'We have to start over': Mother of Alberta man missing in Sun Peaks frustrated by search process

An Alberta woman searching for her son who vanished without a trace in B.C. a month ago, is growing frustrated with a search effort she feels is increasingly futile.

“When people ask, ‘How can you still believe that Ryan is here 24 days later,’ it’s because we are conducting the searches,” Heather Shtuka said in an interview Tuesday with CBC Edmonton’s Radio Active.

“We, as parents, had no guide on how to do this.”

Ryan Shtuka, 20, was last seen Feb. 17 at a house party at Sun Peaks Resort outside Kamloops.

RCMP continue to investigate his disappearance.

His mother says valuable time and effort may have been wasted because the family was never instructed on how to properly manage search efforts in the resort village.

‘We are learning painfully, day by day what we haven’t done right.’ -Heather Shtuka

“We are learning painfully, day by day what we haven’t done right, what we could do right and what resources we would need,” she said.

“If this was your child, what would you want to have done? What would you pay to have done and what would you need to have done in order to find him? That’s the question we keep asking over and over.”

‘We have to start over’

Ryan, who lived in Beaumont, Alta., worked the winter season at Sun Peaks. He moved there in December to work as a lift operator at the resort.

When he failed to show up for work on Feb. 18, his parents drove through the night to assist in the search and rescue efforts. 

Kamloops Search and Rescue canvassed the area on Sunday — with 22 members and 74 volunteers — combing the area with snowmobiles, dogs and drones.

The next day, official search and rescue efforts were largely suspended and the family began managing the patrols with minimal professional assistance.

‘We aren’t going to go home to wait until the snow melts.’ -Heather Shtuka

While she admires the work of search and rescue workers, Shtuka said more support needs to be provided to families of missing persons after the official patrols are called off.

Without instruction on how to coordinate volunteers, properly canvass a given area and map their progress, mistakes can be made, Shtuka said.

“If you’re asking me if I’ve searched an area, sure I’ve searched it. I think I’ve searched it, but what am I hitting? What am I using as my equipment? Am I hitting ice? Do I know it’s ice? Am I putting my probes in far enough?

“We have so many people that are coming up that are so determined to find Ryan, but we just don’t know how to tell them to search, and we didn’t know for the first couple weeks.

“Every area of this resort has been touched, but can we say with certainty that Ryan was not there when they searched it? We can not, so now we have to start over again.”

Despite the frustrated search efforts, the family refuses to give up. Shtuka and her husband will remain in Sun Peaks until Ryan is found.

“We’re his parents. He deserves an advocate that’s here,” she said. “It’s not enough that we’ve searched.

“We need to know that he is not here. We aren’t going to go home to wait until the snow melts. And I can’t imagine that any parent that has this love for their child wouldn’t do the same.”

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