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Police, SAR suspend search for missing Witset elder in B.C’s northwest, family continues to look

The past few days have been a blur for the youngest daughter of Thomas (Tommy) Dennis, who does not want to think the worst after her dad vanished after going mushroom picking near Kitwanga nearly two weeks ago.

“I’m going to hold on hope until I find out otherwise,” Marilyn Morrison said late Monday afternoon (Sept. 28).

“I mean, I never, ever want to think anything bad has happened to my dad. There’s some things you can’t control or see coming, but I’m just holding on.”

Despite extensive search efforts by RCMP and Search and Rescue (SAR), there has been no trace of Dennis, 79, who was last seen by another mushroom picker at 12:30 p.m. near the Price Creek Forest Service Road on Sept. 16.

North District RCMP media relations officer Cpl. Madonna Saunderson confirmed search efforts were suspended by police and SAR on Sept. 27, but the family and local civilian search teams continue to comb the area east of Price Creek (Gitwangak) south of Hwy 16.

Morrison said her dad, a relative beginner in terms of mushroom picking, would pick mushrooms to assist in complementing his pension and pay bills.

Over the course of the last two weeks, Saunderson said RCMP including Police Dog Services and Air Services along with SAR and local community members conducted extensive ground and air searches with negative results.

“Upwards of 25 to 30 SAR volunteers, and other independent searchers were involved on any given day,” Saunderson told Black Press Media.

“Representatives from Gitwangak, and various other local First Nation communities supported the search. Variable specialties from SAR including trackers, swift water rescue, and a private drone operator also supported in the search.”

Terrace SAR search manager, David Jephson said their members were on the ground for at least seven days assisting other SAR teams from across northern B.C. including Houston, Prince Rupert, Smithers, Burns Lake and Prince George.

“It’s always hard to end a search,” Jephson said, noting COVID-19 protocols were implemented by SAR.

Conditions proved to be challenging due the terrain, which at times was quite dense and heavy rain.

Jephson said the large community presence had also brought its own initial challenges, adding that early in the search RCMP were using a helicopter to capture thermal images.

“When you have all those random people walking in the forest it’s pretty tough to find who you are looking for and to rule stuff out, so that was difficult,” he said.

Although the first few days of the search were chaotic, the dust would settle and community members, friends and family of Dennis would provide food and water to SAR members ensuring no one went hungry as the search dragged on.

“It’s hard on searchers when you come out of the forest and you see the family and everybody’s kind of looking at you grasping for that evidence or clue, or success,” Jephson said.

Dennis, who is believed to have difficulty hearing, was last seen wearing blue jeans, black cap, rubber boots and a grey checked sweater.

New Hazelton RCMP said he was not prepared to be out overnight and does not have any food or provisions, and was only wearing lightweight clothing.

“The search will resume should any new information surface,” Saunderson said.

Surrounded by numerous family members, friends and elders including her mother who arrived from the Lhtako Dene Nation in Quesnel, Morrison said she is not yet ready to give up as snow begins to appear on the mountains within the area that is estimated to be at least a couple of hundred hectares where her father was last seen.

Firewood and tents have been donated for a search camp, which has been erected near the Price Creek Forest Service Road, as civilians continue search efforts of their own in the hope of finding some clue that will lead to Dennis’s whereabouts.

“It blows me away the caring that people have and the willingness to give just out of the kindness of their hearts,” Morrison said.

“The time people are putting towards searching for my dad, I have no words really.”

Rebecca Dyok, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Williams Lake Tribune


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