By Michael Potestio, Kamloops This Week
Each passing day feels like Groundhog Day for Heather and Scott Shtuka.
“We search every day,” said the mother of missing Alberta man Ryan Shtuka.
The Shtukas have been living in Sun Peaks for the past two months, ever since their son vanished without a trace on Feb. 17.
Last seen leaving a house party on Burfield Drive at about 2:10 a.m. that day, Ryan is believed to have walked the short distance to his home in Sun Peaks.
When he did not show up for work, Kamloops Search and Rescue began canvassing the area, but with no sign of Ryan as of Feb. 19, the effort was suspended.
Unable to stand by and wait for the snow to melt to find their son, Ryan’s parents undertook search efforts on their own with the help of volunteers.
“As a parent who loves our son, how could we ever go home and just say we’ll wait until the snow melts?” Heather said.
This Saturday, another busload of volunteers will depart for Sun Peaks, courtesy of the organizers of the Missing: Ryan Shtuka Facebook page.
The ride is free and will leave from the Sahali Mall parking lot at 8 a.m. returning at 4 p.m. Volunteers are asked to wear appropriate winter clothing and, while snowshoes and search equipment will be provided, searchers are encouraged to bring their own.
Heather said she gets anxious about leaving Sun Peaks, noting she and Scott will not leave until the snow melts, so they can know for sure whether he’s there or not.
“My husband’s been out there since Monday, Feb. 19,” she said. “It does not matter if it’s minus-20 and it does not matter if it’s plus-10, he goes out every single day and searches all day long.”
She said Kamloops Search and Rescue is expected to return in mid-May to search once again when the snow has melted.
In the 10 weeks since Ryan disappeared, the Shtukas have had about 570 people volunteer to help them search — many of whom they did not know.
She said without them, there would have been no one else searching for Ryan.
“We’ve made some wonderful friendships out of this and the fact that so many people have cared is just unbelievable to us,” she said.
As the couple has had to take time off work since Ryan vanished, Heather said she and Scott are also grateful for the donations people have made via a GoFundMe page, which has raised more than $83,000 to date.
During the first six weeks after Ryan went missing, volunteers focused on the Burfield area and the route he would have taken back home, but the snow has made searching difficult.
When they first started searching, the area was blanketed with snow, with some berms up to 14 feet tall and difficult to probe.
There have also been three sniffer dog teams search the area, which also failed to find any sign of Ryan.
Recently, the parents have refocused on a new area, following up on a possible sighting of their son heading in the opposite direction of his home and toward an establishment in the village that may have still been open.
“The description matches, the person was sober because they just finished work, so it’s a possibility; however, as much as that is positive, on the other hand … all it does is expand the area in which he could have gone,” Heather said.
The tip has opened up a long stretch of Fairways Drive to Eagle Court as a potential area where Ryan’s body may be, making searching even more difficult.
With the snow now melting in Sun Peaks, Heather said there is a better chance of being able to recover her son’s body.
“We knew as soon as the first couple of days that finding Ryan, if he was in the elements, we would be doing recovery, not rescue,” she said.
“The first week, it was really, really tough. I didn’t like sleeping because I wanted everyone to search all day long.”
She said she believes her son likely succumbed to the elements.
As for the possibility Ryan may have been met with foul play that night, Heather said “there’s no evidence that he left that hill whether willingly or unwillingly or unknowingly.”
While she thinks about that scenario, she has to keep it out of her mind.
“If I were to concentrate on that every single day, I wouldn’t be able to get up,” Heather said. “I need to get up every single day to search for him. As parents, we’ve done everything we could have done and I’m at peace with our search efforts.”
Ryan Shtuka was last seen wearing dark jeans, a grey/white shirt, a blue coat and a burgundy ball cap. He is white, stands six feet tall and weighs 82 kilograms (180 pounds) and has blond hair and brown eyes.
Anybody with information on the whereabouts of Shtuka is asked to call police at 250-828-3000.