The men and boys missing from Highway 16 between Prince Rupert and Prince George (also known as The Highway of Tears), may not be as numerous as the women and girls, but their disappearances are equally baffling and devastating for the families.
I was out to cover the Ramona Wilson memorial walk on Saturday, June 12 when I came across a lone figure on Highway 16 east of Smithers. She had a poster, but I did not recognize the faces.
I continued on to the meeting spot at Yelich Road, where people have gathered in years past for Wilson. No one was there. Thinking I was early, I backtracked and passed the lone woman again. Something made me pull over at the airport and walk back to where she was.
I asked if she was walking for Ramona, I could tell she was distraught. She was walking for her son, PJ Sebastian. I asked if I could walk with her, and she agreed. She told me he was missing, and she felt the need to walk for him on Saturday.
We walked, and she talked to him and about him. Perry Sebastian, Jr. has been missing since 2011. Saying she needed “to walk with my son, to feel him,” Theresa Joyce Michell was clearly another devastated mother of a child missing along the Highway of Tears.
“Someone out there knows something, and by walking I feel like I am doing something. Maybe that one person will see me, know I continue to seek answers, and come forward.”
I ended up driving Theresa home, and she speaks of the pain of not knowing, the rumours in a small town that she wanted to grasp onto, to hold out hope. The pain of not knowing what has happened to her son, the father of her grandchildren. His disappearance has taken its toll on the whole family.
“His son is really having a hard time coming to grips with his dad not being there,” Michell said.
“For years, we raised money for a reward, family members walked from the last place he was seen to his home in Hagwilget, to raise awareness, it fades from people’s minds.
“The RCMP stopped talking, so we don’t know anything, except we want him home. If he is dead, I want to bring his remains home, he deserves to be home.”
Phyllis Fleury’s son Colton Therrin Fleury who would be 19 now, went missing at 16 in 2018, and she continues to search the province to find him.
Chasing leads, every rumour and tip is exhausting because she is not sure what to believe anymore.
“I’ve got messages on my Facebook saying that he looks healthy, he’s okay, and other people say he’s on heroin. Or worse. I just don’t know what to believe and I haven’t heard from him,” Fleury said.
Whether it’s the missing women and girls or the men and boys, the families endure heartache. Having a missing person in the news, only remains current for so long, and then other stories take over.
This is why the families walk, travel the province to investigate leads, to see if maybe one person who knows something will step forward. To remind people that their loved one is still missing, or their case is unsolved. They need answers.
RCMP conduct ground, air and water searches. They follow the leads until the leads run out. It is a monumental task.
Some statistics report over 40 women and girls have gone missing or have been killed, and for the men and boys, statistics are hard to find.
Universally, families want their loved ones home.
RCMP continue to urge anyone with any information, even the smallest detail, to contact local detachments or anonymously at Crimestoppers at 1-800-222-TIPS(8477).