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More than 20 years later, Celine Ethier still searches for answers in daughter’s disappearance

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Ontario mom searches for answers about daughter’s disappearance
WATCH ABOVE: It has been over 20 years since Melanie Ethier disappeared at the age of 15 from a small town in Ontario. Her mother Celine Ethier is searching for answers. – Mar 1, 2017

Celine Ethier is still haunted by the disappearance of her daughter from a small town in northern Ontario more than two decades ago, but every day she fights for answers.

Melanie Ethier, just 15 years old at the time, was walking home from a friend’s house in the early hours of Sept. 29, 1996 in New Liskeard, now Temiskaming Shores, about a two-and-a-half hour drive from Sudbury.

“There is no evidence that Ethier left the New Liskeard area on a voluntary basis. All evidence and data collected to date would indicate that Melanie Ethier has met with foul play at the hands of person(s) unknown,” the OPP said at the time.

15-year-old Melanie Ethier disappeared in 1996 after leaving a friend’s residence to walk home in New Liskeard, Ont.
15-year-old Melanie Ethier disappeared in 1996 after leaving a friend’s residence to walk home in New Liskeard, Ont.

More than 20 years later, the OPP file remains open.

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The first few years following her daughter’s disappearance were like a “bad roller coaster” for Celine.

Tips poured in but the search for the missing teen turned up empty.

“I felt numb for the first two-and-a-half years that I was searching to find her,” she said. “I did everything I could to look everywhere I could think of. I did as much media coverage as I could to try to find her.”

Celine Ethier searches for answers

After two decades, Ethier said she has come to terms with the idea that her daughter may no longer be alive.

“I believe in my heart that she’s passed away,” the 55-year-old mother told Global News. “But I just feel that I need to find her. She deserves to be found. The people who are responsible should acknowledge what they’ve done”

Now she is worried that whoever may have the answers could die before revealing what they know to the police.

“I believe someone has the answer. But my biggest worry is that they take the information to their grave.”

Ethier remembers her daughter as an outgoing teenager who always cared for her younger sister. She would have turned 36 in December.

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“[Mealnie] had a very fun personality. She was very outgoing,” Ethier said. “Melanie was like a second mom to my five-year-old. They did everything together.”

According to Ontario Provincial Police, Melanie Ethier left a friend’s house to walk home after a night of watching movies with friends.

That was the last time anyone saw or heard from the young woman.

She was wearing a green Nike jacket, blue jeans, a white T-shirt and black boots at the time of her disappearance.

The case has been handled by a number of investigators over the years, and is now in the hands of Det. Const. Lisa Laxton.

Celine Ethier, 55, has been searching for her daughter Melanie for more than 20 years. (Facebook)

Laxton said the investigation “remains an active and ongoing” one but couldn’t offer any new details, information or tips on the case as it could “potentially compromise our investigative efforts that have taken place over the past 20 years.”

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“Any investigation of this type is difficult for the investigators who are assigned to the case,” Laxton said in an email. “This case is particularly challenging as it is difficult to find answers to a person’s disappearance when they have literally vanished without a trace.”

The province has also offered a $50,000 reward for information that leads to an arrest or conviction in the case.

OPP keep quiet on details in the case

Melanie’s case is one of about 400 currently with the Criminal Investigation Branch of the North East Region OPP.

Laxton says there is hope the case will become one of several others which have been solved.

READ MORE: 20 years later, Diana Saunders still searches for her 3 missing sons

Click to play video: '20 years later, Diana Saunders still searches for her 3 missing sons'
20 years later, Diana Saunders still searches for her 3 missing sons
  • In 2015, police revealed that James Scott Walton, of Caledonia, Ont., who disappeared in 1992 had taken the name of a dead boy and lived under the assumed name until his death 10 years later. The OPP discovered Walton had assumed the name of Michael Debourcier – a four-year-old boy who had died in a car crash in British Columbia – and moved to Toronto in 2000.
  • In 2006, police solved the 1956 disappearance of Allen and Margaret Campbell after their bodies were discovered in Trout Lake.
  • In 2009, Barry Vincent Manion was convicted for the 1970 murder of 12-year-old Katherine Wilson in Kirkland Lake.

“We are confident someone knows something that can assist us and we encourage that person to come forward,” Laxton said.

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However, Michael Arntfield, a criminology professor at Western University, said there is no reason why the OPP can’t release new information on a case that is more than 20 years old.

“You’re not going to solve [a case] unless you engage the public through the strategic release of pieces of evidence that will stimulate either tipsters or bring forward people who aren’t necessarily aware they have information,” Arntfield said.

READ MORE: Crimes involving children especially ‘devastating’ for police, experts say

He pointed to the Toronto Police who actively use social media to release crime-scene clues to help solve cases that have grown cold.

“Saying it’s an ‘open and active investigation’ without telling you anything, those disingenuous tactics worked  maybe 10 to 15 years ago, but I don’t think anyone believes that anymore,” Arntfield said.

The provincial police force says it will only release  details on the Ethier case if it “will benefit the investigation.”

“Given that the investigation is ongoing, our information is primarily evidentiary in nature and not something that we can openly disclose,” Laxton said. “Where feasible, updates and additional detail can and will be provided.”

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Support for families of missing children

The Canadian Centre for Child Protection (CCCP) has been providing support for Celine Ethier for more than 20 years. The organization leads the country in addressing issues related to missing and exploited children.

Michelle Ham, who works in the centre’s child safety division which is behind the website missingkids.ca, said the anguish of not knowing what happened to a child can be devastating.

“Celine’s main worry is that [Melanie’s case] will just be forgotten,” Ham said. “We take it upon ourselves to make sure that doesn’t happen.”

When a child or a youth goes missing, Ham said there is a lot of support available right away for the family in terms of police or other welfare agencies, but as the years move along that support can evaporate.

“We offer the families that we are connected with the ongoing emotional support and keeping that messaging in the public eye for as long as it takes, and with Melanie’s case it can mean decades,” she said.

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WATCH: BC’s missing children: 258 unaccounted for since 1949

And for years Ethier has needed that support as she has dealt with whispers in her community, and online, about the fate of her daughter.

“There’s been many, many rumours I’ve had to live through. One of the worst one I’ve ever heard was that some people have said she that they put her through a wood chipper,” she said. “There were lots of rumours from people who went to jail and came back saying [someone] said they killed her.”

Ethier hopes whoever is responsible for Melanie’s disappearance acknowledges what they’ve done and comes forward.

“Somebody out there knows what happened and I really wish that they come forward,” she said. “I hope you don’t take the information to their grave because that would mean I’d never have the answers.”

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