It’s not a place Crystal Dunahee goes to on purpose. Ever since her four-year-old son Michael disappeared from the playground of the former Blanshard Elementary School 25 years ago, passing the site has been difficult. The memories of that painful day are hard to erase.
Crystal was tying her cleats in preparation for a flag football game at the field while her husband Bruce was standing metres away, checking the score of the previous game. Michael headed to a nearby playground within view of his parents, but when Bruce looked over his son was gone. The game immediately ground to a halt as players scoured the area, but there was no trace of the young boy.
“It was a hard day,” said Crystal. “It’s just one of those things where you allow him to do something for the first time and then it backfires because that’s what happened.”
A year after Micheal went missing, students from the school planted a tree and placed a plaque at the site in order to remember him. The tree has become known as Michael’s tree.
The school has since shut down and the land has been sold to the Capital Regional Hospital District, which plans to construct a 320-unit seniors residential care facility in the field area. The Tree of Hope, however, continues to be a place where members of the community go to remember Michael.
On Wednesday, Child Find B.C., with the support from the Quadra Village community, will be hosting a public rededication of the site in conjunction with Missing Children’s Day. Students from Ecole Quadra School will unveil a new plaque, along with a community bench and a new small garden encircling the tree.
The day will mark the third time in 25 years Crystal has returned to where the nightmare began.
“It will be hard to go back…I go to other places to sit and reminisce. We haven’t given up hope,” said Crystal. “It just shows that people are still remembering and want it to remain. The tree won’t disappear with the reconstruction.”
Steve Orcherton, executive director of Child Find B.C., remembers the day Michael disappeared like it was yesterday.
He was at his brother’s house and his wife at the time was with the couple’s son, who was the same age as Michael. Orcherton heard on the radio that a boy matching his son’s description was missing, causing a bit of panic until he confirmed his son was with his mother. Orcherton soon became involved with the massive search and has stayed involved at different levels throughout the years.
“Everyone that’s lived in Victoria has some recollection of that day. They know what they were doing or where they were when it happened,” said Orcherton, who wanted to do something to mark the 25th anniversary this year. “It really was a moment in time when a lot of things changed in terms of how we looked after our kids and worry about our children.”
Victoria police maintain the case is still active and open, receiving tips especially whenever another anniversary rolls around. Michael’s disappearance is the only unsolved case in Victoria involving a child. Anyone with information about his disappearance is asked to call 250-995-7261 or Crime Stoppers at 1-800-222-TIPS (8477).
The rededication of Michael’s Tree of Hope will take place on Wednesday, May 25 at 1 p.m. across from the Quadra Village Community Centre at 901 Kings Rd.