Shtuka family makes plans to return home

Latest KSAR, RCMP searches provide no information

Heather Shtuka searches alongside friends. Photo Facebook.

When Heather Shtuka leaves Sun Peaks on May 31 it will be without her son she came so desperately to find.

Heather and her husband, Scott, arrived in Sun Peaks late at night on Feb. 17 after their son Ryan was reported missing by his friends which launched into a search effort spanning three months and involving tens of thousands of dollars, dozens of trained searchers and animals and over 700 volunteers.

On May 26 and 27 Kamloops Search and Rescue (KSAR) returned to the resort for a fifth search with around 25 searchers and a dog team. Kamloops RCMP also attended the search with multipurpose dogs.

Heather Shtuka organizes volunteers. Photo Facebook.

KSAR manager Alan Hobler said the search was again unsuccessful. He added advanced search and rescue theory and formulas pointed them back to the area around where Ryan was last seen on Burfield Dr.

Hobler said the first search on Feb. 18 spanned 18 hours and was the one big opportunity to find Ryan alive. Then, after two nights at temperatures below minus 20 C, the search became a body recovery.

This change impacts how the search is approached by officials, in this case meaning waiting for easier and safer conditions to search.

“This time I think we exhausted most areas,” he said. “We can’t search to 100 per cent detection, we probably can’t search to even 80 or 90 per cent detection. That would require way more resources than are available.

Heather Shtuka blasts apart a snowbank with a hose in an attempt to find her son. Photo Facebook.

“There is a chance he was missed and is close to where he disappeared; it’s also possible he’s somewhere else in the province or country…people are often found off the beaten track nine or 10 years later.”

The intense searching with no results has been difficult on KSAR members, Hobler said.

“It’s very frustrating. Our members are sort of emotionally involved too,” he said, adding critical incident stress management counselors were brought in specifically for those involved with this case.

Hobler said he has never seen the same amount of civilian volunteers searching day after day.

“The family has been relentless in in generating interest for people to keep coming up…My heart goes out to them.”

While concerns have been raised that the amount of volunteers searching could have made KSAR’s work more difficult, Hobler said in this case it was “perfectly fine” and no areas were contaminated.

After this weekend’s fruitless search and many months of searching by foot, in the air and with multiple dog teams, Heather and Scott are returning home to Beaumont, Alta.

“I did prepare myself for that (not finding him),” Heather said. “We’ve been doing this for so long.”

Heather added the best window of opportunity for searching has passed as undergrowth is already thickening.

She and Scott still search almost every day, hiking through thick brush. When not searching they often discuss all possible scenarios.

“For every potential scenario you’ve thought of we’ve thought of ten,” she said. “We debate them every day. I still believe in my heart Ryan is here.”

Even as the circumstances around Ryan’s disappearance have been widely shared by national, provincial and regional media and a massive social media campaign, there have been no physical tips or evidence to point them another direction or another location, according to the family. The RCMP investigation remains ongoing with no new information released by police.

Searching has taken place in many nooks and crannies of the resort. Photo Facebook.

Searching will continue, but Heather made a promise to go home for her eldest daughter Jordyn’s birthday. Scott will return a few days after.

They plan to come back to Sun Peaks the first week of June until after Father’s Day. Commitments will then keep them in Beaumont until the end of July.

“We’ll be back at the end of July, then again in August, September, October, until the snow falls. Then we will be back when it melts.

“Our searches will still happen but more remote. I know people here in Sun Peaks will continue (to search) and the connections we’ve made outside of that.”

Heather said she is not returning as the same person and she knows her daughters and family will be forever changed.

“I look at them and I believe they are well adjusted. They are strong, brave, have a generosity of spirit. They are grateful for the community that has formed and they see it every day and I hope that will continue as we go forward.

“You have to wonder what will be the negative impact. The impact of not knowing, the tactless questions. I hope that they don’t have to deal with that.”

Having the family home together for the first time since Ryan seemingly vanished into thin air will take adjustment.

“I think it will be like a piece is missing, like nothing will be the same. We’re still not able to process grief at all because we just don’t know…There has been more appreciation (of each other), more talking and discussing.”

She also goes back having changed herself.

“When we came out it was the worst thing that had ever happened. But it’s not; there’s more we have to go through before this is all over.

“You have lots of fears as an adult—am I strong enough, am I brave enough? But the worst thing that will happen has and I’m still here. I don’t find as many things fearful.”

Ryan was last seen wearing grey pants, a grey and white shirt, a burgundy hat, a navy coat and sand coloured vans.

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