For Bruce Dunahee, the days leading up to March 24 are often a blur.
He has the same feeling of anxiousness as he counts down the days on the calendar to March 24 — the day his four-year-old son Michael disappeared.
This year marks the 26th anniversary since his son disappeared and the pain of losing a child hasn’t subsided.
“It’s still hard to deal with this sort of stuff every year,” said Dunahee. “The 24th was a bad day years ago.”
On Sunday, March 24, 1991, Michael went missing from the playground at Blanshard Elementary School around 12:30 p.m. His mother Crystal was tying her cleats in preparation for a flag football game at the field while Bruce was standing metres away, checking the score of a previous game.
After asking for his mother’s permission, Michael made his way to the playground. Moments later, Bruce glanced over and saw his son had vanished.
The flag football game ground to a halt as players scoured the area for signs of the boy, who was last seen wearing a blue-hooded jacket with red lining and red cuffs, a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles T-shirt, multi-coloured rugby pants and blue sneakers.
In the days following Michael’s disappearance the young family endured a whirlwind of emotions, as they attempted to cope with what had happened to their son while caring for Michael’s then-six-month-old sister Caitlin. Eventually, police gave the Dunahee’s two options: to keep quiet in hopes whoever took Michael would let him go or go public with the case — which they did — a decision Dunahee doesn’t regret to this day.
But more than two decades later, the same question remains: what happened to Michael? It’s a question Dunahee asks himself every day. In his mind, he constantly runs through what happened and still can’t imagine what happened to his blonde-haired, blue-eyed little boy.
“Every day I think about how it happened, where he could have gone and disappeared so quickly? It drives me nuts sometimes,” Dunahee said. “Wondering how he’s doing, where he is, if he’s married, got kids?”
Since Michael’s disappearance 26 years ago, police have received more than 11,000 tips and the case has spawned one of the largest police investigations in Canadian history.
To this day, police remain committed to finding Michael, who would be 30 years old this year.
“They (investigators) still receive tips and they still follow up on tips, but we’re just looking for that one piece of information to bring closure to his family and we’re committed to this investigation,” said Victoria police spokesperson Matt Rutherford.
Throughout the years, the community has helped keep the case alive, organizing an annual softball tournament and other events.
Friday, March 24 (today) there will be a mass dedicated to Michael and his family at noon at Our Lady Queen of Peace Church in Esquimalt — the same church the Dunahees were married in. There will also be a charity event called the Michael Dunahee Keep the Hope Alive fun run to raise money for Child Find B.C., on Sunday, March 26 at 10 a.m. at the Esquimalt Recreation Centre (527 Fraser St.)
The Dunahee’s continue to hold out hope Michael will be found, and believe the awarenress raised around the case has helped other parents and kids in Victoria.
Anyone with information about Michael’s disappearance is asked to call police at 250-995-7444 or Crime Stoppers at 1-800-222-8477.