Jim Elliot/Salmon Arm Observer Drones are being used to help a search of several areas linked to the cases of missing women in the North Okanagan-Shuswap.

Dedicated volunteers look for clues

Police appreciate work of those who provide extra eyes for missing women investigations.

‘Extra feet on the ground and drones in the air’ is the way Wendy Mohr describes how she and others have been spending their time recently.

Mohr and Jody Leon are two of the people committed to making sure the four missing women and one whose remains were found in the North Okanagan-Shuswap are not forgotten. But their goal involves more than emails and posters. They are literally walking the talk.

“It’s been several weeks and we’ve been in many different areas. We tried to do a little bit in each area, based on tips we might get and parents of the missing might get,” says Mohr.

Missing are Caitlin Potts, Deanna Wertz, Ashley Simpson and Nicole Bell. The remains of Traci Genereaux were discovered on a farm on Salmon River Road.

Related link: Time to stem the tide of missing women

“We talk to people who live in the area and they give us permission to look on their land. We plan days where we go to search together… We are not experts,” she says, noting the searchers simply photograph anything that might be evidence, mark where it was found on the map and pass it on to the police. “We don’t determine whether it’s anything significant to the case. We don’t know everything they’re looking for. We’re just community members who go out and go looking for the police. It’s such a large area.”

She says police have been very good, “understanding of our efforts and appreciating them.”

RCMP spokesperson Cpl. Dan Moskaluk agrees: “We are aware of recent search efforts being conducted by private citizens in the North Okanagan communities. It is basic human nature for most to want to assist and support others.

“RCMP investigators never discount the efforts and the possible results that can be obtained by volunteers. In these instances it is always recommended to these groups, that they have ongoing communications with us. It is my understanding that this has been the case in these recent efforts.

“In many investigations it is information that is obtained from the public that can be a linchpin for advancing an investigation and this can be in the form of physical evidence found by a single individual or a collective group.”

Related link: Families of missing women call for action

Related link: Drones used in search for clues about missing women

Joining the walkers have been two drone companies, Crystal Mountain Aerial Media from West Kelowna and SkyCrew Aerial Imagery in Salmon Arm. Mohr says the volunteers do not try to analyze the footage – it’s given to experts.

Dakota Lalonde of SkyCrew said he has been on two of the searches. The first was earlier in the year when John Simpson, Ashley’s father, was in the region from Ontario to search for his daughter. Lalonde flies a drone and takes photos or video depending on the terrain.

“It’s taken us a few hours each time. I know the other area group did a search in the Salmon River area – six to eight areas. The first time we did our search, it was in the Enderby-Grindrod area, near the Enderby bridge…,” he says. “The other one was behind the Sagmoen Farm. We did a ground search on that one because it was raining. The group has been very diligent about acquiring permission.”

As a husband and father, he’s been touched.

“I’ve got a wife and two little girls – the victims being women, that hit home,” he says. “Also seeing the families there with very raw emotions – that does inspire you as a call to action to do more.”

Anyone with information about the five local women is asked to call the RCMP tip line at 1-877-987-8477.

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