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Home News The need is only getting stronger’: families and friends gather in Prince Albert to remember Saskatchewan’s missing men, women, and children

The need is only getting stronger’: families and friends gather in Prince Albert to remember Saskatchewan’s missing men, women, and children

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The need is only getting stronger’: families and friends gather in Prince Albert to remember Saskatchewan’s missing men, women, and children
Shirley Henderson (second from right) of the Prince Albert Grand Council Women’s Commission speaks during the opening ceremony for the 18th annual Honouring our Sisters and Brothers Memorial Walk at the river bank on Wednesday. -- Submitted photo.

It’s been nearly 30 years since Stacey Ermine’s nephew and his adoptive grandmother went missing, and the family still has no answers.

Kevin Charles was just 16 years old when he was last seen leaving his home in the community of Chitek Lake, roughly 120 km northwest of Prince Albert. His grandmother, 67-year-old Mary Goodfellow, left with him. The pair have not been located since.

Now, almost 30 decades later, Ermine wants to make sure someone keeps their memory alive, and their case active.

“The longer you stay silent and the longer you’re not out there, then they’re just forgotten,” she said.

Ermine wasn’t alone in her efforts. Prince Albert was full of people seeking to keep memories of their missing loved ones alive on Thursday, as the PAGC women’s commission hosted the 18th annual Honouring our Sisters and Brothers Memorial Walk.

PAGC leaders, Prince Albert Police Service members, and community representatives joined nearly 200 people for the march, which began with a ceremony by the Sisters in Spirit Memorial on the Prince Albert River Bank and finished at Kinsmen Park.

For Ermine, the search for Kevin and Mary has been frustrating. However, Thursday’s memorial walk does help bring some peace.

“(When) I’m walking and I’m out there, I’m thinking about them,” she said. “I’m talking to them. I’m praying for them, and I’m letting them know that we have not forgotten about them. We miss them and we love them. They’re always with us. (We’re) carrying them in our spirit and in our heart.”

There are 133 long-term active missing person investigations in Saskatchewan, according to statistics from the Saskatchewan Association of Chiefs of Police (SACP). Ten of those cases involve people who went missing in Prince Albert, the oldest of which dates back to the late ‘70s.

That case involves June Johnson, a then 33-year-old woman who was last seen by a family friend that dropped her off at the Marlboro Hotel on Aug. 3, 1979.

Stacey Ermine (right) and her sister Marlene Charles (left) were two of nearly 200 walkers who came out to remember friends and family members who have gone missing. — Jason Kerr/Daily Herald

Sheryl Kimbley, the special events coordinator for the PAGC, said time has not dulled the memories of families or friends with missing loved ones. They’re still grieving and still wondering where their loved ones are, sometimes decades after the original disappearance.

“We are thinking that after 18 years, the need for us to continue doing stuff like this is only getting strong, because people aren’t aware that we’re missing so many of our people,” Kimbley explained. “The people who are hurting need to know that there’s support for them.”

Kimbley was one of the few people walking on Thursday who didn’t have a close friend or family member currently missing, however that wasn’t always the case.  She remembers the feeling of grief that came with knowing a loved one was in danger before the case was solved, but said it’s easy to forget about that once public campaigns or events like Thursday’s memorial walk end.

“When I do a walk like this or an event, after I’m done I get to go home and put up my feet and relax and go back to normal,” she said. “The people who are grieving and worrying, they don’t get that luxury. Their minds are always going. They’re always looking for hints and clues and something to tell them what happened and why and where. I think it’s important to keep going, to remember that there are others who never get to stop.”

The SACP says hundreds of people are reported missing in Saskatchewan every year, with most returning safe and sound to their loved ones. When an adult or child goes missing for more than six months, then the disappearance is classified as a long-term missing person case.

The process can be frustrating for families, Kimbley said, since police don’t always have the resources to meet with each one individually as often as they’d like. She said it’s easy for families to feel like they’re alone when that happens, but she’s hopeful the walk will bring comfort.

“(Investigators) can’t be one-on-one with all the families, so attention isn’t getting paid all the time,” she explained. “It may feel like they’re alone, so when we do things like this, we’re letting them know ‘certainly you’re not.’

“We’re trying to get the message out,” Kimbley added. “Maybe on the walk we’re doing and the posters that are seen, somebody’s going to say, ‘hey,’ and think of something that might help. Consistency and continuing to make sure that the word is out there might help one clue come through. If we can do that, then it’s worth it.”

Sometimes unrelated events can delay a missing person search. That’s what happened with in the case of Kevin Charles and Mary Goodfellow.

In 2006, the RCMP received a tip advising officers to investigate an unused well near Leoville, a community roughly 25 km away from Chitek Lake. Two officers arrived and blocked the area off with yellow police tape. However, the investigation came to an abrupt end the next week when one of those officers was shot and killed in an unrelated incident. Another officer was also killed during the same incident, and the missing persons cases went cold.

Ermine and her family hoped a recent feature broadcast by APTN national news in June would revitalize interest in the disappearances of Charles and Goodfellow. APTN reported that RCMP investigators had not announced a date for when they would investigate the abandon well, but hoped the story would generate new leads in the case. However, Ermine said the lack of movement is frustrating, and the family increasingly feels like they’re searching for Mary and Kevin with little outside help.

“All these agencies need to know that there are families out there who are still looking for their loved ones and they need help,” Ermine explained. “They shouldn’t have to ask for it. There are posters everywhere of our loved ones who are still missing. They (the agencies) should just be going to those families and saying, ‘what can we do to help you instead of us begging and chasing them down (asking) ‘what are you guys doing with this tip?’”