Atsumi Yoshikubo was last seen heading towards the Yellowknife wilderness alone in 2014. Like many other Japanese tourists, locals assumed she had come to see the aurora borealis.
But the hunt for answers about her disappearance would take nearly two years and have several surprises along the way. Here’s a look at the events leading up to and after her disappearance:
Yoshikubo arrived in Yellowknife and checked into the Explorer Hotel for a week’s stay. She asked hotel staff about a tour to see the northern lights but was told they were all closed for the season.
She was picked up on security footage twice. First, when she visited the North Frontier Visitors Centre.
Later that day, she was seen inside the popular souvenir shop, where she purchased a pair of coffee mugs.
Security footage captured Yoshikubo leaving her hotel at 9:15 a.m. with a backpack and a bag.
It was the last time anyone would see her alive.
Kerri Riehl, a security expert and retired RCMP officer, saw Yoshikubo on her way home for lunch.
“She caught my eye, she was all dressed in pink, a very pretty lady,” she said in the documentary, The Missing Tourist.
Riehl contemplated pulling over to talk to Yoshikubo, but she wasn’t in distress or panicking, so Riehl continued on her way.
It was a decision she’s questioned ever since.
It took three days before hotel staff realized Yoshikubo never checked out. When they entered her hotel room, all her luggage was still there, packed and ready to go. Hotel staff alerted police, who determined she also missed her flight back home to Japan.
Yoshikubo was listed as a missing person and the search for the missing tourist began that afternoon.
After days of searching with no results, a group of locals took the search for Yoshikubo into their own hands, according to a news report.
They skied along trails with flashlights and headlamps, looking under trees and checking bushes — areas impossible to see from the helicopters above.
Sonia Daigle, a local tour bus driver who saw Yoshikubo the day she disappeared, also started searching the area Yoshikubo was last seen. She was equipped with bottles of waters and a blanket in case she found the woman she saw only a week earlier.
“I felt like she couldn’t be far,” she said in the documentary, The Missing Tourist. “She might've fell or something. I felt like we had to help. We’re all human.”
The next day, RCMP announced they had searched all of Yellowknife and were moving their search North.
Despite not finding her body, RCMP called off the search. Yoshikubo was presumed dead with no evidence of foul play.
The statement by police left the community confused:
“Our investigation has been very thorough and it has determined she planned to go into the wilderness alone and become a missing person. Our investigation also determined she had taken steps to avoid detection."
The RCMP didn't provide details of their evidence. They wouldn’t hold another press conference or release any more information about the case until the following summer.
Erin Brohman was a reporter with CBC North at the time Yoshikubo disappeared.
Cst. Elenore Sturko says Yoshikubo took steps to avoid being found. She can't elaborate further. #CBCNorth— Erin Brohman (@BrohmanCBC) November 4, 2014
She remembers her reaction to that press conference.
“That release...opened the door to so much speculation and a huge demand for more information,” she said in the documentary. “I didn’t know what they meant. Nobody in the newsroom knew what that meant. We were baffled.”
Many Yellowknife residents also questioned the RCMP's decision to drop the search. They wanted more information about why, according to a CBC news report.
A condolence card for Yoshikubo was placed at city hall for community members to sign.
"I know there was a tremendous amount of local support for the search and I think it's a way for Yellowknifers to let Atsumi's family in Japan know our thoughts are with her family," said councilor Dan Wong, according to a news report.
“I think people really knew how important it was, regardless of whether she was alive, that she be found.”
Volunteers from Yellowknife Search and Rescue renewed the hunt for Yoshikubo. The plan was to go out once a week until September.
“I think people really knew how important it was, regardless of whether she was alive, that she be found,” said Brohman.
A hiker found personal remains alongside bone fragments. Police confirmed the belongings were Yoshikbuo’s, CBC News reported, but DNA testing was needed to confirm bone fragments.
DNA testing confirmed the bone fragments were a match to Yoshikubo’s family, according to a CBC news report. No autopsy possible because of not enough of the body, so the coroner was unable to determine a cause of death.
While the DNA testing brought an end to the search for Yoshikubo, there are still many unanswered questions about her disappearance.
To learn more, watch The Missing Tourist on Firsthand on Thursday at 9 p.m.