Police say missing man Eduardo Balaquit 'very likely' a homicide victim

Winnipeg police hope new information released Wednesday will help solve the mystery of what happened to a Winnipeg man who disappeared seemingly without a trace in June.

Balaquit, 59, was last seen June 4 in Winnipeg

Winnipeg police said Wednesday the service's homicide unit is now leading the investigation into the disappearance of Edward Balaquit, 59. (Supplied by Winnipeg police)

Winnipeg police now say a missing Winnipeg man is "very, very likely" a homicide victim.

And with the change of the seasons, homicide investigators are asking hunters in and around the Arborg, Man., area to watch for any sign of Eduardo Balaquit.

The 59-year-old father was last seen between 6 p.m. and 9 p.m. on June 4 near 380 Keewatin St., where he was supposed to do janitorial work.

While police have previously said they believe Balaquit was the victim of a crime, when pressed by reporters Wednesday, police spokesperson Const. Rob Carver said it's likely the missing man was killed.

"I can tell you it's always a difficult transition for investigators from what initially starts as a missing person case to what moves to very, very likely a homicide," he said.

"[The Winnipeg police] homicide [unit] is involved in this investigation and is now the lead. We certainly suspect that that's the case."

Eduardo Balaquit's family last heard from him on June 4, 2018. (Edward Balaquit/Facebook)

But Balaquit's son, Edward Balaquit, said he's not giving up hope.

"I hope to bring him home alive," Edward said.

"A lot of people are pointing towards the negative because of how long it's been, but I think anyone who has a loved one who's not around wants to think positively and know that they're OK," he said.

"I want him to come home."

Search expanded outside Winnipeg

Police search efforts for Balaquit were expanded outside Winnipeg city limits nine days after he disappeared, with homicide investigators, city police and local RCMP conducting ground searches in the Arborg area.

On Wednesday, Carver said the community, about 115 kilometres north of Winnipeg, is still a primary point of focus for investigators.

Police are asking anyone in the area to watch out for anything that looks to be out of place.

Winnipeg police now say a missing Winnipeg man is "very, very likely" a homicide victim. 1:45

"We know from experience that often in the fall, things that had been missed before in searches end up coming to light," said Carter.

"We had an extensive ground search in the Arborg area, but we may have missed something."

Police specifically reminded the public about the clothing Balaquit was wearing the last time he was seen — black pants, black shoes and a black zip-up sweater.

"Items that may seem insignificant to the casual observer may have significant relevance to the investigation," Carter said.

"If someone comes upon something that looks odd or out of place, we'd like a call."

Police have previously said they aren't aware of any ties Balaquit might have in the Arborg area, and haven't said why the community remains the focus of their search efforts.

'It's still hard'

Edward Balaquit said the last five months have been difficult for the family.

"It's still hard. Having no answers doesn't give you any closure," he said.

Edward said it was especially hard when he got married over the summer and his father wasn't there.

"It was a roller-coaster of emotions," he said. "Everything hit hard.… It got easier throughout the day because we knew that my dad would have wanted us to be happy and enjoy the day."

Edward said the family stopped searching when they ran out of places to look, and decided to take a break and rest.

'We had a lot of long days without any nights of sleep, sometimes over two days, three days of no sleep at all," he said.

Edward Balaquit says his father, Eduardo Balaquit, was a busy man with a full-time job, plus contract janitorial work. (Walther Bernal/CBC)

He would initiate another search if police had a specific area for the family to go, he said, but for now he's leaving the investigation in their hands.

Seeing police reach out to the public today lets him know the case is still a priority, he said.

"It shows me that it's still present," said Edward. "It's not on the back burner.… It's still important to them to solve the case."

He hopes people will remain vigilant when out walking or hunting in the woods — and that anyone with information will come forward.

"If you know anything, do it anonymously if you don't want to bring yourself out there," he said.

"Any information helps. Could be very small, very big in your mind — at the end of the day that piece of information could be the changing point to everything."

'It makes no sense'

Family called police when Eduardo Balaquit failed to come home from his shift the night of June 4, and the manager of the building where he was headed called his family the following day to say Balaquit's work hadn't been done. 

The manager found Balaquit's van with the passenger window smashed, some of his belongings on the ground in front of it and his cellphone still inside.

In late June, police released photos of two men they hoped to speak to about Balaquit's disappearance. At the time they didn't say when or where the photos of the two individuals were taken, other than that they were taken in Winnipeg.

Carter couldn't say whether or not investigators were able to identify the two men in the photos when asked Wednesday.

"I can tell you that investigators feel that the case has been moving forward, but nothing we can comment on," he said.

Balaquit is described as 5'4" and 155 pounds, with a medium build. He has black hair and brown eyes. 

Anyone with information about Balaquit's disappearance is asked to contact police at 204-986-6508 or Crime Stoppers at 204-786-8477. 

Homicide investigators and police have expanded the search for Eduardo Balaquit to Arborg, Man. 1:32