Around 10 a.m. on Saturday, Feb. 17, Heather Shtuka sent a text message, as she often did, to her 20-year-old son Ryan’s cellphone. It read: “Good morning, Lovebug. I hope you have a great day.”
But Heather could see the message was never delivered, she said in a recent interview, as she remembered that morning 10 months ago. By that time, Ryan’s phone was already dead or switched off.
The night before, Ryan was at a house party in Sun Peaks, the resort municipality outside Kamloops where the young Albertan was spending a season snowboarding and working on the mountain. Heather has a photo of Ryan at that Friday night party, in which, she says, “He had the best smile on his face, and he looked incredibly happy to be there.”
It’s the last known photo of Ryan Shtuka.
He was last seen around 2:10 a.m., according to the RCMP report, and was believed to have left the party to make the short walk home. By the time Heather texted Ryan that morning, his phone was off, and he didn’t show up for work that day as scheduled. Within hours, police were called about a possible missing person.
Heather and her husband Scott moved to Sun Peaks for most of the next five months, where they searched, constantly, for their son. Since then, they’ve travelled regularly between their home in Beaumont, Alta. and Sun Peaks, and Heather plans to return in early January.
“I will search for him until I am dust and dirt, and even then, I think someone else will carry on the search after that … I will search until I know,” she said. “Even if it seems impossible for some people.“
“He matters and we need closure, and he needs to have the opportunity to come home in whatever form that may be.”
Ryan was, by all accounts, happy in Sun Peaks, and gave no indication he was in trouble, his mother said. Police say they have no reason to believe foul play was involved in the young man’s disappearance.
Some of Ryan’s family and friends will return to Sun Peaks in February, Heather said, for a candlelight vigil to mark a year of remembering him.
Last month, Heather and Scott and Ryan’s two younger sisters marked their first Christmas since Ryan disappeared.
“Christmas has always been our whole family’s favourite time of year,” Heather said. “This year, we had to do all those traditions without him.”
“The things that we normally do, the stockings, the gifts,” she said. “Our morning was exactly the same: the cinnamon buns and the mimosas and watching the kids open their gifts. All of those same things we did, and I actually felt grateful for them.”
“We’ve spent a lot of time talking about what happened that night. Lots of speculation, scenarios, and all the rest. But Ryan had almost 21 years that he was with us and impacting his family and his friends and loved ones. I don’t want for whatever happened to him to be the only thing people can focus on. He was so much more than that,” Heather said.
“I would never have imagined that he would walk out of a house, and vanish into thin air. And almost a year later, we still don’t know where he is.”
Ryan’s family set up a website at ryanshtuka.com, and a Facebook group which attracted more than 28,000 members. Shtuka’s disappearance has become the subject of a podcast, countless online sleuths and theories, and a planned documentary from local filmmakers. Heather believes Ryan’s story resonated with so many people because “it could have been anybody that this just happened to, or anybody’s kid, or anybody’s nephew.
The Shtuka family has offered a private reward of $15,000 for information leading to his recovery.
Local police continue to investigate Shtuka’s disappearance, said RCMP spokesman Cpl. Dan Moskaluk, and anyone with information is encouraged to contact the Kamloops Rural RCMP detachment at 250-314-1800.
“We always ask people to never dismiss information as not being important or to make the assumption that someone else has already provided it to police,” said Moskaluk. “When in doubt, reach out to police.”
Those who wish to remain anonymous can supply tips to Crime Stoppers at 1 800-222-8477.
Either way, Heather Shtuka believes “somebody knows something.”
And not knowing what happened to Ryan, she said, “is tormenting.”
“We’ve gone through every scenario in our minds and we’ve debated it 100 million times and we’re still no closer to what we think could have possibly happened,” Heather said. “It is torturous … We may never find out the answers we need to find out.”
“Treasure the moments that you have, because you just don’t know,” she said. “I thought we’d have a whole lifetime.”
The last time Heather saw her son was Dec. 1, 2017, as he left the family home in Alberta for Sun Peaks.
“I said: ‘Okay, make sure before you leave, you come up and give us a hug and a kiss.’ And he did. But I just wish I had known. I would have held on longer.”
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