Parents have learned a hard lesson about their children’s safety in the 20 years since little Michael Dunahee’s disappearance.
“It is a name synonymous with wanting to keep our children safe,” said Shanne McCaffrey, a senior instructor at the University of Victoria’s school of child and youth care, and a parent herself.
“Even though that family hasn’t done anything wrong, they have suffered a loss none of us can ever understand.”
Michael Dunahee was four when he disappeared from the playground of what was the Blanshard Street school (today, the site of University Canada West) at 12:30 p.m., March 24, 1991.
At the time, his mother, Crystal, was tying her cleats in preparation for a football game at the field, while his father, Bruce, was standing on a rock just metres away, checking the score of a previous game.
Michael was playing on playground equipment within view of his parents. But when Bruce looked over, his son was gone.
By 1 p.m., police had swarmed the area to search for the boy. Hundreds of tips came in, but he wasn’t found.
“His disappearance rocked the community and there are still no answers,” said Sgt. Grant Hamilton, a Victoria police spokesperson.
Since the 15th anniversary of Michael’s disappearance, Victoria police have received 500 tips. In any given month, multiple possible sightings are reported.
None were as promising as a recent sighting of Michael, who would now be 24, in Chase, B.C. Residents of the town were certain it was him.
When police investigated, they took a DNA sample, but it confirmed the man was not Michael Dunahee.
Crystal Dunahee’s eyes were red and filled with tears Wednesday as she spoke to reporters at the Victoria Police Department on the 20th anniversary of her son’s disappearance.
“(His memories) are still embedded in our lives and in our hearts,” she said. “We know someone is out there who knows what happened. We need to find closure so we can move forward.”
A $100,000 reward is in place for any tip that leads to information about Michael’s whereabouts. Tips can be called in to VicPD’s designated tip line, at 250-995-7444 or Crime Stoppers at 1-800-222-8477.
A service for Michael’s memory will be held today (Thursday, March 24) at Our Lady Queen of Peace Parish in Esquimalt.
Child protection worker, family therapist and UVic social work Prof. Barbara Whittington lived in Victoria in 1991.
“When it first happened, I had kids a similar age,” she said. “I remember the reaction. The reaction was we’ll find him, not they’ll find him.
“I think you protect (children) by giving them confidence, by giving them experiences. It’s not about protecting kids physically it’s about making them aware of the people around them.”