Manitoba

'They aren't alone': Families of those who have disappeared empathize as search continues for Eduardo Balaquit

As police expand their search efforts for Eduardo Balaquit, who has been missing since June 4, his family's anguish is touching the hearts of those who have walked a similar journey.

'I hope as a city we continue to support' family of Winnipeg man missing since June 4, says Wilma Derksen

Eduardo Balaquit's family last heard from him on June 4. Police have expanded the search for the Winnipeg man outside the city. (Edward Balaquit/Facebook)

As the search for Eduardo Balaquit expands beyond Winnipeg city limits, Wilma Derksen prays.

Police have expanded their search for the Winnipeg man to the town of Arborg, 115 kilometres north of the city, and say they believe the 59-year-old father was the "victim of a crime" before he disappeared on June 4.

​Derksen and her husband, Cliff, know all too well the horror and panic of searching for a lost loved one. Their daughter, 13-year-old Candace Derksen, disappeared on her way home from school in November 1984. Her frozen body was found in a storage shed the following January.

"I just remember the panic. There was a sense of panic and confusion. What do we do? What do we do?" Derksen said.

"Just the panic of wanting to know the answers."

Candace Derksen was killed in 1984. Her mother, Wilma, remembers the panic after her disappearance. 'This is unknown and it's really important to find the answers in that desperation,' she says. (CBC)

Cliff combed nearby streets after Candace's disappearance, searching frantically, while his wife drove up and down, scouring streets in the neighbourhood. 

"As he was walking he just remembers screaming. That primal scream. This isn't supposed to be happening. This is horrific. This is unknown and it's really important to find the answers in that desperation," said Wilma Derksen.

It's that desperation that makes her heart reach out to the Balaquit family in prayer and thought.

Despite the fact the homicide unit has now taken over the investigation, Balaquit's son is still hopeful his father will be found alive.

Eduardo Balaquit's van was found near his workplace, with the passenger window broken. His cellphone was still in the vehicle and some of his personal belongings were found on the ground outside.

Wilma Derksen remembers the mix of relief and grief she felt when Candace's body was found. 'This is misplaced happiness, you know?' she says. 'And then we would go into the grief.' (CBC)

Derksen remembers the deep ache of making the transition from the surreal to what she calls a "new normal" in the early days of the search. 

"As you are searching in those early days, there is this kind of split, where you go into almost a grief of wanting to prepare for the worst news but yet not let go of the hope of the good news. There is this huge confusion and energy, and yet no energy. I remember being a big hollow swirl. Empty."

'How do we live in the unknown?'

As the search for Candace entered its sixth week, Derksen felt an internal shift. 

"You create a new normal. You can't live in suspension too long. We will create an artificial kind of structure in the suspense. I remember starting to do that, saying, 'OK, now how do we live in the unknown?' But there is still that split mind that you really don't want to think about the details, you are more absorbed in the inner turmoil," she said.

Yet finding out her daughter had been killed, she says, wasn't as horrible as not knowing if she was alive somewhere, unprotected and suffering.

"I remember the day her body was found. We couldn't believe how relieved and how wonderful and how happy we were that we found her. Oh my word, this is misplaced happiness, you know? And then we would go into the grief. A huge rollercoaster of emotion," recalls Derksen.

Uncertainty lingers for other families

As horrible as that day was for the Derksen family, there are others who have not had that sense of relief, including the families of Thelma Krull, Sunshine Wood and Kevin Dilk.

Dilk, a 50-year-old teacher, disappeared in November 2016, prompting searches by his family and the Bear Clan Patrol.

Kevin Dilk was last seen on the morning of Nov. 23, 2016, leaving his home in St. Boniface. (Facebook)

Sunshine Wood, then 16, vanished in 2004 while going to high school in Winnipeg.

"I am starting to feel like I may never see my daughter again," said her father, Anthony Wood.

"Police are still investigating. I get phone calls every month from the RCMP. I go back and forth, from hope to despair. I went crazy. Like, I keep asking myself, 'Where is she? What happened?'

"I can't accept the thought of losing my daughter."

Sunshine Wood, 16, disappeared in 2004. 'I go back and forth, from hope to despair,' says her father, Anthony. (CBC)

Next month will mark the third anniversary of Thelma Krull's disappearance. The 57-year-old grandmother disappeared while on a walk in July of 2015.

A tip to police on the first anniversary led to them announcing a potential suspect. A composite sketch was released but no arrests have been made.

"My mom is always in my thoughts and I miss her daily," Lisa Besser, Krull's daughter, said in an written statement to CBC News Friday.

"And while we try, there has been no real closure. While so many people can come together in a community and help search and call in tips, it can't stop until the answers are found."

Thelma Krull, 57, seen here in an undated photo, has been missing since July 11, 2015, after she went for a walk in the Valley Gardens area. Police now believe she may have suffered a medical issue or was abducted that day. (Submitted)

She urges anyone with information on Balaquit's disappearance or her mother's, or any other missing persons case, to come forward.

"As hard as it may be to find out what happened, it's also hard not knowing and continually wondering."

For now, she said she appreciates the efforts of investigators in her mother's case, and says her "thoughts and prayers are with the Balaquit family and friends."

"We know how scary and horrible this situation is and I wouldn't wish it upon anyone. Anytime we hear about another missing person in Winnipeg (which sadly we are hearing way too often) it brings us back to the worst time of our lives."

Balaquit's sons have been holding their own searches in a race against time, hoping to find their father alive. 

While her thoughts are with the Balaquit family, Derksen won't contact them for a very specific reason.

"I learned that I bring the reminder that the story doesn't end well. And so as long as there is hope we want to entertain the hope," she said.

"I do have the answers I was looking for, thankfully, after 33 years. I am surprised by the joy in knowing. There is tremendous peace in that," she said. 

She hopes the Balaquit family will also find that peace.

"I hope there is an ending to this quest for them — that they will find the answers they are looking for. And then I hope as a city we continue to support them as they come to grips what whatever answers might not be good. Winnipeg has a way of showing they care in little things, such as prayers, words, thoughts and gestures.

"They need to know they aren't alone."

Anyone with information on a missing persons case can contact the Winnipeg Police Service Missing Persons Unit at 204-986-6250.

About the Author

Born and raised in Winnipeg, Marianne has always had a passion for seeking the truth. She began her career anchoring and reporting at CKX Brandon. From there she worked in both TV news and current affairs at CBC Saskatoon. For the past 25 years Marianne has worked in Winnipeg, both in radio and television. She was formerly a teacher in Manitoba and Saskatchewan.