Every year on April 27, Ashley Simpson’s family and friends mark the anniversary of her disappearance in her home town of St. Catharines, Ont., with a vigil to celebrate her life and mourn her absence.
“It’s terribly heartbreaking for us that Ashley is gone, but we are learning to cope with it,” said Ashley’s father John Simpson who has dedicated the last five years of his life searching for Ashley and raising money for an organization that conducts drone searches for missing people across Canada.
This year, his family held a socially distanced backyard gathering to remember the adventurous and loving 32-year-old who mysteriously vanished in the Yankee Flats area of British Columbia south of the city of Salmon Arm in 2016.
“It affects us mentally and physically almost every day. Not only the mother and dad but the nieces and nephews,” John said. “My mother cries all the time. You know, it’s a terrible thing.”
Added to the grieving and heartbreak is the frustration of having so few answers as to what happened to Ashley.
John last saw Ashley when she left the northern B.C. community of Pink Mountain in February of 2016 to live with her boyfriend Derek Favell in a trailer near Salmon Arm on Yankee Flats Road.
When she vanished, people told John she was last seen walking on a street in Silver Creek near Salmon Arm with her pink suitcase.
There’s been no sign of her since then.
Simpson has travelled to B.C. three times to search for Ashley — combing the hills and bush for traces of his daughter and speaking to people in the area about her.
“You are all hyped up when you go out there. You have about a dozen tips, all these places to check,” he said.
“You do all this ground work and you come home empty. It takes a large piece out of your soul.”
Simpson said police have told him that his daughter probably met with foul play in the Salmon Arm area.
The RCMP said in a statement to CBC News, the investigation into Ashley’s disappearance is “active, ongoing and a priority for major crime investigators.”
“The RCMP remains committed to finding out what has happened to Ashley, so that it can provide answers to her friends, family and loved ones,” wrote Cpl. Jesse O’Donaghey.