By Michael Potestio, Kamloops This Week
Heather Shtuka hasn’t been able to venture downstairs to the bedroom of her missing son since returning home to Beaumont, Alta., from Sun Peaks.
“It’s tough because we’re at home and things should be normal, and it feels normal if I close my eyes real tight. I can pretend,” she told Kamloops This Week.
Heather sees reminders of her son around their home, such as his shoes in the garage.
“I can only close my eyes, I guess, for so long,” she said.
The parents of missing Alberta man Ryan Shtuka, 20, are back home this week for the first time since he went missing on Feb. 17.
Ryan was last seen leaving a house party on Burfield Drive at about 2 a.m. to walk the short distance back to his home.
Heather and husband Scott spent more than three months in Sun Peaks searching for him, organizing volunteer efforts out of a command trailer every day after the initial operation by Kamloops Search and Rescue (KSAR) ended after the first two days.
“When we set out on February 17, we never thought we would be in Sun Peaks for so long, but as Ryan’s advocates, we also couldn’t imagine leaving without doing everything we can to search and to find him,” Heather said.
With two daughters who have been waiting for their return, Heather and Scott only plan to be away from Sun Peaks temporarily before returning to their search efforts, which will be scaled back in the coming months.
Heather said her eldest daughter turned 18 this past Wednesday.
“So it’s important for us to come home and celebrate that milestone with her, and then our youngest is travelling on a school trip to Quebec, so I want to make sure that I’ve got her sorted and packed,” Heather said.
She said it has been difficult being away from her daughters for so long.
“When you’ve been gone for three-and-a-half months, there’s so much to get caught up on, so we’ve been busy,” Heather said.
The Shtukas have been relentless in their search efforts and did not want to leave Sun Peaks and wait for the snow to melt before looking for their son.
The snow hindered searching, but the parents received support from countless volunteers who went to Sun Peaks throughout the winter to help.
When the snow finally did melt, KSAR returned to renew its search efforts. The receding snow revealed no new clues, however, and to date, there is no sign of Ryan.
KSAR conducted multiple searches last month, involving search dogs and members of the RCMP, but those have once again been suspended, search manager Alan Hobler told KTW.
“It’s the RCMP that makes those determinations. From the RCMP’s perspective, I think, the file remains open and any new information will be investigated and, if needed, we would probably get called out,” Hobler said.
Scott is planning to return to Sun Peaks on Friday, followed by Heather this Monday.
The couple will head back to Alberta at the end of June to attend their eldest daughter’s high school graduation. They will then return to Sun Peaks at the end of July and plan to return periodically in August, September and October to search for their son.
“We’ll come back until the snow falls and then once the snow melts, we’ll come back again each month until we find him or we’ve been given a new direction as to where we can find him,” Heather said.
She said the family is encouraging those who have volunteered to search for Ryan to continue doing so in their absence.
She said the outpouring of support from the community has been indescribable.
Searches for Ryan following the snow melt focused on the Burfield area and extended to trials and even up ski lifts. Articles of clothing, credit cards, cellphones and keys have been found, but none of the items have been connected to Ryan.
Kamloops RCMP Cpl. Jodi Shelkie said police have no evidence to suggest Shtuka met with foul play when he went missing.
Heather believes her son likely succumbed to the elements and his body is somewhere in Sun Peaks. She said she understood after the first few days without any sign of Ryan the chances of finding him alive were slim.
“There’s no leads and that has always been the frustrating part — that there’s no evidence to suggest he left Sun Peaks at all. There’s no tips, no gossip, nothing that would lead us into a different direction,” Heather said.
Ryan arrived in Sun Peaks on Dec. 1 to spend the season snowboarding before returning this spring to his job as an apprentice construction working for his dad.
From what she has heard, and from information via private investigators, Heather said Ryan was leaving a party with a couple of his roommates and ready to walk the short distance to his home when he disappeared.
“They walked out the door with another friend to walk home and thought Ryan was right behind them,” Heather said, adding the friends thought perhaps he had stopped to tie his shoes.
She said by the time they turned around and noticed Ryan wasn’t behind them, they assumed he was lagging behind or decided to stay at the party.
“At minus 26, I don’t expect anybody to wait for a 20-year-old,” she said.
When they woke up in the morning and learned Ryan still wasn’t home, they figured he was out snowboarding — something Ryan liked to do before work.
He did not show up at work that day and KSAR was called in for the initial two-day search.
Heather said the last known confirmed sighting of her son was of him walking toward the door inside the Burfield Drive home.
“He virtually vanished into thin air,” she said.
Ryan is white, stands six feet tall, weighs 82 kilograms (180 pounds) and has blond hair and brown eyes.
Anybody with information on his whereabouts of Shtuka is asked to call police at 250-828-3000.