Heart-broken volunteers who joined the search for Manitoba toddler Chase Martens say they wouldn't hesitate to search for another missing person again.
The body of the two-year-old was found by search volunteers on Saturday in a creek close to his home near Austin, Man. An autopsy confirmed his death from drowning. Martens had been reported missing on Tuesday evening.
"This one was very personal," said Robert Smith, a farmer who lives near Austin. Smith estimated he spent more than 30 hours searching for Chase in his capacity as the captain of the local range patrol.
Now that the search is over, Smith said he feels sad and tired, and that he might need to speak with a pastor. Still, he said, he would join another missing persons search "in a second."
"Our family has deep roots here, and I feel a very strong belief that you've got to help your neighbour, because otherwise you're not worth anything," said Smith. "Money's not worth anything, but your neighbours are worth everything."
Searchers came from Winnipeg
James Favel travelled to Austin from his home in Winnipeg's North End to help with the search. He organizes the Bear Clan Patrol, which performs community outreach and searches for missing people in Winnipeg.
Early on in the search for Chase, the leader of Favel's search party gave a grim warning of what they were trying to find.
"You're looking for a package about the size of a bread box that's curled up in the fetal position," Favel said he was told. "That really brought it home."
"I can imagine my grandson laying on the bed there, curled up in a ball," said Favel.
"You're searching, and you're hoping that you'll find something, and at the same time you're praying that you don't."
Favel is already working on his next search, looking for missing Winnipeg man Troy Graham.
"We just soldier on," said Favel. "Head down, shoulders forward, one foot in front of the other."
Darryl Contois also came from Winnipeg to help search for the toddler. He said searches like this help build a bond between volunteers.
"You're all there for the same thing … to bring closure to the family," said Contois.
He said the search united Manitobans from disparate urban and rural communities.
"It's a little boy that brought us all together," said Contois. "He brought a province together to search for him, and he connected a lot of hearts together."
Volunteer response 'heartwarming'
"Well over" 2,000 volunteers helped with the search for Chase between Wednesday and Saturday, according to Sgt. Bert Paquet of the Manitoba RCMP.
"Trained searchers alone would cover only a fraction of the area that [hundreds] of volunteers can," said Paquet. "To have so many Manitobans wanting to help was a great motivation for all involved to keep going."
The volunteer response to the disappearance of Chase was "heartwarming," in spite of the terrible outcome, said Christy Dzikowicz, director of child safety and family advocacy with the Canadian Centre for Child Protection.
"The search was co-ordinated very, very well, and the searchers played a critical role, because there just aren't enough eyes and ears without them," said Dzikowicz.
Although the search is over, added Dzikowicz, community members can still help the Martens family.
"I think right now the family needs space and time, but there's going to be lots of ways going forward that I think the community can provide ongoing support, and I think the family's going to need that," said Dzikowicz.
Despite the tragic outcome, Dzikowicz offered encouragement to the volunteers who searched for the boy.
"[Chase] was found. He was brought home to his family, and that had to happen," said Dzikowicz.
"So I think, should this happen again, and sadly we know something like this will happen again, I wouldn't want people to be discouraged," said Dzikowicz.
"They did a phenomenal job, and they made a nightmare a little bit better for this family."