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Parents of Ryan Shtuka return to Sun Peaks, marking four-year anniversary of disappearance

The parents of a 20-year-old who vanished in Sun Peaks four years ago
It's been four years since 20-year-old Ryan Shtuka disappeared in B.C. resort community Sun Peaks.

The parents of a 20-year-old who vanished in Sun Peaks four years ago have returned to the mountain to mark the anniversary, a day they say is still raw for their family.

Heather Shtuka and her husband Scott have travelled to the resort community from their Alberta home several times since their son, Ryan Shtuka, went missing after leaving a house party at 2 a.m. on Feb. 17, 2018.

To mark the four-year anniversary of Ryan’s disappearance, Heather Shtuka said a group ski run and a candlelight vigil will be held in Sun Peaks on Thursday — an annual memorial keeping Ryan top of mind for the community.

Shtuka said although she loves being in Sun Peaks, the anniversary feels like “it’s the first day all over again.”

“Ryan is always the first thing I think about when I wake up and the last thing I think about before I go to bed, but when I'm there on the 17th, it just becomes so real that he's not here and most likely is not coming back to us,” Shtuka said.

Shtuka said along with her husband, she plans to return to Sun Peaks in April to continue the search for Ryan.

Before COVID-19, Shtuka said her family travelled to Sun Peaks once per month to search. They decided to cut back their trips due to pandemic-related restrictions, respecting the health and safety of the small mountain community.

She said they travelled back to Sun Peaks a few times throughout summer and fall months last year, including a trip in late May, when RCMP officers and a tactical unit conducted a search around the Sun Peaks area.

In an email to Castanet Kamloops, Kamloops RCMP Const. Crystal Evelyn said officers completed a two-day search in the Burfield area of Sun Peaks in May 2021, but no new evidence was discovered.

Evelyn said the RCMP continue to investigate Ryan’s disappearance.

“To date, there has been no credible evidence to suggest where Ryan Shtuka is or what happened to him,” Evelyn said.

“Investigators encourage anyone who may have any information on his disappearance to please call the Tk’emlups Rural RCMP Detachment.”

Shtuka said she was “so grateful” the RCMP came to Sun Peaks, showing continued dedication to the case. She said the family also picked up some guidance for its amateur searches.

Shtuka said the search will continue in a manner that is more technical, specific and systematic than before.

“To be able to have someone come in that has some skills and expertise and some guidance was really good for us, because we were able to see it from a different standpoint. And then we were able to adjust our search from there,” she said.

Four years after Ryan’s disappearance, Shtuka said one of the biggest challenges has been gaining the right skills and knowledge to conduct effective searches.

“We’re learning, but I feel like that knowledge never came fast enough for us,” Shtuka said.

“It’s something we're able to pass on to other families to get them in their earlier days, so maybe they feel they've got more of a handle on this uncontrollable situation that they find themselves in, because we didn't have anything and we struggled with that from the very beginning."

She said she wishes there were more resources available for families that find themselves looking for a missing loved one.

“It's almost like the system has been set so that eventually loved ones or family members just go home, because what else are they going to do. And that couldn't be what Scott and I were going to do,” Shtuka said.

“He was this beautiful boy that we've had and that we promised — from the moment of looking into his eyes — I just thought I could give him the whole world. That he could have every opportunity in life and that he was going to know from the very first moment, when he took his first breath until he took his last, that he was loved.

"We made that promise to him. And it just felt like in situations like this, what are parents left to do but to leave, and that is monstrous to me, I think, that a parent should have to go through that.”

Shutka said the family continues to find hope in its “completely and utterly stubborn” community — friends and family from Sun Peaks to Alberta and around the world who continue to support them.

“When you think of the impact that your child has, not only in his lifetime, but also in his absence, I think that has given us the most hope,” Shtuka said.

The Run For Ryan will start 3 p.m. Thursday, at the top of the Sunburst Express chairlift in Sun Peaks. The group will ski together down the 5 Mile run.

Complimentary hot chocolate will be served at the top of the Village Platter lift, where Ryan was working during his time at Sun Peaks. A candlelight vigil will begin at 7 p.m. in the village.

Anyone with information about Shtuka's whereabouts can call police at 250-314-1800 or Crime Stoppers at 1-800-222-8477.