Twenty-two years after Michael Dunahee’s disappearance, parents hold hope he’s still alive

Michael Dunahee  would be 26 now, or is, if you hold out any hope the four-year-old boy who vanished without a trace more than two decades ago is still alive.

Sunday was the 22nd anniversary — if that's the right term — of Michael's disappearance from a Victoria school playground while his parents were nearby at a weekend touch football game.

In a brief statement Sunday, the Victoria Police Department said the boy's disappearance triggered "one of the largest police investigations in Canadian history, and even today the case remains an active investigation."

I was working a desk shift at The Canadian Press's Vancouver bureau when the initial reports of Michael's disappearance came in. I remember a frantic search of the grounds around the playing field in hopes the child had just wandered off. It soon gave way to a broader police investigation when it became clear someone had taken him.

But whoever abducted Michael left no evidence behind. News about the investigation inevitably began to dwindle, though the anniversaries of his disappearance have been marked by renewed calls for tips.

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Police have received some 11,000 tips, including false sightings and visions by psychics. Despite that and widespread international media coverage, there are no concrete leads to who may have taken Michael.

"We’re committed to finding out who did it and we’ve said that all along," Const. Mike Russell told CBC News. "It's still discussed in the halls. The officers here who’ve been working since then, who were there on that day — it still greatly affects them."

Count Crystal and Bruce Dunahee among the hopeful.

"I just keep thinking Michael would be about 25, 26 now, and that’s how old I was when he was born," his father told CBC News. "I’m just wondering, do I have any grandchildren or where he is or what’s going on with his life."

Crystal Dunahee also believes Michael is still alive, somewhere.

"It's just a mother's intuition," she said.

A web site includes pictures of the little boy alongside a computer-generated guess on what he'd look like today. It's also the profile shot on the Michael Dunahee Facebook page.

Police and the family hope fresh publicity will trigger some fresh tip, something that hasn't surfaced since Michael went missing in 1991.

It seems hopeless after all this time, but there are examples of long-missing children resurfacing years after they vanished.

Last year, a 35-year-old American named Steve Carter discovered he was actually Marx Panama, who disappeared in 1977 when he was six months old, according to People magazine. His mother had taken off with him from the home she shared with his father in Hawaii without warning. He was later adopted and raised by New Jersey couple.

Carter was inspired to learn about his past by the story of Carlina White who in 2011 who solved her own abduction from a Harlem hospital 23 years earlier. Carter searched and found composite images of himself.

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And most famously, Jaycee Lee Dugard, was discovered living in the California backyard of a convicted sex offender 18 years after she was abducted at age 11 while waiting at a bus stop.

Closure has become a trite cliche when it comes to tragedies. Yet you sense the Dunahees, who've become prominent advocates for all missing children, feel trapped in a life that's unavoidably wielded to the day their son disappeared.

“It’s been 22 years," Bruce Dunahee told CBC News. "We need an answer. We’ve got to start putting this behind us, and we just need you to come forward with the right answer and the right tip."

(Photo courtesy CBC)