On February 16, 2018, twenty-year-old Ryan Shtuka attended a house party in the ski village of Sun Peaks, British Columbia, where he had been living and working for two and a half months. He left the party in the early morning hours of Saturday, February 17, to walk the short distance home. Ryan has not been seen since.
What followed was an extensive search effort led by local law enforcement and Search and Rescue crews. When Ryan remained missing after these teams had completed their efforts, Ryan’s parents, Heather and Scott, and his two younger sisters were left to their own devices to continue searching for him in vast mountain terrain. On February 17, the day Ryan was last seen, Heather and Scott had driven the nine hours from their home in Beaumont Alberta, to Sun Peaks to begin their search for him. They did not return home until June 19, over four months later.
Record amounts of snow fell on the mountain that winter, and in many areas, it did not melt until late May. Scott searched every single day. Determined to find his son, he tore apart snowbanks and led searches through dense forested areas for four months straight. Heather, although healing from surgery, oversaw the command centre coordinating volunteers. She made news and media appearances and gained a large social media following by blogging about Ryan, their search efforts, and her grief process throughout this tragedy. In an early blog, Heather wrote about Ryan’s childhood love of dinosaurs and the colour green; a green longneck dinosaur thus became a symbol of his story.
Ryan’s disappearance and the search efforts took social media by storm, and a following of this story quickly developed. Today, Ryan’s Facebook page has over thirty-thousand members. Local community members from Sun Peaks and surrounding areas, friends, and strangers from Ryan’s hometown, and volunteers from across British Columbia and Alberta flooded the mountain to help. The search soon developed into methodical grid searches with hundreds of volunteers searching daily while contending with snow depths of over ten feet.
The most unexpected outcome of Ryan’s disappearance and this awful tragedy is a beautiful community of love, support, and hope that blossomed around the Shtuka family. Meal trains, fundraisers, and donations flooded in. Buses, flights, and hotels were donated for search efforts. Boxes of food and supplies came to the command centre for the family and volunteers. Every single day for months, volunteers showed up at the command centre to join the search efforts. People hung posters around the village and surrounding communities and shared Ryan’s story through social media. Lifelong friendships were forged.
For Ryan’s twenty-first birthday, exactly one month after his disappearance, a Random Act of Kindness campaign began. Supporters were encouraged to share an act of kindness in Ryan’s memory along with his picture in their community. These acts included such gestures as buying a coffee for someone or leaving a friendly note on the car beside you in the parking lot. Random acts of kindness were soon shared across the globe in Ryan’s name.
From the depths of great loss and tragedy, kindness prevailed.
Despite the intense search efforts that continue to this day, no sign of Ryan has been found. Heather and Scott continue to make monthly trips to Sun Peaks where they find peace in being in a place where Ryan found so much joy. They continue to organize search efforts as weather conditions permit.
You are welcome (and encouraged) to share in a random act of kindness in Ryan’s memory and tell his story.
To learn more about Ryan’s story or to get involved please follow the links below.