Cobble Hill’s Ben Kilmer remains missing after an extensive search over the long weekend that encompassed acres of land and more than 100 volunteers, both official Search and Rescue personnel as well as family and friends.
A search was initiated for the 41-year-old husband and father on Wednesday, May 16 after his work van was found parked along Cowichan Lake Road west of Menzies Road. The electrician’s vehicle was empty but the engine was still running.
The initial resources used for the search included RCMP investigators, a police dog team and 29 Cowichan Search and Rescue members. They worked through the night combing the area around where the van was found.
Kilmer is described as five-foot-10 and 180 pounds, with short brown hair and blue eyes. When last seen, he was clean-shaven and wearing light-coloured pants, a black shirt and steel-toed work boots.
By Thursday, May 17, there was a line of cars and various command vehicles parked on Cowichan Lake Road, a helicopter buzzing overhead, and a sign — Search in Progress— that made it clear that Cowichan Search and Rescue were on the job. And they had help.
On Friday morning teams from up and down the Island, and beyond, were coming and going at a steady rate from the Cowichan Search and Rescue command unit.
More than 65 members from eight different Vancouver Island SAR teams — Cowichan, Peninsula, Saltspring, Juan de Fuca, Ladysmith, Metchosin, Saanich and Nanaimo joined forces with friends, family, and more than 100 “convergent volunteers” to look for Kilmer.
Cowichan Search and Rescue manager Tina Phillips confirmed blood was discovered inside the electrician’s vehicle.
“I understand there was some blood inside the vehicle. Other than that the police are investigating all leads,” Phillips noted. “Nothing to us to indicate a struggle.”
Phillips later noted that blood had been found “in a treed area” near where Kilmer’s van was found but beyond that early discovery, there has been no sign of the father of two.
Numerous tips and suggestions have been flowing in to the police and search and rescue personnel but little has been found.
“We are following up on all of them but we’re not going to reply to them all,” Phillips said, adding the public’s help has been appreciated.
At least one psychic has weighed in with a vision of where Kilmer may be.
“We don’t seek (psychics) out but we will work with them,” she said. “Often the suggestions are actually places we’re searching anyway.”
While search and rescue teams did a thorough grid search of a three-to-five-kilometre area around the “high-priority area” where the truck was found, convergent volunteers scoured anywhere and everywhere else.
On Friday Kelsey Linning, on behalf of the Kilmer family, urged anyone who wanted to help with the search to head down and look around the Cowichan River.
Phillips asked that anyone living in the area of Cowichan Lake Road and Menzies Road check their outbuildings and properties for signs of Kilmer.
“People who are not aware of what’s been going on and maybe just finding out now, it’s really important that they get out and have a good look around their property,” she said.
A nearby property owner granted firefighters permission to drain his pond, but Phillips noted it was only to rule it out as an area of interest.
By Saturday, May 19, even more searchers had joined SAR crews and the volunteer team and a great deal of ground was covered and the initial search area had been exhausted. But the search was far from over.
“We have now put a swift water team into the [Cowichan River] to cover off the river from Skutz Falls to White Bridge. As well, the RCMP are putting up their helicopter in the air again to cover off some high interest areas and to cover off the river,” confirmed Cowichan SAR logistics manager Shauneen Nichols. “This was a favourite area of Ben’s so they want to thoroughly cover that off as well.”
According to Phillips, Kilmer is an experienced outdoorsman, “strong and fit,” who enjoys climbing, camping and hiking.
“He may have walked away just to get away from people for a while,” she said.
His friends and family looked for Kilmer in all his favourite spots like Skutz Falls, which is where he and his wife met, and were he later proposed to her, and cabins he helped build on Heather Mountain and on the Nitinat River.
Many of the volunteers know Kilmer and his wife Tonya, including sisters Lindsay Pearson and Tiffany Goebel, from Victoria, who have been friends of the couple for 20 years.
“They’re an amazing, amazing group,” Nichols said.
Searchers were called back Sunday night, May 20, as some of the volunteers found footprints.
“We had to pull them out because footprints were found. But there’s going to be a lot of footprints now. We had the trackers go in by the footprints and rule them out,” Phillips noted.
But there’s been no further sign of Kilmer.
SAR leaders brought Kilmer’s family in on Monday evening to review the map and discuss the search. The result was a plan to scale back the active search.
The search area has covered 16.6 square kilometres, the 75th percentile of area for missing people who fit Kilmer’s profile. Places beyond that have also been searched by SAR and other volunteer teams from the community, including the Bear Creek Caves.
While Cowichan Search and Rescue’s role in the search for Kilmer is now to sift through their data and to complete specific small tasks, the missing Cobble Hill dad’s family and friends are vowing to continue getting out and looking, Goebel said Tuesday morning.
Vancouver Island RCMP spokesperson Cpl. Tammy Douglas said that while the official search is ending, the investigation remains active.
“We are asking anybody that has information as to the whereabouts of Ben Kilmer to please contact the North Cowichan/Duncan RCMP at 250-748-5522 or if they would like to be anonymous to contact Crime Stoppers at 1-800-222-TIPS (8477),” she said.
—With files from Citizen staff