McCann family takes down billboard seeking tips about slain parents
Victims' family members 'closing a chapter' as they remove billboard with offer of a reward
For six years, the smiling faces of Lyle and Marie McCann were a fixture for motorists heading west from Edmonton along the Yellowhead Highway.
The billboard showed photos of the seniors from St. Albert, Alta. Right below was a black strip with a single word written in tall white letters: "Missing."
On Wednesday, an emotional scene played out on the side of the highway as the victims' family took down the sign.
The McCanns were last seen alive on July 3, 2010. Lyle, 79, and Marie, 77, were heading west on that same highway en route to visit family in British Columbia.
The St. Albert couple's motorhome was found burned two days later in a nearby campsite. Eleven days after that, the McCanns' abandoned SUV was discovered in the bush.
Travis Vader is charged with two counts of first-degree murder in the deaths of the McCanns, but their bodies have never been found. His three-month trial ended in June and a decision will be announced by the judge on Sept. 15.
The McCanns' son Bret decided it was time to remove the billboard he and his family built and erected in 2010. Still, he didn't expect it to be so emotional.
"It was sad. Just seeing the picture of my parents. To think that they've been there for six years now," he said.
McCann's wife, Mary-Ann, shed tears as she watched her husband and son-in-law dismantle the sign. She noted "the heartache putting it up and the heartache taking it down."
Bret McCann can't quite bring himself to abandon all hope that his parents' remains will be found.
"I'm hopeful, but not all that optimistic," he said. "It's unlikely that somebody would find them, but we're hopeful that will still happen and we can give them a permanent resting place in St. Albert."
Reward offer ended
The billboard also advertised a $60,000 reward for a tipster. The money was raised through corporate and private donations and has been held in trust but never claimed.
Bret McCann said he's surprised no one ever came forward, but now he plans to use the money to commission what he called "a significant and permanent memorial to my parents."
He's been working with the mayor of St. Albert to find an artist who can turn his vision into a reality. McCann said his parents loved nature and his mother especially loved birds.
"Loons are significant to us," McCann said. "I don't know what medium we can do this in, but I'm thinking of a pair of loons on the lake with a plaque that gives their story." He'd like to have the art placed in a park called Celebration Garden in the heart of St. Albert.
McCann's voice broke when he said he'd like to name the piece "Darling."
"Darling is what my parents always called each other," he explained.
The McCanns' granddaughter, Nicole Walshe, said, "I think it's just another step forward of how we can remember them."
Moving back to Australia
Walshe flew from her home in Australia to Alberta in 2010 as soon as she found out her grandparents were missing. Six years ago she made a commitment to stay by her parents' side to see the ordeal through.
"We just said we're here to the end, and I'm very close to my parents."
Walshe, her husband and two young daughters are moving back to Australia this month. She said she's ready to leave some of the painful memories behind.
"There's a lot of emotional triggers around here," she said. "Looking at time I spent with my grandma, my grandpa. You know where they live. So I'm ready to have a new beginning so we don't have those triggers anymore. I'm ready for a new start."
Walshe admitted the ordeal may never be over, because there are still so many unanswered questions surrounding her grandparents' disappearance.
"I don't know if we'll ever find them, or even if we did, what happened or why it happened. So I don't think there will ever be an over or done. I don't know if we will ever find out."
Walshe prefers not to dwell on the mystery that has haunted so many.
"My choice is to carry the legacy of my grandparents on," she said. "And I do that through little things with my daughters, like cooking my grandma's recipes or telling stories about them."
It could have been anybody's parents
The McCann case has been followed closely by people around the world. Bret McCann said he's grateful for the support shown to him and his family over the past six years.
"What happened to my parents really hit home to a lot of people," he said. "My parents could have been anybody's parents."
McCann said he, too, is ready to move on.
"My parents were a big influence on us and our children. That's their legacy."
But he still misses them.
"I think about them all the time."