Missing women Ashley Simpson, Deanna Wertz, Nicole Bell and Caitlin Potts are pictured in a Crimestoppers poster. (Facebook image)

Missing women Ashley Simpson, Deanna Wertz, Nicole Bell and Caitlin Potts are pictured in a Crimestoppers poster. (Facebook image)

Searchers don’t lose hope of finding signs of missing women in North Okanagan-Shuswap

All it takes is a little different angle, different light, to spot evidence

They are gone but never forgotten.

Although time is passing, the four women who went missing in the Shuswap three to four years ago have not been forgotten nor have the efforts to find them been abandoned.

Drone pilot Dennis Chin, a volunteer with search organization Wings of Mercy, came to the Shuswap early in July with the missing women on his mind.

Five women went missing in the North Okanagan-Shuswap between the spring of 2016 and the fall of 2017.

The remains of one young woman, 18-year-old Traci Genereaux, were found by police in October 2017 on a farm in Silver Creek. No charges have been laid in connection with her death.

Still missing are Caitlin Potts, 27, last seen in February 2016 in Kelowna and Enderby; Ashley Simpson, 31, last seen in April 2016 on Yankee Flats Road southwest of Salmon Arm; Deanna Wertz, 46, last seen in July 2016 also on Yankee Flats Road; and Nicole Bell, then 32, who lived in Malakwa and was last seen in September 2017.

Read more: Candlelight vigil honours Nicole Bell and other missing B.C. women

Read more: Parents of missing Shuswap woman try all avenues to find daughter

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Chin has much experience co-ordinating ground searches. He has a full-time job, but volunteers with Wings of Mercy, which carries out searches throughout North America via a network of volunteers.

The organization describes itself as a continually growing not-for-profit which uses cutting-edge software, drone technology, all-terrain vehicles, divers, ROVs (remotely operated vehicles or underwater robots), dogs, trackers and other resources to help find missing people.

Chin, who grew up in Kamloops, came from Alberta in early July of this year and first spent four days with the family and friends of Ryan Shtuka, helping in the search effort for the 20-year-old young man who went missing at Sun Peaks ski resort in February 2018.

His plans were to then join two seasoned Shuswap searchers to check out areas to be searched for the missing women – particularly during this visit, Caitlin Potts and Ashley Simpson, he said. However, the weather had other plans, and the pilots were unable to follow through because of heavy rains.

Chin said it was to be a reconnaissance mission, a chance to check out the terrain, see what had been searched, where ground searches are needed. It was to help prepare for searches in the fall, when foliage is thinner.

“In all cases, without specific evidence of any other sort, where do you choose to search?”

He said the four Shuswap women are all active cases for Wings of Mercy.

Because of their proximity to each other, “we search for them all at the same time.”

Read more: Missing Shuswap woman catalyst for new search technology

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Read more: Mother of missing Shuswap woman holds out hope she’ll be found

Chin said Wings of Mercy and the drones provide another way to search. It’s not always easy, despite people’s general eagerness to help, to come up with 100 ground searchers, he explains. Not to mention, terrain is not always safe.

He said while clothing eventually decomposes, if you go up in the mountains you can still see things people have thrown away such as plastic, some dating back to 1960.

He pointed out that in another province, the bones of a girl who went missing 10 or 12 years ago were recently found.

Chin said every searcher is told that although people might have walked a spot before, it just takes one person with perfect timing in terms of the daylight, that something might be visible which wasn’t before.

“All it takes is that one shot, one person.”

Asked how he maintains hope, Chin said although he loves being out in the bush, it’s difficult.

“It’s tough because every morning you wake up and say, is today the day?

“Every time you get off your quad, you wonder, can you find them? Then you’re sad because you didn’t.

“But you don’t stop, you can’t stop. You know the families, you share their suffering. You want to give them closure.”

Chin will return to the Shuswap in the fall to try to provide that closure.


marthawickett@saobserver.net
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Dennis Chin with Wings of Mercy practises landing his drone on a target. He will be searching for missing women in the Shuswap in the fall of 2020. Heavy rain forced the cancellation of an earlier attempt. (Photo contributed)

Dennis Chin with Wings of Mercy practises landing his drone on a target. He will be searching for missing women in the Shuswap in the fall of 2020. Heavy rain forced the cancellation of an earlier attempt. (Photo contributed)

Dennis Chin with Wings of Mercy will be searching for missing women in the Shuswap in the fall of 2020. Heavy rain forced the cancellation of an earlier attempt. (Photo contributed)

Dennis Chin with Wings of Mercy will be searching for missing women in the Shuswap in the fall of 2020. Heavy rain forced the cancellation of an earlier attempt. (Photo contributed)

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