The pain of having a loved one go missing
Her name was Eunice.
She went missing in the 1960s, never to be heard of again. Robert Ryan is manager of Fire Pit, a downtown drop-in centre which offers the homeless and people down on their luck a safe sanctuary where they can have a cup of tea or bowl of soup and where they can socialize with others.
Eunice was Ryan’s aunt. He remembers – like it was yesterday – how the agonizing pain and baffling mystery of her disappearance tore his family apart.
“I lost my aunt back in the ‘60s when she was a teenager. She was our babysitter. One day she just left and never came back.
“We have no idea what happened to her. She just vanished. My parents talked about it all the time,” he said.
“It’s been so sad for us over the years because we’ve never heard any news of her. We just kept thinking she would come home. My aunt was loved by all of us and [to this day] she is still missed.”
Police investigations failed to turn up any leads in the case, he said. The family looked in vain for Eunice.
“We were living in Cassiar Cannery, a fishing community on the Skeena River [25 miles from Prince Rupert) at the time. I think back then the police just thought she was a runaway – not that we think that. But I do wonder about that trucker route from Prince Rupert to Prince George.”
Ryan says he also has a good friend who has spent the last 11 years looking for his own long lost daughter.
“He takes time out to travel the highways looking for her. He keeps thinking he will find her. He says he will never give up hope.”
The news this week that at least one case in the Highway of Tears (Highway 16) file of murdered and missing women has been solved by police – the 1974 death of Colleen MacMillen of Lac La Hache – rang a little hollow with Ryan.
“Two things hit me. He’s an American and he’s dead. That seems just too convenient to me. It seems he’s a scapegoat or something.”
Saying that, Ryan acknowledges that police deserve credit and they have solid evidence of Bobby Jack Fowler’s guilt [with a DNA sample.] Ryan says his words actually convey his frustration that it has taken so long for the loved ones of the murdered and missing women to have answers.
Despite assurances in the media that investigators plan to push on and hopefully solve other cases, Ryan shrugs and says, “One case in all these years?
However, people in the community are helping in their own way to honour and keep in mind the women who have gone missing, he said.
Janice Merwin for instance, expresses herself in her art.
“I met Janice when she was volunteering with the drop-in and she expressed an interest in donating her cross stitch piece [of a woman with tears] to the Highway of Tears people. I told her that I would try to make the connection. But for some time there was no one there at the Highway of Tears office, it was closed.”
So Merwin decided to donate it to The Firepit where today it is up on the wall, reminding staff and everyone who visits that the women tragically lost over the years have not been forgotten.
“There is not one person who comes in here who does not have some kind of connection to the Highway of Tears, either they know one of the women who is missing or they know people who know them [missing women].
“It’s a very sad thing for this community.”