Four weeks to the day since Sun Peaks resident Ryan Shtuka was reported missing, and on his 21st birthday, his family, friends and scores of volunteers mounted another extensive ground search.
Approximately 70 volunteers are in Sun Peaks today. Twenty four people were transported by volunteered shuttles from Kamloops this morning. They were joined by dozens of volunteers from Alberta near Ryan’s hometown and by many others from Sun Peaks and surrounding communities.
As the week’s temperatures have been milder, Heather and Scott Shtuka, Ryan’s parents, hope decreasing snow levels in the village will help the searchers as they canvas the area by snowshoes with probes.
— Sun Peaks News (@sunpeaksnews) March 17, 2018
“It feels different this weekend because we’ve had so much snow melt so that might make things different,” said Heather. “Our problem is our search pattern and that’s always been the challenge that we face. We know which way he should have gone. We which ways he could of gone. Besides that final sighting of him walking towards the door of the house we don’t know where he would have gone. There are no other facts for us.”
This weekend’s search will be concentrated on sections of the village radiating from Burfield Dr. outward, where Shtuka was last seen leaving a party on the early morning hours Feb. 17.
Previous efforts by Kamloops Search and Rescue (KSAR), Kamloops RCMP, the Canadian Search and Disaster Dog Association and volunteers throughout the last four weeks have come close to ruling out the areas where Shtuka “would or should” be based on the routes from the party to his residence. The entire village has been searched to some degree.
“He (Scott) always likes to have new people start at the house Ryan was last seen at and then get an idea of where they should go from there. We like having fresh eyes and a new perspective,” she said.
Despite the thousands of man hours searching the area, authorities have found no physical evidence to aid in their investigation. Numerous tips of sightings in areas outside of Sun Peaks remain unconfirmed and RCMP only state they have no current evidence to believe Shutka left the area or was a victim of foul play.
At times the RCMP investigation has seemed one-sided according to Heather, as some information in an ongoing investigation is withheld.
“It feels like its a one way information highway where they want the information from us but we don’t necessarily get the information from them. I think I can understand that. It’s hard for me to say or make any judgement,” she said regarding local RCMP’s efforts.
Heather said after the first of two official KSAR searches was suspended after the first weekend of Shtuka’s disappearance there was a lack of communication and information from RCMP on how to proceed.
“I don’t know if people just expected us to go home…its feel like people expected us to go home that Monday and come back when the snow melts. Scott and I look at that and just think how could anyone go home when there child is there? You’ve given us one day.
“Who is going to advocate for their child except for us, who cares if he’s found if not us? Who would be searching for our son but for us?”
While thousands of people go missing in B.C. every year, Shtuka’s case has garnered high media awareness across Western Canada and online. One Facebook group dedicated to finding Shtuka has almost 20,000 members and an online GoFundMe campaign is on its way to raising $75,000.
While Heather pointed to the tight-knit communities of Sun Peaks and Beaumont, Alta. for the foundation of support during her son’s disappearance, she’s overwhelmed by the amount of strangers who have also taken an interest and supported the family.
“Why so many people outside of that? It really does boggle my mind. There’s so many people. We are grateful.”
Heather said she feels by publishing her daily writing, which she finds cathartic, she helped make her son real and relatable to many people.
“This is what I can do to search. To bring my son home. It’s good to be able to write about memories…I never thought I’d still be writing 28 days later and it helps me to remember all those beautiful things and it helps me get through.”
The online interest in Shtuka’s disappearance has another side as well. In the vacuum of information, many people have speculated online something more sinister than a tragic accident has happened focusing attention on Shtuka’s peers, despite no official suspicion by the RCMP and Shtuka’s family. Several popular YouTube vloggers have indicated Shtuka’s family has suspicions, which Heather said is not true.
Heather said while in this type of situation everything does cross one’s mind, overall they have not questioned the integrity of those involved.
“Everybody’s been forthcoming. There’s been no tips, nothing has come into Crimestoppers (to indicate that).”
She said they have knowledge of online posts of screenshots of Ryan’s peers’ social media profiles and posts insinuating they have done something wrong or are withholding information.
“I think it’s disgusting to be honest with you. It’s disgusting. Everyone thinks that they’re an armchair detective when they’re sitting at home and they don’t know people. They don’t know us. They don’t know our son and I get that people want to help, but disparaging people who have to go through this? They (Ryan’s peers) don’t get the support from 20,000 people. They’re on this on their own.”
A $10,000 increase in reward money offered by the family for information leading to Shtuka’s location has not yet garnered any additional solid information.
Until there is evidence to point in another direction, Shtuka’s parents will remain focused on searching Sun Peaks.
“We are well aware of what all the theories and possibilities are,” Heather said. “Scott and I are neither naive or stupid. We also know there are not a lot of happy ending scenarios that come from this but that doesn’t mean that the search is less important. People can tell us what their theories are and go off all their theories, but again, until there’s a fact that moves him to a different location or proves consistently that he was in that spot, then all we can do is search. So that’s what we do.”
Whatever the outcome of this weekend’s efforts Shtuka’s friends and family will be celebrating his birthday at Masa’s Bar + Grill starting at 5 p.m. today, near the slopes Shtuka enjoyed riding until his disappearance.
“He would have celebrated it here. He wouldn’t have come home for his birthday and we just wanted to have something where we could gather and his friends and family could celebrate in Ryan’s name. Because he’s still here. Right now he’s still here.”
— Jean Strong (@jeanbstrong) March 17, 2018
Other events in Beaumont, Alta. were held today and an online campaign was conducted encouraging others to do random acts of kindness in Shtuka’s name.
Heather admitted herself and others involved in the search are growing tired.
“Scott and I are exhausted. We want to go home too. I get that this place is not the same as it was a month ago. People here came here for a reason, to live this life and enjoy the time that they are here and this is definitely a dark cloud over the whole experience if you came here. I get that. We feel it too. I can’t change it.”
To volunteer or for more information go to www.ryanshtuka.com.
Shtuka was last seen wearing dark grey jeans, a grey and white shirt, a blue coat and a burgundy ball cap.
Anyone with information is asked to contact Kamloops Rural RCMP at 250-314-1800 or Crime Stoppers at 1-800-222-8477.