotting to assassinate Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau for months, detailing his plans in a diary later recovered by police.

After becoming a moderately successful child actor in his native Canada, Grantham developed a psychosis from heavy marijuana and alcohol abuse, psychiatric reports would later find.

A British Columbia sentencing hearing for former Riverdale actor Ryan Grantham heard his mother Barbara Waite was an ‘excellent parent'

On 1 April, two days after killing his mother, he packed his family car with three guns, a dozen Molotov cocktails, camping supplies and “enough ammo to trigger a small war”, according to the Vancouver Sun.

He drove about 200 kilometres east to the town of Hope before turning around, and contemplated committing an act of mass violence at Vancouver’s Lions Gate Bridge or at Simon Fraser University, where he had been a student.

Before turning himself in, Grantham said he had sat in his car with a gun trained his head. The only thing that stopped him from going through with shooting himself was his belief that he owed the “world a life.”

“I took from the world a beautiful life so I owe the world a life,” he said during his sentencing.

He later drove to a Vancouver police station where he told an officer: “I killed my mother.”

Ryan Grantham is seen in his role as Jeffery on Riverdale in 2019

‘She would have known it was me’

In an obituary, Ms Waite, known to friends and family as Barbie, was remembered as a beloved mother, sister and friend who was at her happiest in nature.

She was an adventurous spirit who especially enjoyed outdoor pursuits including cross-country skiing, biking and hiking, the online tribute said.

“Although small in physical stature, she was strong and brave, fighting through challenges with a relentless positive outlook,” the tribute read.

Prior to her murder, Grantham had practiced carrying out the killing. He filmed “rehearsals” on a Go-Pro of himself approaching her from behind with a gun as she sat playing a piano.

He eventually followed through on the plan on 30 March 2020, walking up to his mother and shooting her in the back of the head.

In a video taken after the killing that was played to the court, Grantham could be heard saying: “I shot her in the back of the head. In the moments after, she would have known it was me.”

After the killing, Grantham was reported to have purchased marijuana and beer, watched Netflix in bed for two and a half hours, and tried making molotov cocktails.

Before setting off the next day, he placed a sheet over his mother’s body, hung a rosary on the piano, and lit candles around her body.

“I'm so sorry mom, I'm so sorry Lisa ... I hate myself,” Grantham wrote in a journal entry that day, according to the CBC. “There's a lot of media of me out there … film and TV … hundreds of hours of me that can be viewed and dissected ... No one will understand.”

Waite’s body was discovered by her daughter Lisa on the evening of 1 April. Lisa had grown concerned that her phone calls and texts had gone unanswered and went to the property.

Ryan Grantham aged 12 in The Anachronism, a 2010 short film for which he received an acting award nomination

A fragile mental state

Speaking at his sentencing, Grantham’s sister Lisa said her mother had been battling cancer at the time of her death, and presented a helpless target.

“Ryan gave her no chance to defend herself,” Lisa Grantham told the court, adding she was convinced her brother was a danger to the public. “How can I trust anybody when my only sibling chose to execute my mom when her back was turned?”

Psychiatric reports found that Grantham had been in a fragile mental state and harboured suicidial thoughts prior to the murder. He was diagnosed with having a mood and substance abuse disorder that had contributed to the killings.

However, experts said that the conditions could not absolve him of criminal responsibility for the crime.

His lawyer Chris Johnson told the court that Grantham had been on a “downward spiral” for months leading up to the matricide, according to the Vancouver Sun.

He had been smoking marijuana heavily and been spending a lot of time online, Mr Johnson said.

“At the time of the offence, this killing was not done out of hatred or animosity, it was done in Mr Grantham’s disordered thinking, to prevent his mother from seeing what he thought he was about to do,” Mr Johnson said, per the CBC.

According to figures from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, around 3 in 10 marijuana smokers develop “cannabis use disorder”, where they are unable to stop using the drug even when it causes them health and social problems.

In delivering a 14-year minimum non parole life sentence, Justice Kathleen Ker called the case tragic and heartbreaking before saying that the victim impact statements, especially from his sister, spoke to the “life-shattering” effects of his crimes.

After sentencing, Grantham’s lawyer Chris Johnson said he feared for Grantham’s safety in a maximum security lockup. He told TMZ that due to the actor’s 5ft 2 height and slim build, he appeared much younger than his 24 years and would be at risk of being “physically, psychologically and sexually intimidated”.

Correctional authorities will determine where Grantham spends his prison sentence.

Ryan Grantham’s acting history

Grantham first appeared in commercials as an 8-year-old before gaining critical acclaim for early short and feature films in Canada, and earned a lengthy list of acting credits in film and television from the age of nine.

He received several nominations in British Columbia’s Leo Awards for the 2010 short film The Anachronism, and won Best Male Actor at the Vancouver Short Film Festival for Liz in 2011.

Grantham gained small parts in movies such asThe Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus and Diary of a Wimpy Kid.

His most recent role was in the television show Riverdale, where he played Jeffrey Augustine in one episode in 2019.

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