Mother of Ryan Shtuka helping to create search support network for families with missing loved ones

Image Credit: SUBMITTED/Wikimedia Commons and B.C. RCMP

SUN PEAKS —Ryan Shtuka's mother wants to make sure that no other family looking for a missing loved one feels as alone as she did the day after she arrived in Sun Peaks to find her son.

Heather Shtuka’s 20-year-old son, Ryan, went missing from Sun Peaks, a mountain resort near Kamloops, Feb. 17, 2018 after attending a house party and her fruitless search started immediately after.

“Search and Rescue is only dedicated for a certain amount of time, and then everybody goes home,” Shtuka said.

After more than a year of searching, Shtuka started working closely with women who walked a similar path.

Tammy Neron, the sister of Dominic Neron, an Alberta-based pilot who went missing after take-off from Penticton with his girlfriend Ashley Bourgeault have been working together to develop the Free Bird Project, a resource-filled website to help families with missing loved ones.

Dominic and his girlfriend’s plane was found in a remote area outside of Revelstoke after ten months of searching.

Ashley Bourgeault, 31, and Dominic Neron, 28 were occupants of a plane that went missing en-route from Penticton to Edmonton last year.
Ashley Bourgeault, 31, and Dominic Neron, 28 were occupants of a plane that went missing en-route from Penticton to Edmonton last year.
Image Credit: SUBMITTED/ RCMP handout

“The website will be almost like a First Aid kit,” Shtuka said. “So families can look up what resources are available in their area.”

Shtuka said the site will have links to information like how to access different search and rescue groups, where drones in the area may be, how to receive funding, how to organize fundraisers and information on setting up volunteer command centres.

“Through our struggles and through our information gathering we were able to keep (searching) for five months and have continued to do so,” she said. “But those first couple days where you are feeling fear, grief, that sadness, emptiness and not knowing which way to turn and where to go, I know that and Tammy knows that.”

Shtuka says the non-for profit would also be a tribute to Ryan’s legacy.

“We really want to make this website a non-profit because it is Ryan’s legacy and I am so fiercely protective of that as well as Tammy of Dominic’s (legacy),” she said. “We want to make sure everything is done properly, we are transparent so if any funds are raised there will be no question about where the money would go to, and it would go towards providing support for other families.”

Shtuka said the four women all have practical ground and air searching experience. 

“There are lots of reasons why someone could go missing. Whether it is a plane crash or someone who wanted to get lost — every journey will be unique to them and their families,” she said.

The group has been working on the site for the last couple of months and is currently working on finalizing the paperwork.

For more information on the Free Bird Project visit their Facebook page.

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