Ottawa — Diana Boland still remembers the day her ex-husband, Gary O’Brien, took their three boys.
He called her to say Adam, 14, Trevor, 11, and Mitchell, 4, weren’t coming back to her home in St. John’s. She asked to speak to them. He told her, “later.”
Almost 15 years later, Boland still holds out hope she’ll talk to her boys again.
“I’m still waiting for ‘later.’ That word has been giving me hope,” Boland said.
Every day she searches the Internet for information about her boys. On Tuesday, she said her search became a little easier with the launch of a new website — Missingkids.ca.
The site provides parents of missing children a one-stop-shop for information on what to do once a child is missing, how to organize a community search, how to keep children safe and a place for anyone to file tips.
The website also compiles digital footprints of a missing child or abductor. That unique online search tool pores through open-source websites to compile any tidbits of information about a missing child or abductor, spewing out results similar to a Google search.
Should a name of a child be used in an online search engine, for instance, the information would show up whenever the centre runs a search. Should an abductor or child have a Facebook page, the information would be logged into the centre’s secure database for parents and police to use.
“It’s going to paint a picture in this country of what’s going on … that we couldn’t paint before,” said Signy Arnason, associate executive director for the Canadian Centre for Child Protection, a non-profit charity that developed the website.
“The reason we implemented this was that we hadn’t evolved what we were doing at missing child services since postering.”
Parents of missing children said the website will make it easier for them to continue their searches.
Crystal Dunahee’s son, Michael, went missing 20 years ago from a playground in Victoria, B.C. Michael was almost five at the time and was only metres away from his parents when a stranger abducted him.
“He was a happy, easygoing little boy,” said Crystal Dunahee. “He wanted to spread his wings and the one time I let him, someone took him.”
Over the last 20 years, there have been 10,000 tips in the case. The website, she said, is a new tool she can use to find Michael.
“Any time families can access new resources to assist them in locating their child gives them reason to be hopeful and optimistic,” she said.
Anthony Wood’s daughter, Sunshine, has been missing for seven years. She was last seen on Feb. 20, 2004, in front of St. Regis Hotel in Winnipeg. She was 16 at the time.
The last substantial tip in the case was two years ago when someone from Toronto believed they saw Sunshine.
“I went to Toronto and went looking for her, but nobody seems to have seen her,” Wood said. “Not a day has passed that I don’t think of her.”
Wood said he believes that the website gives him a better chance of finding his daughter by culling together tips from across the country.
Laurie Odjick’s daughter, Maisy, was 16 when she went missing in September 2008 from the Maniwaki, Que., region, about 140 kilometres north of Ottawa. Maisy was last seen walking with her friend, Shannon Mary Mathewise-Alexander. Neither have been seen since.
Right after Maisy disappeared, Odjick said she felt lost and alone. She said she didn’t know what to do in the days immediately following Maisy’s disappearance.
“This website I wish was around when Maisy went missing,” Odjick said.
Odjick said the family holds fundraisers and events to keep Maisy’s name and face in the media, hoping it will lead to tips and eventually to Maisy.
“I always have hope for Maisy to come home. The hard thing is we have to go on without her,” Odjick said.
In 2009, there were more than 50,000 reports of missing children in Canada. Almost 36,000 of those were runaways.
Any tips filed to the website will be forwarded to police and allow officers to focus on the investigation. In cases in which a child runs away, the police will be able to refer parents to the website for information and counselling.
“It makes it possible for the police to do their job. The police cannot be everything to everyone, unfortunately,” said Staff Sgt. Monique Perras, director of the RCMP’s National Missing Children Services.