When a family member goes missing an entire world comes tumbling down. The police start investigating and people come forward with information and tips. But the family of the missing person floats in a sea of constant worry and insecurity. Fears and doubts must be hidden away, while the seemingly endless search is supported through contacts with the media and other means.

Shelley Fillipoff, the mother of missing Emma Fillipoff, has spent almost two years going through this cycle.

On November 27,  2012, Emma, then 27 years old,  called her mother to ask for “help”.  Emma said she was having troubles and wanted to come home. Shelley, who lives near Ottawa, immediately made plans to fly to Victoria and help her daughter. Then Emma called again and told her mother she was fine and that Shelley shouldn’t travel to see her. Shelley ignored this advice, but when her plane landed in Victoria the next day Emma had already disappeared.

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CCTV image of Emma taken in Victoria shortly before her disappearance.

The last report of a sighting of a woman answering Emma’s description was at 7:00pm  on November 28, 2012, in front of the Empress Hotel in Victoria. The police reported that someone called to say they had seen a woman walking around barefoot and in “severe distress“.

Emma was a trained as a chef and used to work at the Royal Coachman Pub in Campbell River.  Some of those who knew her reported that she seemed to have had a “psychotic break” in the days before her disappearance. But Emma, who her mother described as “independently minded,” left no traces of her whereabouts and few clues. She didn’t use her bank account, leave a message, or make a phone call. She simply vanished.

Two weeks ago an incident in Gastown triggered the attention of police, the public, and Emma’s mother, Shelley. A man went into a local Gastown store and threw a missing person poster with Emma’s name and picture on it into a trash bin in full view of the owners of the store,  Joel and Lori Sellen. They described the man as looking disheveled and acting agitated.  They said he explained his actions by saying “it’s one of those missing persons posters, except she’s not missing, she’s my girlfriend and she ran away because she hates her parents.“   After the man left the store the owners immediately contacted the Vancouver Police who were able to capture an image of the man from a nearby security camera.

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CCTV images from a Gastown store of a man that Vancouver Police would like to speak with regarding Emma.

Shelley Fillipoff was notified and travelled to Vancouver to continue the search for Emma in the Downtown Eastside. Again she was subjected to the same media questions and the familiar cycle of hope, despair, and frustration. But she continues to reach out to local media outlets to keep the search alive.

When reached by the Gazette in Perth, Ontario last week Shelley stoically described her two year search for Emma. “I go to as many radio and TV stations as possible, ” she said. “This is my full time job. The most important thing is to keep the story alive in the public eye.”

Social media has also played a critical role.  “We have reached around 1,000,000 people via Facebook,” Shelley said. “It’s really incredible. The comments, tips and support have been very important. It’s such an unusual situation when someone goes missing. People need to know that if they notice or see something they can react and make a difference. What happens most of the time is that people contact me via our Facebook page hours later. But the best solution would be if they would call 911 or the police right away, or, even better, take some photos right away.”

For now Shelley, a  teacher and mother of four, continues to search for Emma from her home in Ontario. She said she has not lost hope and is very grateful for all the support she has received. Shelley added that plenty of people are trying to help offering hints, sharing their thoughts and stories or just “feeling with our family.”

To date no known leads have from the encounter with the unknown man in Gastown. But Emma’s mother is not discouraged. She will continue to “search everyday and night” for her daughter.

If you have any information on Emma Fillipoff’s whereabouts, or you have information on the man in the Gastown CCTV video image, please call 911 or contact the Vancouver or Victoria Police. The family is offering a $25,000 reward for information that leads investigators to her whereabouts.

Emma is described as looking younger than her age, 5’5”, 90 to 100 pounds, with long blonde hair. She likes to wear knitted hats. She has no prior history of drug use, no history of vanishing, no criminal record and she was not living on the street at the time of her disappearance. She has a shy temperament and is a vegan.

Words by Josephine Gerlach

Gazette summer intern