Handling tragedy in a small town

 | June 19, 2018

Publisher’s Note:

A candle light vigill for missing resident Ryan Shtuka was held in front of the Village Day Lodge Feb. 22. SPIN Photo

To say it was an intense winter to be in Sun Peaks would be an accurate statement. While the community has not been immune to tragedies in the past, the length of time missing Sun Peaks resident Ryan Shtuka’s disappearance has continued is unprecedented for us.

The impressive search effort put forth by his family, the community, RCMP and Kamloops Search and Rescue was present every day and it will always be how I remember the past four months. Searchers probing snowbanks on my way to work, helicopters flying overhead and the ever present social media attention were inescapable.

I’m proud to say the community has remained resilient throughout this journey, having the empathy to continue assisting the Shtuka family even when it may have been easier to respond negatively to some of the more intrusive, damaging and drawn out components of the search. The Shtuka family also remained sensitive to their actions and mitigated the effects of their search as much as possible.

Different organizations, such as Sun Peaks Fire Rescue, the municipality, Sun Peaks Resort LLP, alongside business owners and citizens stepped up help how they could, all while welcoming a record number of skiers and guests throughout the winter.

For myself, the most challenging factor was the massive social media response to the situation. While the majority of online posts were positive and helped create awareness across the country, there was a darker undercurrent present. These posts, outside of groups where the family had administrative control, were published without regard for who they were impacting or how their actions could be harmful.

Sun Peaks residents joined forces with Ryan Shtuka’s family and friends to search the area he is believed to have disappeared. Photo SPIN.

While most residents of Sun Peaks eventually stopped reading, unwilling to deal with the negative scrutiny and repetitive questions, our newsroom didn’t have that option and we continue to monitor the constant online chatter around Ryan’s disappearance. We’ve looked the other way in the face of misinformation, insinuations, harassment and borderline libel.

We fought back the only way we knew how—by covering the story as accurately, thoroughly and compassionately as we could. Keeping articles newsworthy with shockingly little confirmed information or new developments hasn’t been easy but we’ve done our best.

Clearly the impact on our community pales in comparison to the daily anguish and uncertainty Ryan’s family and friends are feeling, but to dismiss our collective experience for that reason takes away from the impact Ryan’s life and disappearance has had on all of us. He was a member of our community and being unable to find him or provide answers for his family after all of our efforts hurts us too. At its core Sun Peaks is a small town and it affected all residents to varying degrees.

Ryan Shtuka was last seen Feb.17 on Burfield Dr. wearing grey pants, a grey and white shirt, a burgundy hat and a navy coat.

What I can say is that anyone who has lived here this winter will never stop looking. Whenever we are out on a trail, driving to the resort, or walking through the village, one part of our brain will always be looking for Ryan. Even uncovering one shred of evidence to confirm he is somewhere in Sun Peaks would be immensely valuable.

At SPIN, we will continue to work with officials and Ryan’s family to provide whatever clarity we can on an extremely unclear situation. As Heather and Scott Shtuka transition back to their home in Beaumont, Alta. we wish them healing as they process their grief, and promise even if they aren’t here, Sun Peaks won’t forget Ryan.