Search resumes in Shuswap for missing women

Wings of Mercy drones have begun looking, ground search in plans for May.

Time might heal some wounds, but not this one. 

“In the back of our minds, sometimes we think, maybe she’s held captive. We won’t know until we get closure. When will we get closure? Maybe never,” says John Simpson.

As April comes around, so does the anniversary of the disappearance of Ashley Simpson, John and Cindy’s daughter. On April 27, 2016, Ashley, then 32, disappeared from where she was living on Yankee Flats Road, southwest of Salmon Arm. The same day, all her online communication stopped.

Police believe she’s dead, John says, and the life insurance company has paid out a claim.

Once again this spring, as the snow disappears, the search for Ashley and for closure will resume.

“What we’re looking for is a pile of bones somewhere…” he says. “Anytime you go out there, it’s more wear and tear on your soul. Every time you go out, you come back empty-handed.”

Read more: Driver’s licence of missing Ashley Simpson found in northern B.C.

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John expresses gratitude for the Wings of Mercy drone group and others, as his focus is having more people searching. Wings of Mercy members search for missing people all over North America, including the women in the Shuswap. He’d like hikers to keep an eye out, as well.

“It makes me sort of proud to know how much has been done so far, how much will be done.”

Cindy also consults psychics to help find Ashley’s remains. So far water seems to figure prominently.

On this particular day, John, speaking from his home in Ontario, puts off the interview for a few hours as it’s one of those days when the tears won’t stop.

Last year he went into bankruptcy.

“It was too much on me mentally and on my health,” he says of Ashley’s disappearance.

“As a parent, until it happens to you, you can’t really fathom what it’s like. The longer you have to wait to get closure, it slowly eats away at you.”

John explains that any life savings there were have been spent on searching, coming to B.C. to find her. Last year WestJet was very kind and provided them with flights and accommodations, he says.

“Us parents with missing children, I imagine any parent would do the same and spend all their savings to try and find their child.”

He wishes the government would help out, both with its high-tech equipment and with funds. He was cut off unemployment insurance, he says, because he went out-of-province to search.

As well as Ashley, Caitlin Potts, Deanna Wertz and Nicole Bell have gone missing from the North Okanagan-Shuswap. The remains of Traci Genereaux, who was also missing, were found in October 2017 on a farm in Silver Creek, not far from Yankee Flats Road. No arrests have been made or charges laid in her death.

Read more: Police canvass area regarding missing woman

Read more: Sacred fire in Shuswap to help illuminate darkness surrounding missing women

Read more: Murdered and missing women honoured at Stolen Sisters Memorial March in B.C.

Read more: Walking for missing women

John says he would like to find the other women missing as well. Part of what keeps him going is the hope that the efforts being put in will help other people who search now or in the future for their children.

Jane Aubertin, Nicole Bell’s mom, expresses a similar sentiment. Nicole, then 31, was last seen on Sept. 2, 2017 in Sicamous. Jane is working with the Simpson family.

She hopes to come to the Shuswap after the May long weekend to start a ground search. Using all-terrain vehicles is one of her hopes, and she would love to get volunteer drivers.

“We don’t have a pinpointed area yet; we have to see what the drones come up with.”

If anyone would like to help once they’ve set a date, she suggests they PM (personal message) her on her Facebook page, ‘Jane Aubertin.’

She says other goals include fundraising for searching and, one that’s particularly important to all the families of the missing women, keeping the women in the public eye so they aren’t forgotten.

“It’s still frustrating, not getting any answers, not knowing anything. Somebody has to know something as to what happened to these women, not just to my daughter, but to the rest of them. That’s the other thing, we’re not just looking for Nicole, we’re looking for all of them.

“Our hopes are that she is still alive and she is still out there somewhere. It’s just a matter of finding her. It’s always in the back of your minds that it’s a recovery, not a rescue,” Jane adds. “It always is that.”


@SalmonArm
marthawickett@saobserver.net

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Jane and Dennis Aubertin, Nicole Bell’s mother and step-father, stand with Jody Leon, founder of the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women Drone Search Team, with a poster of four women missing from the North Okanagan-Shuswap, Ashley Simpson, Caitlin Potts, Nicole Bell and Deanna Wertz. (Facebook photo)

Ashley Simpson

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