Two weeks after an 86-year-old woman with dementia went missing in Chilliwack, the community members who set up an informal command centre closed it down.
But that doesn’t mean the search for Grace is over.
Grace Baranyk walked away from her Lenora Crescent home some time on July 13 and since then, there has been no sign of her despite a massive formal and informal search involving volunteers, police, Search and Rescue, kayaks, bikes, dogs, a drone, even a volunteer with a helicopter.
“I want to make it perfectly clear that the search will continue until Grace is found,” Lisa Bisschop said. “We encourage people to still keep their eyes open for her.”
Bisschop, who previously did not know Grace, took up the cause with gusto organizing searches around the community starting soon after she went missing. She was meeting with volunteers in the McDonald’s parking lot downtown, and then eventually moved to a spot in front of St. Paul’s church on School Street where she ran the command centre with Barb and Hank Goossens for several days.
That command centre served as a meeting point for all of those involved in the search for Grace. They distributed flyers to volunteers and had maps outlining places that had been searched. But with no recent leads and the amount of volunteers dwindling down, Bisschop felt it was time to just shut down the command centre, which she did last weekend.
“My husband and I are self employed and as much as I would love to keep the command centre running full time, it is just not a viable option for me. If anyone has ideas of where to look or needs to be partnered up they can post on the Facebook page or send me a message as well.”
The Facebook page, “Missing: (Ethal) Grace Baranyk” is still up and people are posting to it.
The group behind the search held a volunteer appreciation get-together on the weekend, and thanked all the companies and those involved in the search.
Grace’s family members expressed gratitude to the community and the wide support from volunteer searchers in Chilliwack.
“I was very surprised,” Grace’s nephew Dick Richards 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.”
Richards said as long as a week ago that the family was left with the nagging dilemma of wondering when to call the search 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?” Richards wondered.
Back in Alberta where he lives, he is still involved with the ongoing communication on the Facebook page dedicated to finding Grace.
While the command centre is closed, Bisschop posted on the Facebook page on July 31 that the entire experience has shown just how many seniors are living on their own in the community.
“Today would be a great day to get to know one of those neighbours,” she wrote. “Reach out to them, make sure all is well and that they have family or friends checking in on them.
“Let’s make sure we are reaching out, especially to those most vulnerable. Let’s do it for Grace!”
The RCMP still have an open file and are considering all possibilities from nooks and crannies in back yards or industrial buildings, all the way to the chance she somehow made it all the way back to Athabasca where she is from. People with severe dementia lose short-term memory but often have vivid memories as far back as childhood, hence the possibility she might try to return to Alberta.
Grace 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.