The entire community is operating in a state of shock and disbelief as search efforts to locate missing local girl Madison Scott continue more than a week after her disappearance.
The 20-year-old was last seen at 3 a.m. on Saturday, May 28 during a party at Hogsback Lake, 25 kilometres south of town.
Scott left Vanderhoof on Friday May 27 with the intention of camping overnight at the lake.
Her family called the Vanderhoof RCMP detachment on Sunday at 2 p.m. when she failed to return home. Police who attended the area on Sunday May 29 located her tent and her truck, but extensive search efforts to locate her have been unsuccessful so far.
Police say that Scott’s phone was last used at 7 a.m. on Saturday morning – approximately four hours after she was last seen.
Volunteers from Vanderhoof, Burns Lake and Prince George Search and Rescue crews, along with both the Vanderhoof and Fort St. James RCMP detachments and a number of concerned civilians, searched the area around Hogsback Lake last Sunday and Monday.
A swift water rescue team was also called in to assist. More than 150 volunteers searched the area including shorelines, ATV trails and logging roads. The water was also scoured with boats equipped with underwater cameras and sonar.
The ground search was suspended last Tuesday pending new information.
Staff-Sergeant Dave Beach from the Vanderhoof RCMP said that the file was officially taken over by the North District Major Crime unit in Prince George last Monday because the file is too huge for the Vanderhoof detachment to handle and foul play is suspected.
He added that the police are continuing to search and that a underwater recovery team has been called in.
The RCMP Forensic Identification Section has also examined the camping area.
Police have conducted a number of interviews and have determined that there was another party held at Hogsback Lake on Saturday. The RCMP are asking to speak with anyone who may have attended either party or was in the area over the weekend.
“We believe someone who was in the area this weekend may have seen Madison or even spoken to her, “ said Sgt. Rob Vermeulen, spokesperson with E Division, in a press release.
“It is important that we determine what happened that night, what her plans were for Saturday and the rest of the weekend. We have conducted some interviews, but it is important that we speak to anyone and everyone who will help piece together the bigger picture. We still have many questions as does Madison’s family”.
Rick Beatty, from Vanderhoof Search and Rescue, said the initial ground search was called off after no evidence was found to suggest she was in the area around the lake.
“There was nothing found and no evidence found to indicate that she had gone anywhere or been anywhereand so basically we had no direction to go in,” Beatty told the Express on Wednesday.
“We just basically ran out of places to look,” he added.
After the ground search was called off on Tuesday, Beatty continues to help out as a civilian, flying with one of the helicopter crews last Tuesday to aid the visual search.
“We conducted a thorough search of the area at that time right around the lake,” said Beatty.
He added that he has flown the same area during a search and rescue training exercise last year, but in a six-wing aircraft.
During the exercise they were looking for two people.
“Literally last year we did a major exercise with civil air search and rescue people and our ground search and rescue people and the only reason we had any clue that they were even down there … was they finally lit a fire to let us know where they were,” he said.
He added that a helicopter is much better to carry out a search in than the aircraft they had been training in.
Beatty says that a lot of people who aided the search think that Scott left the site by vehicle.
“There’s no evidence to suggest that she left by foot – there was no tracks anywhere – nothing. That’s why we shut it down because there was just no place or direction left to go … it almost looks to a lot of people like she left by vehicle,” he said.
Despite the suspension of the initial ground search, family and friends of the Scott family have continued to mount an extensive search by land and air. On Thursday RCMP said that Search and Rescue will resume further searches of some roadways in the Hogsback Lake area over a number of days.
Interior helicopters in Fort St. James say they have had two machines out on the search last week. Joe Cadham, the general manager of Interior Helicopters says the company has substantially reduced the costs of the helicopters to aid the search.
“Basically we’re covering basic costs and gas,” said Cadham.
“It’s probably something like $500 an hour instead of $1,500.”
He added that the search teams on the helicopters have been conducting infrared searches early in the morning and then visual searches with search and rescue volunteers for the rest of the day.
Cadham says the company has received numerous calls from people wanting to donate money for more helicopter time on the search.
Madison’s mother, Dawn Scott, says the family and friends remain optimistic and are continuing to search every day.
“We just want to spread the word and keep looking,” she told the Express on Wednesday.
A friend of the family, and hockey team mate of Madison’s, Theresa Phillips, has set up an account at the Integris Credit Union where donations can be made to aid the search and rescue process.
A number of other fundraising efforts are also going on in the community. On Saturday a fundraiser was held at the Buffalo Beach Bar in town. All the money made on the door was donated to the search and rescue fund. On Sunday Nechako Valley Video donated all proceeds from all movies rented between 10 a.m. and 10 p.m.
Kelly Ross, a friend of the family organized the fundraiser at the Buffalo Beach. She also helped out with the search last Monday.
She says search and rescue teams carried out a grid search of the area and volunteers were broken up into teams and given different search areas.
“They sent the teams out with a map and said this is the area you are responsible for.”
“During the search you have to be able to see the ground between you and the person beside you so that the whole area is covered and nothing gets missed … you’re looking on the ground and in the trees for pieces of clothing, material … you’re looking for anything,” she said.
Despite the ground search being called off, Ross says family and friends have no choice but to continue searching out at the lake.
“Nothing has been found to suggest she’s there so they called off the search … but where else do you look when that’s the last place she was… where do you start, if you’re not searching there, where do you go?” said Ross.
Ross described Madison as fun-loving and outgoing and said she would never disappear intentionally without calling someone.
“That would definitely be completely out of character for Maddy,” she said.
“And she has missed baseball games all week and she never usually misses a game,” she added.
Vanderhoof resident and search and rescue volunteer Richard Levy, says he wasn’t a close friend but knew her in passing.
“It’s hard to believe something like this has happened so close to home… but the amount of support that the family is getting from the town is amazing and makes me remember why I love this town,” he said.
Vanderhoof mayor Gerry Thiessen described it as a “gut-wrenching” time for the whole town.
“The people in the community are just sick,” said Thiessen.
“The Scott family has been an important family in the community… so when you have something as tough as this it’s a real gut-wrenching time that residents are going through,”
“We all just feel for the family and hope and pray that it’s going to be a successful ending,” he said.
He added that he has been really impressed with the job that the RCMP are doing on the case.
“I understand that provincially this has been seen as a priority and the RCMP have come with as much effort and expertise as they can.
At the end of last week Thiessen spoke to Sgt. Gary Heebner from the North District Major Crime unit.
“His superior has told him to make sure he uses all of the resources necessary to make sure this case comes to a successful conclusion.
“As a community we can have security in knowing that the RCMP are doing everything they possibly can,” he said.
Thiessen says that the RCMP has 14 investigators working on the case with two support staff.
Madison Scott is described as 20-year-old Caucasian, 5 foot 4 inches tall, 170 lbs with ginger hair. She was last seen wearing a black T-shirt and blue jean Capri pants.
The RCMP are requesting the publics assistance in finding Scott. Anyone who may have seen Madison or may know of her whereabouts should contact the Vanderhoof RCMP detachment immediately at (250) 567-2222.