Dick Richards, the nephew of 86-year-old Grace Baranyk who went missing on July 13, speaks with media as Cpl. Mike Rail listens on Monday. (Jenna Hauck/ The Progress)

Family of missing B.C. senior with dementia frustrated with situation, heartened by community support

Nine days since Grace was last seen the question remains: ‘How can an 86-year-old just disappear?’

Family members of a missing 86-year-old woman with dementia are heartened by the wide support from volunteer searchers in Chilliwack all while being utterly frustrated by the fact that they simply can’t find Grace.

Ethal (Grace) Baranyk has been reported missing since Saturday, July 13 at 10:30 a.m. in Chilliwack. (Submitted photo)

The local senior walked away from her Lenora Crescent home some time on July 13. Ten days later, there was still no sign of her.

“The older we get, the more we have to deal with losing relatives,” Grace Baranyk’s nephew Dick Richards told The Progress on Monday. “But typically they pass away, they don’t just vanish. That’s the frustrating part of this is that she just vanished.

“How can an 86-year-old just disappear?”

Richards came with his wife Donna from Smoky Lake, Alta., and with his mother and father, Pat and Don Richards, from St. Albert, on July 19. Don is Grace’s 79-year-old brother. They and other relatives came to Chilliwack, including Grace’s son Carl Stychin who flew in from London, England.

They all came to Chilliwack, ostensibly to search, at least to be near where she was last seen, but the intensive volunteer effort remains futile all these days later.

That search began with an informal group meeting at McDonald’s in downtown Chilliwack on July 14, a day after she was reported missing. Flyers were created and distributed. Search organizer Lisa Bisschop created maps where people could look over, keeping daily track of areas people had looked.

• READ MORE: VIDEO: Elderly woman with severe dementia missing in Chilliwack

A Facebook page was created to organize the search. Two days after she went missing, Al MacLellan with Petsearchers Canada came out and volunteered with his two bloodhounds to help, but they couldn’t get a scent.

Since then drones have been used, Chilliwack Search and Rescue have gone out more than once. People travelled the Hope Slough in kayaks. A man volunteered to go up with his helicopter. People have been out looking on bicycles and off-road motorbikes, hikers, walkers and joggers are all reporting in to the command centre that later moved to St. Paul’s church on School Street.

• READ MORE: VIDEO: Bloodhounds join the search for missing Chilliwack woman

• READ MORE: Psychics, drones being used to search for missing Chilliwack woman with dementia

Dick and Donna Richards were in Chilliwack from Friday to Monday, and they were amazed at how many people knew about Grace’s plight and how many people were out searching.

“I was very surprised,” Dick said of the outpouring of support. “Not just the fact that people started looking but the number of people who started looking and the terrain, lakes and rivers and mountains.”

Not giving up hope, Dick and Donna and Grace’s brother Don headed back to Alberta on Monday, something they did so only reluctantly.

“It will be really tough on my dad,” Dick said Monday before they left. “There isn’t any closure. Almost a sense of abandonment like we are walking away.”

But they are not walking away, Dick is now an admin on the Facebook group and they are staying connected with the volunteer searchers. He also said he and Donna may try to come back. Elderly himself, Don was unable to go out and search physically, but he and Pat created grey ribbons they have been handing out: “Grey for Grace.”

The nagging question that torments the family is, when do you call it off?

“How long does this go on? You don’t want to go to them and stay ‘stop.’ How do you tell volunteers not to volunteer anymore?” Dick asked.

As for the official police investigation, Chilliwack RCMP spokesperson Cpl. Mike Rail said they want to continue to get the word out. After so long, there is even a possibility, however small, that she could have made it all the way back to Alberta where she is from, specifically Athabasca.

“You never want to say no to any possible lead,” Rail said. “Anything is possible, but trying not to get so wide that you are going the wrong direction.”

Rail is asking Chilliwack residents and store owners and commercial/industrial businesses to search every nook and cranny possible.

“I think it’s important for everyone to go back into your back yard again, every nook and cranny, the small spaces, the places where you wouldn’t expect someone to be,” he said. “Just go back and look, look again, keep looking.”

Grace has to be somewhere.

“You keep doing it until there is nowhere left to look and then you go back,” Rail said.

Baranyk was last seen on July 13 wearing a grey sweater, grey vest, navy pants, black shoes and pink-rimmed eyeglasses. She is very small in stature, at 120 lbs and 5’4”. She has short grey hair and is in good shape and can walk very far.

Anyone with information or possible sightings is asked to call Chilliwack RCMP immediately at 604-792-4611 and quote police file number: 19-29414.


@PeeJayAitch
paul.henderson@theprogress.com

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