The Michael Dunahee case: still missing after 22 years

Crystal Dunahee
File photo of Crystal Dunahee, mother of Michael Dunahee, speaking to media to mark the 20th anniversary of his disappearance at a press conference in Victoria on March 23, 2011. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Deddeda Stemler

TORONTO – Police in Victoria, B.C. announced Wednesday they are following up on a tip by collecting a DNA sample from a man who could be Michael Dunahee, a boy who went missing more than two decades ago.

Dunahee’s mother, Crystal, declined an interview with Global News but said this is one of many tips that have come up over the years.

Below is a look back at the case and the developments since Dunahee’s disappearance.

The disappearance

Dunahee went missing from Blanshard Elementary School—now University Canada West—on March 24, 1991.

He was last seen around 12:30 p.m. in the area of the school playground. Dunahee was playing metres away from parents Bruce and Crystal Dunahee, and was out of their sight for a matter of seconds. He was four years old.

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In a March interview with Global News, Crystal Dunahee looked back on that day: “Giving my permission to let him go play in the park by himself…I should have made him wait. That’s the hardest part to deal with.”

Watch the March 2013 story below:

The search

In the days after his disappearance, police and volunteers searched the area with helicopters, boats, and door-to-door visits. Posters describing his features and what he was wearing were plastered around town.

The case was reported by media in Canada and the United States, and resulted in at least 11,000 tips—each one filed and followed. Officials offered a $100,000 reward in 2006, but no solid information on the case came forward.

Over the years, police have released a number of composite sketches to show what the blond-haired, blue-eyed boy might look like as a teen and young adult.

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In print and online

The website was set up as a project of the Canadian Centre for Child Protection, and provides information on the disappearance. The site displays family photos, home video, and maps of the area where he was last seen. It aims to raise awareness of the case as well as lead to new tips.

In 2012, a local publisher released “Vanished: The Michael Dunahee Story,” written by Valerie Green. The composite sketch on the cover serves as a reminder that the search is now focusing on a man in his mid-20s. Dunahee’s mother hopes someone will recognize him – or he might recognize himself.

The Dunahee family also maintains a Facebook group that updates the public on the search.

Potential leads

The most recent tip was a young man living on B.C.’s mainland who matches the composite sketches of what Dunahee would look like today. Despite the likeness, Victoria Police wrote in a July 24 release, “that this male most likely is not Michael.”

Another man in Port McNeill, B.C. was rumoured to be Dunahee until DNA tests proved otherwise in February 2011, according to Postmedia News.

In 2009, a Milwaukee TV station reported U.S. police found a missing-person poster of Dunahee inside a 62-year-old man’s home. Vernon Seitz confessed to killing a child in 1959 just before his death, but Victoria Police dismissed any connection to Dunahee.

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In a past interview, Victoria Police Cst. Mike Russell said police are keeping their “ears to the ground” and following up on every tip they receive.

“Because it might be that one detail, no matter how small, that might break the case,” he said.

Family life

In 2011, Dunahee’s mother was awarded the Order of British Columbia for her work as an advocate for missing children. Dunahee served as president of Child Find B.C. and a board member of Child Find Canada. The Dunahee family also organizes the Michael Dunahee Keep Hope Alive Drive each April to fundraise for Child Find.

Upon receiving the recognition, Crystal Dunahee became tearful and said it was important to remember what her work is about, explaining, “We are doing it for Michael.”

In her March interview with Global News, she said it’s hard to believe there are still no answers after 22 years.

“It’s just a matter of keeping our hopes up…and just working through every day as it comes.”

Police ask anyone with information about Dunahee’s disappearance to call the Victoria Police Department or Crime Stoppers.

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