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'The biggest cheerleaders': Dedicated group help keep Ryan Shtuka's story alive five years later

Brought together by kindness and heartbreak, a group of women is helping an Alberta mother make sure her missing son is never forgotten.

It's been more than four years since Ryan Shtuka went missing, but Heather Shtuka and a community of supporters are keeping his story alive all over the world.

"You always want to have your children or your loved ones to create this legacy of themselves," Heather said. "And Ryan's not able to do that, so in his absence, my husband and I feel honour-bound to sort of continue what he might have done had he been here."

Since her son went missing in Sun Peaks, B.C., on a February night in 2018, Heather has become an advocate for other families who are missing a loved one and she's found a community of people to help.

The Facebook group started after Ryan disappeared has grown to more than 34,000 members, and has evolved beyond a space to post updates and share her thoughts and feelings during the years of searching.

"We share a lot about other missing person cases that may not get the same level of engagement or exposure," Heather said. "And then it goes deeper than that.

"It's a connection between people that see and want happiness for one another and they support one another."


Within the tens of thousands of Shtuka family supporters are a small group of women that call themselves "The Unicorns."

"They didn't know each other and they came together and they've become the biggest supporters, the biggest cheerleaders," Heather said.

The group of five promotes the Facebook page and helps organize and carry out searches and fundraising efforts.

Recently, they collaborated on a project that's helping take Ryan's story international.

The Shtukasaurus, a small 3D-printed green dinosaur, was inspired by a post of Heather's about Ryan's love of dinosaurs as a young boy. It has a QR code and a poem attached so -- if left behind -- anyone that finds one can learn a little bit about Ryan.

A Shtukasaurus left in Tokyo, Japan. (Source: Anastasia Goldman)The little green dinos have been spotted around the world, from Tokyo to Cancun, South Africa and New Zealand.

"When you look back at the history of dinosaurs, they lived millions of years ago and they still have such an impact on us," Heather said. "They're still as relevant today as they were back then, we're more curious and more fascinated with them.

"So I think if we had to have something that was tied to Ryan and his legacy, a dinosaur is not a bad thing to be."

Unicorn and Grade 1 teacher Indigo Johnson has given the Shtukasaurus life on the page as well.

Her children's book, The Kindness Quilt, was published earlier this year and features a green dinosaur as the main character in a story about the kindness of strangers. In the back, readers will find Ryan's story.

"She took what she knew and being part of this group and being part of that Unicorn group and really understanding the impact the little things that you do will have such a huge impact on people that you may or may not know," Heather said.

While she loves the book, and the group and the Shtukasaurus, Heather said it's bittersweet.

"I wish that none of these things would have happened because that would have meant that Ryan would be here and there would be no need for it," she added.

People can visit the Facebook page to find out where to get a Shtukasaurus. The first two are free, and proceeds from the sale of additional dinosaurs goes in part to the Freebird Project, a non-profit co-founded by Heather providing resources for families searching for a loved one.

Money is also being put aside for a memorial for Ryan in Sun Peaks. Top Stories


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