Search and rescue leaders have thanked hundreds of community members who dropped everything to join the biggest search mission ever seen in the Elk Valley.
More than 500 people gathered within hours of Kienan Hebert being reported missing on Wednesday, September 7.
Sparwood, Fernie and Elkford Search and Rescue teams also attended, along with mine rescue teams from Elkview, Greenhills and Line Creek mines.
“I want to send the biggest thank you I can possibly express to the community volunteers, search and rescue and emergency social services, all the businesses who donated food, supplies and transportation were just amazing,” said Sparwood Search and Rescue team leader Ed Ehrler, who managed day one of the search.
“We couldn’t have pulled off an operation like this without you.”
Fernie and District Search and Rescue leader Simon Piney also acted as a search manager, along with Fernie team leaders Kat and Scott Robinson and Peter Reid of Kimberley Search and Rescue.
Piney added: “Search and rescue is an extension of the RCMP, so every volunteer that signed up to help us freed up a trained RCMP member to work on the investigation.
“It is fantastic that so many people cared enough to come and help. We tried to brief them every day because I realize how frustrating it is to be picking through trees and looking at the ground without really knowing what the bigger picture is.”
Piney said that the search managers and RCMP were always exploring two theories – that Kienan could have wandered away from his home, or that he could have been abducted.
He added: “A lot of statistics go into a search like this, and the stats say that usually a child of his age is found 1km away from where they started. They tend to be wary of strangers, so whereas lost hikers will call out when you are near, a small child will stay hidden.”
Searchers were given ‘trigger words’ to call, such as ‘Mommy loves you Kienan’ and during the night the fire department drove around the area with the lights flashing in hopes of attracting the attention of the fire truck fan.
An aggressive cougar was seen in nearby woods, and it had to be shot and cut open in case there was evidence it had attacked Kienan.
Garbage that had been collected that morning from the Sparwood Heights area was also sequestered and searched for any sign of Kienan.
At the same time, experienced search and rescue volunteers were investigating the theory that Kienan had been abducted by the RCMP’s main suspect, Randall Hopley.
Members went out on horseback, ATV and in military aircraft donated by the Ministry of Defence, searching backcountry trails and logging roads for any sign of the suspect’s vehicle.
The search continued into the night, thanks to a Cormorant helicopter with night vision technology that was sent by the Ministry of Defence from Comox, B.C.
Search and rescue volunteers from Prince George, Coquitlam, the Columbia Valley, Creston and Kimberley also travelled in to relieve the local teams, who worked gruelling 12 hour shifts for four days.
Ehrler said the news that Kienan had been returned safe and sound gave all the volunteers a boost.
“It was a very high stress operation, very taxing on a mental, emotional and physical level.
“When you saw people on Sunday it was like a big weight had lifted off their shoulders – they were smiling, laughing for the first time in days.
“On Sunday everyone who had been run down and tired was transformed in a single moment – seeing Kienan at home safe made it all worth it.”
Civilian search and rescue teams were not involved in Tuesday morning’s search that led the RCMP to arrest main suspect Randall Hopley in Crowsnest Pass.
• Fernie and Sparwood Search and Rescue teams are both looking for more members. If you are interested in joining your local team, please visit www.fernie.vr-sar.org or www.sparwood.vr-sar.org