Family coming to Sun Peaks for fifth anniversary of Ryan Shtuka’s disappearance

Community support “was a saving grace,” says Heather Shtuka, Ryan’s mother, who wrote about his life and disappearance in a recently published book.
Heather Shtuka, a blonde woman wearing light winter gear and a backpack, walks along a gravel road with friends following behind her in the background.
Heather Shtuka searches for her son in Sun Peaks during filming for a 2019 short documentary. Photo Alan McVicar, Past 11 Productions

Ryan Shtuka’s parents will return to Sun Peaks to mark their son’s tragic disappearance from the village five years ago. 

On February 17, 2018, around 2 a.m., Ryan went missing after leaving a home on Burfield Drive. 

Heather Shtuka, Ryan’s mother, recently published a book called Missing from Me. 

The book collects memories of Ryan, including Heather’s perspective as his mother and stories shared with her by those who knew him in Sun Peaks.

“It really does highlight how a community came together to help this family that was in a time of need. And, for us, it was our saving grace,” Heather told SPIN.

The Shtuka family plans to arrive in Sun Peaks from their home in Alberta on Feb. 16. The annual “Run for Ryan,” event, held in support of Ryan and his family, takes place on Feb. 17 followed by a candlelight vigil. There will also be a book signing at the Sun Peaks Grand Hotel and Conference Centre that day.

Missing from Me

The book was inspired by blog posts Heather made in Sun Peaks after her son disappeared. 

“I always knew I was going to take those posts and then do something … to create a legacy for Ryan,” she said.

After his disappearance, Heather said the Shtukas came to the village for about a week once every month to search for Ryan. In winter, when conditions meant they couldn’t search effectively, the family went to Sun Peaks simply to feel connected with him and the people who knew him. However, the family stopped visiting when the COVID-19 pandemic halted inter-provincial travel.

“I think there was a certain amount of guilt not being able to continue on, and so [writing] was a way for me to continue awareness for him,” Heather said.

Heather said the Sun Peaks community came together to help the Shtukas and many people here are like family.

“Out of that came this connection to Sun Peaks and … the Kamloops community that really did save us, that gave us strength to carry on when we didn’t think we could. We’ve come to grow [to] love the community for everything that it offers,” she said.

“I hope that [the book] resonates with people who are going through tragedies of their own, that there are ways that you can lean on others and find a way not only to survive but to thrive,” Heather shared.

“[Writing the book] brought back some of the worst moments of my life … and made me recognize the support that we did get, and [I] also reflected on some of the worst parts that were offered to us through speculation,” she said, referencing different theories about Ryan’s disappearance.

Heather said family members are proud of her for collecting those memories in the book, in spite of how hard Ryan’s disappearance is on all of them. Her husband, Scott Shtuka, still isn’t ready to read it.

“He lived it. I know there’ll be a time when [Scott] will feel safe enough to open it up,” Heather said.

Scott and Heather Shtuka search for their son on Mt.Morrisey. Photo Supplied.

The Free Bird Project

Out of her experience searching for Ryan, Heather started The Free Bird Project with Tammy Neron and Kate Sinclair, who’d also experienced the trauma of having loved ones go missing. Tammy and Kate’s brother, Dominic Neron, and his girlfriend Ashley Bourgeault went missing in 2017 when their plane disappeared near Revelstoke.

“[Tammy and Kate] sort of reached out to us and family members in the early stages of Ryan going missing, to just offer us some basic resources,” Heather said. 

The wreckage of Dominic’s plane was found in Sept. 2018, bringing the search for the two to an end.

But the work for families of missing people wasn’t over. The families combined their lived experiences to offer support and resources as a legacy for their loved ones, creating The Free Bird Project.

The two families each have experience in different parts of search and rescue operations, which they want to offer to other families via The Free Bird Project.

“They have a lot of [experience with] aerial ground searches. We have more ground search [experience.] … That was the beginning of The Free Bird Project, and we became a non-profit, and we continue to offer support and resources to [families] who have loved ones that go missing,” Heather said.

Petition to name a run at Sun Peaks after Ryan

While another anniversary of Ryan’s disappearance approaches, others who knew Ryan are hoping to find new ways to remember him. There is a petition to name a run after Ryan at Sun Peaks, started by one of Ryan’s friends, London Cramer. 

“I am incredibly grateful to London for wanting to continue raising awareness for Ryan as well as the many supporters that have signed up for that,” Heather said. 

But she wants the Sun Peaks community to understand that the initiative isn’t something that came from Ryan’s family. 

The family has been working with Sun Peaks Resort in the background to do something to memorialize Ryan’s legacy at Sun Peaks. A memorial bench or plaque could do more to help people understand his story than a ski run with his name on it, she said. 

While she is grateful for the show of love and support, Heather said she’s also wary the petition is putting Sun Peaks Resort in a difficult position and creating tension around whether or not the effort to name a run after Ryan will be successful. 

However, Heather said she loves the “Ryan’s Run” signs London is creating in memory of him. 

“I love the fact that she is giving them away for people to take with them on their travels.” 

She said London plans to make one for the Shtukas, which they hope to put on display in their yard. 

If anyone has information about Ryan Shtuka, they are asked to contact Kamloops RCMP at 250-828-3000. Further information relating to Ryan’s case can be found here.

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