British Columbia far outpaces the national average for the number of people reported missing each year. According to statistics from The National Centre for Missing Persons and Unidentified Remains (NCMPUR), from 2018 to 2022, “British Columbia had the highest number of missing adult reports per capita.”

Since 2015, when NCMPUR began publishing their missing persons fact sheets, a staggering 99,532 people have been reported missing in the province. While the majority of these cases were solved, there are many people who have not returned home to their loved ones. Several of those still missing have disappeared from Merritt and the Nicola Valley.

The Herald sat down with Staff Sgt. Josh Roda of the Merritt RCMP detachment to discuss just how missing persons cases are handled.

“Missing person investigations differ depending on the circumstances and how they are reported,” said Roda.

“The investigation into a missing fisherman that was last seen fishing on a lake in a boat, that may be presumed drowned, would differ from how we would investigate a missing hunter or a missing person that was last seen walking down the highway.”

Certain circumstances may create more urgency around a case.

“At the start of a missing person investigation we try to determine the risk to the person that is missing,” Roda explained.

“Is it just a family member that hasn’t had contact with the missing in a while? Were they out hunting and haven’t come home when they said they would? Were they involved in criminal activity and now they have disappeared? The reason the person may be missing helps determine our risk assessment and how we respond.”

During the time that a person remains missing, RCMP victim services will provide assistance and attempt to lessen the trauma of the situation as police navigate the case and try to determine what has happened to their missing loved one. A liaison officer is also appointed to keep the family informed and provide updates on the investigation as it progresses.

“We always make every effort in missing person investigations to chase every lead and narrow down where the person was last seen as starting point,” said Roda.

“We gather as much information as we can and utilize many different investigational techniques and support agencies when relevant, like Search and Rescue. The majority of our investigations result in us finding the missing person quickly. The ones where we do not, we try to pursue every lead and they require a significant amount of resources and time.”

Once every available lead has been followed up on, the case unfortunately becomes a “cold case”. This does not mean the case is closed or abandoned, but simply that new information or leads must be brought forward for further investigation.

Merrittonians undoubtedly recall that in the past decade, there have been a handful of high profile missing persons cases in the area.

Most recently there is the case of 24-year-old Miguel Mack, who was last seen in Merritt on Feb. 27, 2023. In March of that same year the RCMP Major Crimes Unit was brought on board, deeming the disappearance “suspicious”.

On May 11, 2020, then 44-year-old Lalie Honeywell was last seen outside of the Double D Motel on Nicola Avenue in Merritt. After she was reported missing, items believed to belong to Honeywell were found near the Nicola River bridge, and RCMP Air Services and Nicola Valley Search and Rescue were called in to aid in the search efforts but with no success.

On Jan. 28, 2019, Nicola Ranch cowboy Ben Tyner’s horse was found riderless, but still fully tacked up, on a logging road outside of Merritt. The Wyoming native had last been seen on Jan. 26, heading out to presumably check on cattle. Despite extensive searches of the area by volunteers and Search and Rescue crews by air, foot, horseback, and vehicle, including snowmobiles, no trace of the missing 32-year-old has ever been found. RCMP have since deemed his disappearance “suspicious” and that there was likely “criminality” involved.

In nearby Spences Bridge, just 65 kilometres from Merritt, Luke Neville was last seen on Oct. 9, 2017. The following day his white van was found burned out on a Forest Service Road, but no further clues have been discovered. The RCMP Southeast District Major Crime Unit was placed in charge of Neville’s case, and consider his disappearance suspicious.

Beginning the spate of missing persons in the area was Dean Kelly Morrison, a 44-year-old father of three, who was last seen at Stump Lake Ranch on Oct. 22, 2013. Morrison had been working as a painter on the ranch but was let go that day. When his truck wouldn’t start he called a tow truck, but by the time it arrived roughly three hours later, Morrison was nowhere to be found. No leads have turned up in the more than ten years since he went missing, and his disappearance still remains a mystery.

If the public has any information about any of the outstanding missing person investigations and they have not provided that information to police, are asked to call the Merritt RCMP at 250-378-4262 or Nicola Valley Crime Stoppers at 1-800-222-8477.