Search efforts shift to ground recovery for teen missing in Oldman River

By Dori Modney (@Dori_Modney on Twitter) with files from Geoff Smith
July 12, 2018 - 10:11am Updated: July 12, 2018 - 10:54am

LETHBRIDGE -- It was a heartbreaking news conference on Thursday morning, in which fire rescue and police officials were clearly demoralized. After a week of diving and searching the Oldman River, they have been unable to locate the body of a missing 14-year-old boy who disappeared under the water last Friday evening, July 6.

It was revealed by police that the boy was walking along the river bank with a friend and his grandmother when he slipped into the water and disappeared.

Dana Terry, the Fire Department's Deputy Chief of Support Services, began the news conference by extending condolences to the family of the missing boy, during a very difficult time for them.

Terry confirmed that a meeting with the dive rescue leaders Wednesday night determined it was time to halt dive efforts, even though it was a very difficult decision.

"We've come to the conclusion that we can't search the entire river, so the portions of the river that we've been focussing on and where we believe that we'd be able to find him -- we've exhausted those efforts, as far as the dive portion of our exercise has gone -- so, we came to the decision last that night we would be ceasing diving efforts and we now will be transitioning to a surface recovery and go from that point."

The fire department will have a boat on the river for the next few days scouring the river banks.

Terry reiterated that it was an incredibly difficult decision for the divers because all their training has pointed to the boy being within certain parameters and the dive focussed on those areas.

"They wanted to find the boy - it's hard to talk to them and see the passion that they have - they came every morning with the desire to find him and feeling very positive, unfortunately, we've exhausted all of our efforts and haven't been able to find him."

"These sorts of operations are physically demanding as it's hard slow work but, emotionally, it takes a toll on you as well," he stated, "We are looking after them - we have a critical incident stress management team that will be having some discussions with them and we have psychological assistance, as well, available to our staff."

The deputy fire chief says they can cover a much larger surface area and they will move downstream.

Lethbridge Police have been communicating with the boy's family and keeping them informed of actions being taken. Staff Sgt. Ryan Stef of the Criminal Investigation Section was on hand to fill in details of what transpired on July 6.

"The boy had been walking with a 14-year-old male friend and the friend’s 59-year-old grandmother in the Alexander Wilderness Park when the group entered the water to cross the river and he subsequently lost his footing and went under. The grandmother attempted to pull the boy to safety but her efforts were unsuccessful. Upon getting to shore she immediately called 911 and members of the Lethbridge Fire and Emergency Services Water Rescue Team initiated a search. Police officers, including patrol members and K9, assisted by combing the banks and used an Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) to conduct an aerial search. The search was suspended after dark and resumed in the morning. Since that time Fire Department divers have tirelessly searched the water and LPS has continued to use a UAV. Members of the Lethbridge and Area Search and Rescue Association (LASARA) were also deployed to assist in searching the banks."

Stef noted that police had interviewed the witnesses and remained in constant contact with the victim’s parents. As well the LPS Victim/Witness Services Unit is providing support to both the family and witnesses.

“This is a tragic situation and I want to assure the community we’re doing everything we can to find this boy and give his parents a sense of closure."

According to the staff sergeant, the investigation will proceed as a sudden death when the victim in located. An autopsy will likely be ordered and the investigation will remain active pending the results.

"At this time the victim is presumed drowned and there is no evidence to suggest foul play. At the request of his family, his name will not be released," said Stef.

The Alexander Wilderness Park will remain closed to the public until further notice.

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