‘They’re running away from something?’: Parents of Oregon couple rescued in northern B.C. speak out
Were they in trouble?
That’s the question the mother of a young Oregon woman who was rescued in the backcountry of northern B.C. with her husband and two toddlers wants answered.
Michelle Lesaca and Jeffrey Phan, both 24, along with their three-year-old Satana and two-year-old Satan, were found safe on the edge of Kinaskan Lake by search and rescue teams on Wednesday.
Search and Rescue say the family was found in an “unforgiving” place.
“It’s a great distance to travel with no communication. There is no cell towers, there is no cell service, limited gas and limited accommodation,” said Ragan Smith with Stewart Search and Rescue.
WATCH: Happy ending to search for Oregon family in northern B.C.
“It’s always the same response but your emotional toll was heightened when there is children involved.”
The couple had left their car near Dease Lake with a note in it saying they’d gone looking for gas, and police say it may have been there for up to 10 days. The pair had crossed the border into Canada on June 9 in the southeast, near Fernie.
On Thursday, the RCMP said they have concluded the family was headed to Alaska and planned to do some camping along the way but “underestimated the vastness of northern B.C., such as the distances between services and were not adequately prepared.”
It says the family is being supported by partner agencies, and no criminal investigation is open.
The Ministry of Children and Family Development declined to say if it was looking into the incident, saying it cannot comment on specific cases.
“When I found out they were in trouble, it really hurts, and you know all I did was pray,” Lesaca’s mother Michelle Burnside told Global News.
“I wasn’t able to sleep, just crying, worried, because when they left I didn’t know where they [were].”
Both Burnside and Jeffrey’s father Rhet Phan say they can’t figure out what the couple were doing so far north, and that they have no relatives in Canada or Alaska.
Burnside said Phan doesn’t have a job and her daughter had recently quit hers, and she questioned whether they were trying to go somewhere to find a fresh start.
But she said there were troubling signs in the month leading up to their disappearance
She said an early indication that something was wrong was when the couple missed a scheduled flight to the Philippines in late May.
“Jeffrey’s father called me and said there’s a problem because they went to the airport, they cancelled the flight, and then the airport is calling here that they left their luggage there,” she said.
Burnside said there were other warning signs, including the family starting to get rid of all of its possessions.
“They started selling everything — their furniture, everything that they own, they start[ed] selling it on Facebook,” Burnside said. “They said, ‘Oh no, we’re just trying to get rid of stuff, and you know we’re going to move out.'”
“I don’t know what’s going on. They are running away from something? They’re in trouble? We’re thinking all of these things. But I was wondering, why did they take their kids with them?”
Jeffrey’s father said there were signs that everything wasn’t right at home, but nothing that would have suggested the pair were in real trouble.
“[My daughter] said, ‘Jeffrey doesn’t look happy, he looks all stressed out.’ The next time I talked to him, he’s just like, ‘I need a break, I need a vacation,” he said.
He said after hearing Burnside was worried about the couple, he checked back in with them, and everything seemed OK.
“I called them,” he said. “They said, ‘Daddy, there’s nothing wrong with me, I’m normal. So you know, after that I couldn’t see any trouble.”
“So I called Michelle’s mom back and I told her there’s nothing wrong, and suddenly they just disappear.”
He said he’s concerned about the children, and that if his son and Lesaca want to go somewhere to start over, he supports them, but that they should leave the kids behind with family.
WATCH: RCMP spot missing Oregon family in B.C. wilderness
Burnside acknowledged that her relationship with her daughter has its problems, saying police have told her that Lesaca doesn’t want to talk to her.
She said she doesn’t know if they’re headed back to the U.S., and that because the couple are adults, police won’t tell her what their plans are.
She added her daughter has always been rebellious, down to the naming of her kids.
“I’m a Christian and she named her daughter Satana, S-A-T-A-N-A, and she named the son Satan, S-A-T-A-N.”
She said that while she still hasn’t talked to the family, she’s relieved and grateful to search and rescue for finding them.
“They did a lot of work hard work to find my family, my kids and I really, really appreciated that,” she said. “To say thank you is not enough.”
It’s a sentiment Phan echoed.
“Without them, I don’t know,” Phan said. “The RCMP is just the best, and I’m just so proud of them. They work so hard. I’m going to maybe write them a letter and say thank you.”
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