Friends, family and people who don’t even know her spent hours searching the bush around Port Alberni and Nanaimo for Amber Manthorne on the weekend.
The Port Alberni woman hasn’t been seen since July 7. Her car was discovered two days later, but she wasn’t with it. The Vancouver Island Integrated Major Crime Unit took over the case on July 12. Police initially thought Manthorne was with an ex-boyfriend, but the man surfaced, was questioned and the major crimes unit spokesperson said Amber was not with him.
The RCMP, VIIMCU and ground search and rescue volunteer organizations such as Alberni Valley Rescue Squad have already put in hundreds of hours looking for Manthorne.
“Amber’s Army”—civilian volunteers— conducted grid searches this weekend looking for any evidence that Manthorne had been in the search areas. The search was not directed by the RCMP, but volunteers were asked to sign in and out, document anything they found that they felt was out of the ordinary and to report back to the muster point.
“It’s really empowering,” said Kristie St. Claire, who went to school with Manthorne and has been acting as a spokesperson for family and friends of the missing woman. “We have a legion of army around us that are going, going, going, flipping over rocks…calling in all of their favours and experts. We have basically lice-combed our entire Port Alberni area.”
On Sunday, July 17 search efforts switched to south Nanaimo, centring around the area where Manthorne’s car was discovered backed into the bush on a logging road.
A meeting point was set up in a gravel pit by Ninatti Road, and volunteers searched back roads on quads, bicycles, on foot, with dogs, trucks, and even kayaks along a water source.
Other searches were set up around Cameron Lake, St. Claire said, and people searched the roadside along Highway 4 and Highway 19 all the way to the south end of Nanaimo. “Basically the entire highway corridor between Port Alberni and Nanaimo has been looked at in most places,” St. Claire said.
“We’ve wrapped up our big push search for the weekend and we have concluded that she’s not out there laying around waiting for us to find her, help her or recover her. I’m pretty confident that she’s not laying around anywhere that we’ve searched, and we’ve covered a lot of ground. Basically the entire highway corridor between Port Alberni and Nanaimo has been looked at in most places,” she said.
“I am confident that this area is very well secured and covered. That gives me more hope, honestly, than it has in several days.”
St. Claire and some other volunteers will be back at the gravel pit on Monday morning, talking to truckers, handing out missing posters with Manthorne’s photo on it, and visiting nearby homeless camps. Administrators will be compiling all the information collected during the two searches, including areas that were searched, and passing on important information to the RCMP. Anyone who has information to pass on, including areas where people have searched or areas of interest, can email firstname.lastname@example.org. Texts or voicemails can be left at 250-730-1544.
While the search focused on Nanaimo on Sunday, volunteers ensured someone was at the mustering point at the Tseshaht Market to answer any questions and let people know where the search was taking place. Darah Pointon and her daughter Taylor, 8, were two of those volunteers. Pointon has known Manthorne for more than 15 years, and wanted to help find her friend.
Irene Robinson from Tseshaht First Nation offered traditional brushing for anyone who needed it. A brushing in Nuu-chah-nulth culture uses cedar boughs or eagle feathers as a cleansing.
Although volunteers are holding out hope that Manthorne will be found alive, searchers were given tips on what evidence to look for if that should not be the case.
“At this time we are doing our best to remain positive and practice laughter and smiling to balance some of the heavier emotions as we know Amber would not want us to stay sad,” St. Claire wrote in a message to searchers.