Skip to main content

The Globe and Mail

Police discourage amateur search for bodies of three missing Calgarians

Police investigators comb a hay field north of Airdrie, Alta., Saturday, July 5, 2014, looking for clues to the disappearance of three people.

Jeff McIntosh/The Canadian Press

Police have told volunteers searching for the bodies of three Calgarians investigators say were murdered that their help is not necessary, stopping just shy of asking the freelance crews to call off their effort.

Untrained volunteers combed through fields near Airdrie this week, sparking criticism from some members of the public who said they risk jeopardizing the murder investigation.

The uninvited crews lack the support specially trained search and rescue crews across the country have at their disposal. The aftermath of finding a body – whether the volunteer is trained or otherwise – can be dangerous.

Story continues below advertisement

"The trauma of actually finding someone could affect them greatly and for a long time," Chris Kelly, president of British Columbia's Search And Rescue Association, said. He was speaking about searches in general, rather than directly to the actions of volunteers have taken near Airdrie. "That is putting people at risk."

If Mr. Kelly expects his teams to come across a gruesome scene, he selects the volunteers he knows can best deal with the trauma because they have past experience in those types of situations. Mr. Kelly said he would be reluctant to put a newly trained volunteer in that situation.

Search and rescue teams debrief after searches, and Mr. Kelly said it is helpful to talk out the situations. There is a special program for these situations dubbed the Critical Incident Stress Management program.

"The CISM program works miracles," he said.

Untrained volunteers in Airdrie this week started combing through nearby fields in hopes of finding the bodies of five-year-old Nathan O'Brien and his grandparents Alvin and Kathryn Liknes. Police on Tuesday charged Douglas Garland with two counts of first-degree murder and one count of second-degree murder in relation to the trio's disappearance at the end of June.

Matt Forseth, a volunteer organizing the freelance search party, shut down the third search he was planning with volunteers after police hinted they want civilians to stand down.

"We said we would continue unless asked to stop," Mr. Forseth said. "But we feel it was enough of a request to stop. We didn't want to push our luck."

Story continues below advertisement

Police have asked landowners and businesses operating on areas near where Mr. Garland lived with his parents near Airdrie to search their properties for anything suspicious. But the Calgary Police Service has not extended that request to the general public.

"Investigators have a 30-day search plan in effect that is intelligence driven, which cannot be shared outside of law enforcement in order to protect the integrity of the investigation. We are systematically searching locations that have a high likelihood of locating evidence utilizing officers from the CPS, RCMP and provincially sanctioned civilian search organizations," the police said in a statement Thursday. "At this time we do not require assistance from the public in relation to searching public property."

Report an error Licensing Options
About the Authors

Carrie Tait joined the Globe in January, 2011, mainly reporting on energy from the Calgary bureau. Previously, she spent six years working for the National Post in both Calgary and Toronto. She has a master’s degree in journalism from the University of Western Ontario and a bachelor’s degree in political studies from the University of Saskatchewan. More

Sports writer

Allan Maki is a national news reporter and sports writer based in Calgary. More


The Globe invites you to share your views. Please stay on topic and be respectful to everyone. For more information on our commenting policies and how our community-based moderation works, please read our Community Guidelines and our Terms and Conditions.

We’ve made some technical updates to our commenting software. If you are experiencing any issues posting comments, simply log out and log back in.

Discussion loading… ✨