SASKATOON — Forty faces. Forty names. Forty families and hundreds of friends who are awaiting closure on the whereabouts of 40 missing individuals — someone’s spouse, parents, grandparents, son, daughter, sister, brother, nephew, niece, uncle, aunt.
Forty is the number of open long-term missing person files right now that the Missing Persons Unit of the Saskatoon Police Service is trying to solve, one of which is the disappearance of Megan Gallagher.
“In regard to that, at this time and this number is always changing but right now, our Missing Person Unit, the investigative side of things — those are the longer-term ones — there are about 40 files, 40 investigations that they have currently open,” SPS Public Relations and Strategic Communications Director Alyson Edwards told SASKTODAY.ca.
The case of Kathleen Grace Johnston is the longest active case as she was last seen at around 2:15 p.m. on Oct. 20, 1953, in the downtown area. She was wearing a dark green suit with pinstripes, a white nylon blouse, a pea green coat with corded stripe and red oxford shoes, and was carrying a red purse.
Detectives from the MPU handle the cases of disappearances like Gallagher and Johnston, but when a report first comes in, it is handled by uniformed officers.
SPS may also ask for the public’s help by releasing information and a photo to various media outlets.
“Right now, in patrol, the ones that come in, typically they get solved fairly quickly, there are between 12 and 16 at this time… There are between a dozen and 16 amongst our patrol officers to investigate. You’ll have patrol officers who are in uniform, out there in patrol cars, responding to call for service, that's sort of one side of policing,” Edwards said.
Edwards added that detectives from the MPU take over missing persons cases if there’s evidence of suspicious activity. The MPU, plain clothes officers under the special unit, handle the cases like Gallagher's.
“If a person remains missing for a longer term, if after a certain period of time they were not able to locate that person or if there was information found during their investigation that would indicate maybe some harm has come to the person or they were going to do self harm or something like that,” she said.
“We get our investigators involved and they are specialized missing person investigators that typically investigate longer term, or more serious missing person investigations. So, you can see how the long-term ones accumulate. I mean some of them go back 50-plus years and they're still open. They're still considered open investigations, but we have three investigators that work in there and they're carrying about 40 files.”
Edwards said plain clothes detectives are assigned the longer-term missing persons investigations. “[They] are more specialized in areas of investigation and that’s what we call our Criminal Investigation Division.
There are two tiers of missing persons investigations, she said, one where most of them are located fairly quickly, or there is reason to believe they are with friends or family, or an adult, or where everything points to them not wanting to be located.
"There are lots of different reasons for people to go missing.”
“But," she said, "there are some where circumstances are suspicious or perhaps it has gone past a certain period of time and there's just no word from them, there's no evidence of bank activity or anything like that, and then it becomes the Missing Person Unit investigators that look into it.”
Last month, the Gallagher family organized a walk to commemorate the first-year anniversary of Megan’s disappearance. A similar event was also held in July this year of the family and friends of Ashley Morin, where they were joined by the Gallagher family in making the more than 130-kilometre walk from the Saskatoon to North Battleford to continue raising awareness for both missing women. The RCMP handles the investigation of Morin’s disappearance.
During last month’s walk organized by the Gallagher family, SPS Deputy Chief Randy Huisman showed he knows what families are going through after working closely with them when he was a former Missing Task Force and Homicide investigator.
He said that there’s been a total of 133 missing persons reported in the province for six months or longer and for each missing person an estimated 12 other people suffer the burden of uncertainty, of not knowing what happened to their loved ones.