'I'm going till I got no more go left': 11 weeks of searching for Cortney Lake

For three months, the family of 24-year-old Cortney Lake has been searching tirelessly for her body - with almost 300 volunteers joining in.

A mother's thanks, as volunteers get instructions on what to look for to find suspected homicide victim

Lisa Lake, Cortney Lake's mother, is comforted by her sister Glenda Power. (Cal Tobin/CBC)

The family sits around a kitchen table on Friday, with a pile of T-shirts bearing Cortney Lake's picture, maps of the next day's search area, and a spreadsheet holding all the names and phone numbers of the people dedicating their time to bringing them peace.

Almost 300 volunteers so far, on more than 30 organized searches over the three months since Lake went missing – and still no sign of the 24-year-old's body.

The Lake family organizing a recent search in a wooded area in Torbay. (Eddy Kennedy/CBC)

"I'm going till I got no more go left in me. And all my family feel the same, our supporters feel the same. Not even thinking about stopping," says Lake's mother, Lisa Lake.

"It's exhausting, no doubt, but we have to find her."

Her daughter was last seen June 7, getting into a truck her ex-boyfriend, 25-year-old Philip Steven Smith admitted he was driving – just hours after he was released from jail with the condition he'd stay away from Lake.

It's not clear what happened after that.

Police believe Lake was killed, and that she was taken to a wooded area. No one has been charged in connection with her disappearance.

Shorter days mean less time to search

"Ten weeks ago I would have said, 'how the heck do we do this?' but now it's like, 'this is what we have to do now,'" her aunt, Donna Walsh, told CBC News.

Walsh and her husband Vince spend every waking moment planning these searches of the northeast Avalon wilderness every Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday.

About 300 volunteers help Cortney Lake's family as they search for the 24-year-old, who police say is a homicide victim. 4:13

They pick a location, visit the site then divide it into different sections for searchers on foot and on ATVs.

Local businesses and individuals donate food, supplies, the T-shirts.

"There's no limit on it, and we can't thank them enough," Walsh said.

"These people, after our searches they'll come, they'll hug us. And like I said, they were strangers to us. 'Didn't find her this time, but the next we will,'" Walsh said, her eyes welling with tears.

Look for tarps, look for plastic, look for rope, look for tape. Look for cement, look for fresh ground, look for gravel, that kind of stuff.- Donna Walsh

"It's hard, but we have to do it and we will continue to do it."

Walsh said she's not worried people will lose interest or get tired of looking.

"What does worry me is the shorter evenings, the fall, the winter. Like our searches, we used to be out searching in the woods until 9 p.m., 9:30 p.m.. Now 8:00 p.m. we're texting searchers, 'come back out of the woods, it's getting dark.' So our time frame every evening is getting shorter now."

Cortney Lake's aunt, Donna Walsh, says searchers have to look for clues such as a tarp, rope or freshly-dug ground. (Cal Tobin/CBC)

At the search site in Torbay on Saturday morning, Walsh gives volunteers the "dos and don'ts" of the day.

"It has been 10 and a half weeks now since Cortney went missing. So what we're looking for right now, if Cortney is above ground, is not this," she said, pointing to a picture of Lake.

"So you need to keep that in mind as you do your search. Look for tarps, look for plastic, look for rope, look for tape. Look for cement, look for fresh ground, look for gravel, that kind of stuff."

She tells them to walk back how they walked in if they do find something, as instructed by police, and to contact one of the family to come check it out.

A 'family' of volunteers

"So it is a lot of go in, search, come back, and then work your way in through again," Derrick Kearney said as he worked his way through the brush.

Kearney has been on every search for the past six weeks.

"We're like a little family of our own. We were all strangers when we first came here, and now it's almost like we've known people for years."

Kearney said he was a paramedic for almost 20 years, but that experience can't quite compare to what he'll see if he does find Lake.

Derrick Kearney is one of 300 volunteers who are helping in the search for Cortney Lake. (Eddy KennedyéCBC)

As the father of two daughters, he said he wants to help the family bring Lake to her final resting place. He has no plans to stop, although he does worry about what will happen when the snow starts to fall.

"Unless the person or persons responsible for this actually come out and tell us where Cortney is — It's a vast area to search."

They didn't find Cortney Lake on Saturday, but true to their word, the searches are continuing.

About the Author

Meghan McCabe


Meghan McCabe is a journalist who works with CBC News in St. John's.