As Sun Peaks, B.C., prepares for another busy ski season, the mystery of Ryan Shtuka’s disappearance continues to haunt the Interior resort town.
Shtuka, 20, vanished one cold night in February after leaving a house party. Despite extensive searching in the months since, no clues have emerged as to his whereabouts.
While the investigation into Shtuka’s disappearance remains open, the lack of clues and a tight-lipped RCMP has sparked wild speculation and instilled lingering fears in the community of Sun Peaks, which lies around 60 kilometres northeast of Kamloops.
Friends and family remember Shtuka as a friendly, likeable, easygoing person.
« He just seemed like a really good guy, really genuine and confident. … Everyone liked him up there. He never made any enemies, » said Madelyn Piggin, who worked with Shtuka at the Sun Peaks tube park.
« It’s just such an unreal thing to happen that I still think he’ll show up one day and he’ll be fine. »
Local newspaper publisher Brandi Schier said Shtuka’s disappearance has affected everyone in the area.
« When it comes down to it, we are a small town, » Schier said.
« I think everybody did get pretty emotionally involved, especially if you were a younger person and you knew Ryan. The fact that we haven’t been able to return Ryan home to his family has been incredibly painful for everybody up here. »
Shtuka, a seasonal worker from Beaumont, Alta., left a house party at approximately 2 a.m. on Feb. 17, according to police. He hasn’t been seen since.
In the days and weeks following his disappearance, hundreds of volunteers from Alberta and British Columbia, along with local search and rescue teams and the RCMP, searched the village and surrounding forests, trails and mountains, looking for something that might lead to more information about what happened that night.
The initial concern from friends and first responders was that Shtuka had fallen into a gully, which was covered by heavy snow later that weekend. But even as the snow melted into spring, no sign of him was found.
« When somebody goes missing, until there is a definite conclusion as to where the body is, then it’s an open investigation, » Kamloops RCMP Cpl. Jodi Shelkie said.
‘Vacuum of information’
Schier called the silence from the RCMP a « vacuum of information. »
« Misinformation has just been all over place, » she said. « Tons of rumours. Spiritual mediums are getting involved. »
Jean Strong, editor of the local newspaper Sun Peaks Independent News, said she’s read several theories online about what happened to Shtuka.
« Abduction to sex trafficking, to being involved in [the] drug trade, to aliens, to animal attack, » she said. « Any other wild theory you can think of has come up online, I think. »
Beyond rumours and speculation, Shtuka’s disappearance has instilled an element of fear into the community, particularly among young seasonal workers, Strong says.
She said they can relate to Shtuka and don’t know whether or not his disappearance was an isolated occurrence.
« I think in some ways that makes people worried, or anxious or afraid, » said Strong, who added that some people are too uncomfortable to walk home alone at night in the area where Shtuka was last seen.
Jim Reid, who was staying with friends near the house where Shtuka lived on the night the 20-year-old went missing, told CBC he heard an unusual interaction outside in the middle of that night.
« I heard a guy’s voice and it was mad, » Reid said.
He said the person he heard was yelling, « get in the car, get in the f–king car. »
Reid says he reported what he heard to police, but, after they called him back several times, he hasn’t heard anything since.
Those who believe Shutka’s life came to a violent end include retired RCMP investigator Bryan Smith, who travelled from Alberta to help with the search at the request of a Shtuka family friend.
Smith, a Mountie for 25 years who had investigated several missing persons cases, has also worked as a ski patroller and horseback guide and has experience with many backcountry searches.
His initial conclusion was that Shtuka had wandered into the deep snow and got lost in the rugged terrain around Sun Peaks.
However, an interview with one of Shtuka’s friends changed his mind.
« The friend seemed to be very nervous and very afraid for himself, which was unusual to me, » said Smith, who would not reveal the friend’s name.
« My gut told me that this was most likely a homicide, not just a missing person. »
Smith said he shared his findings with the RCMP.
But after extensive interviews with everyone involved with Shtuka, police say they have no reason to believe foul play was involved.
« At this time there is no evidence that anything criminal happened, » Shelkie said, adding that RCMP do not believe people in the Sun Peaks area should be concerned about their safety.
‘We want to believe that we’ll find him’
Above all, the silence has weighed heaviest on Shtuka’s family.
His parents, Heather and Scott, rallied volunteers and spent four months searching Sun Peaks and the area around the town.
Heather Shtuka finds it improbable that her son met a violent end.
« He’s not confrontational, he’s not an instigator, he’s not one of those people that would go out of his way to start something, » she said
« He was great, funny, a loyal guy, sarcastic, and great with his friends. »
But they’re still no closer to finding an answer to what happened.
« We don’t know why Ryan went missing, we don’t know how he went missing, we don’t know where he went missing, » Heather Shtuka said.
« We want to believe that we’ll find him, that a parent’s love will be so strong. »