British Columbia

Where is Marshal Iwaasa? Family seeks answers in B.C. about missing Alberta man

The 26-year-old Alberta man seems to have vanished without a trace after his burned-out truck was found on a remote B.C. forest service road in the Pemberton area.

Searches in rugged B.C. terrain have yielded no clues about the 26-year-old's fate

Marshal Iwaasa had been living in Calgary, Alberta, at the time of his disappearance. His burned-out truck was found about 150 kilometres northeast of Vancouver last year. (Lethbridge Police Service)

After nine months of investigations, searches, public appeals and sleepless nights, the family of missing Alberta man Marshal Iwaasa say they are no closer to knowing why, or how, the 26-year-old disappeared without a trace.

Iwaasa's burned-out truck was found on a remote forest service road near D'arcy, B.C., about 150 kilometres north of Vancouver, on Nov. 23, 2019.

Security video later confirmed his last known sighting to be one week earlier at a storage locker he shared with his sister in their hometown of Lethbridge. 

She says part of the family's frustration stems from investigators refusing to treat Iwaasa's case as a criminal matter.

"I hope that the police are closer and maybe they have something they haven't shared with us," said Paige Fogen. "But it feels like we're in the same spot as in November when he first went missing." 

Marshal Iwaasa's burned-out truck was found by hikers on a forest service road near D'Arcy, B.C., on Nov. 23, 2019. (Iwaasa family)

Police and a private investigation team hired by the family have uncovered details leading up to the disappearance, but nothing to give any hint of whether the young man is dead or alive.

And the mystery of why Iwaasa's dark blue GMC pickup was found torched a province away, in an area he had no connection to, nor had ever been to before, remains a major piece of the puzzle.

Truck found by hikers

On Nov. 23 hikers found the truck with clothes and items strewn around, but didn't report it to police until they were able to get cellphone service the next day.  

On Nov. 25 the Pemberton RCMP attended the scene. Photos from that day compared to those taken two days earlier by the hikers show some of the items on the road had been moved.

Police notified Fogen of the truck's discovery the following day and it was then the family realized Iwaasa was missing.

Iwaasa's burnt-out truck captured by a drone during an exhaustive search of the area July 2020. The truck was first discovered by hikers on Nov. 23, 2019. (Mike Hoffman/AOS Aerial Observation Services)

Because he was living in Calgary, a missing persons file was opened with the Calgary Police. The case was transferred to the Lethbridge Police Service after confirmation of the storage locker video.

Public attention to missing person cases often fade over time, but through efforts on social media, Iwaasa's has not.

The Find Marshal Iwaasa Facebook group has almost 13,000 members, and facemasks emblazoned with "Find Marshal Iwaasa" are now being sold to help fund private search efforts.

An online petition to have the case elevated to criminal status is also receiving a lot of attention, and has garnered over 5,300 signatures in the few days since it was launched.

26-year-old Marshal Iwaasa was last seen in Lethbridge, Alta., on Nov. 17, 2019. His family wants police to treat his disappearance as a criminal matter. (Calgary Police Service)

Fogen says the family has been asking police to treat her brother's disappearance as criminal because that would trigger extra investigative powers that aren't available in missing persons cases, including fingerprinting or DNA analysis of the items found at the scene, including the ones that didn't belong to Iwaasa.

But in a statement, the Lethbridge police say they have no evidence to support upgrading the case.

'Considered suspicious'

"From the onset of this investigation Iwaasa's disappearance has been considered suspicious, however there is no credible, corroborated or compelling information to suggest foul play or that the occurrence is criminal in nature."

The statement goes on to say that investigators believe Iwaasa was experiencing stress and personal troubles in the months leading up to his disappearance, raising the question of self harm.

Searchers look for any trace of missing man Marshal Iwaasa. His burnt-out GMC pickup truck was found on a forest service road near D'Arcy B.C. in Nov. 2019. (Dave Hastie)

It is true that Iwaasa hadn't told his family he had been put on academic probation at the Southern Alberta Institute of Technology where he was enrolled in computer studies, or that he had subsequently dropped out. They also didn't know that he let his cellphone plan lapse in the weeks before he vanished.

But, Fogen says, the theory that her brother killed himself just doesn't add up.

"Suicide has always been something that's been brought up by the police. There's really not a lot of indicators for that — he had no past suicidal ideation, no past suicide attempts," she said. 

Members of the search contingent that scoured the area around Marshal Iwaasa's burnt-out truck in June 2020. (Dave Hastie)

"And at the end of the day if he had driven his truck up there to commit suicide — this is something we've openly talked about — his body would have been found in that final search."

The final search took place in June when 35 police and privately hired searchers, drones, a helicopter and a team of eight cadaver dogs, were deployed to the truck site. 

Dave Hastie, a retired Lethbridge Police staff sergeant with a background in search management, helped organize the effort. He said the mountainous terrain made for tough slogging over the five days of searching.

"We wanted to [search] the whole road in and out from where the truck was found," said Hastie.

"We did 200 metres on each side of it and it's very rough, with streams and that sort of thing. And we wanted to do up past where the truck was as far as we could. It took a while ... because we had to ATV everyone up and down."

Arson confirmed

No trace of Iwaasa was found, but a private arson investigator did determine the truck had been intentionally set on fire, ruling out some sort of engine or electrical problem.

"And so we've now kind of crossed that off the list," said Fogen, "his body being up there on that mountain, whether it be for going up there by choice to commit suicide, or that he drove up there to go hiking and died by the elements."

Lethbridge Police have conducted its own arson investigation but have not yet released the results. 

A Lethbridge Police spokeswoman told CBC all leads in the case are being pursued and that his file will remain open until Iwaasa is located.

Missing men mystery: Family wonders if Marshal Iwaasa's disappearance is somehow connected to other men who have vanished in the B.C. Interior. 

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