Family of missing B.C. woman marks 5 years since her disappearance with vigil and demand for answers

·3 min read
Ashley Simpson disappeared in 2016. (Facebook/Ashley Simpson - image credit)
Ashley Simpson disappeared in 2016. (Facebook/Ashley Simpson - image credit)

Every year on April 27, Ashley Simpson's family and friends mark the anniversary of her disappearance in her home town of St. Catharines, Ont., with a vigil to celebrate her life and mourn her absence.

"It's terribly heartbreaking for us that Ashley is gone, but we are learning to cope with it," said Ashley's father John Simpson who has dedicated the last five years of his life searching for Ashley and raising money for an organization that conducts drone searches for missing people across Canada.

This year, his family held a socially distanced backyard gathering to remember the adventurous and loving 32-year-old who mysteriously vanished in the Yankee Flats area of British Columbia south of the city of Salmon Arm in 2016.

"It affects us mentally and physically almost every day. Not only the mother and dad but the nieces and nephews," John said. "My mother cries all the time. You know, it's a terrible thing."

Ashley Simpson plays guitar. She was known for her quirky sense of humour and dressed up for her dad's 60th birthday as 'Sweets' the clown.
Ashley Simpson plays guitar. She was known for her quirky sense of humour and dressed up for her dad's 60th birthday as 'Sweets' the clown.(Rose Simpson)

Added to the grieving and heartbreak is the frustration of having so few answers as to what happened to Ashley.

John last saw Ashley when she left the northern B.C. community of Pink Mountain in February of 2016 to live with her boyfriend Derek Favell in a trailer near Salmon Arm on Yankee Flats Road.

When she vanished, people told John she was last seen walking on a street in Silver Creek near Salmon Arm with her pink suitcase.

There's been no sign of her since then.

Simpson has travelled to B.C. three times to search for Ashley — combing the hills and bush for traces of his daughter and speaking to people in the area about her.

"You are all hyped up when you go out there. You have about a dozen tips, all these places to check," he said.

"You do all this ground work and you come home empty. It takes a large piece out of your soul."

Simpson said police have told him that his daughter probably met with foul play in the Salmon Arm area.

The RCMP said in a statement to CBC News, the investigation into Ashley's disappearance is "active, ongoing and a priority for major crime investigators."

"The RCMP remains committed to finding out what has happened to Ashley, so that it can provide answers to her friends, family and loved ones," wrote Cpl. Jesse O'Donaghey.

Ashley Simpson vanished from the Salmon Arm area in April 2016. Her family has been searching for her ever since with no leads.
Ashley Simpson vanished from the Salmon Arm area in April 2016. Her family has been searching for her ever since with no leads.(Facebook/Ashley Simpson)

John believes the Canadian government has failed families of missing women and he wants more resources poured into missing person's cases, including the use of Canadian Forces soldiers to conduct grid searches.

He plans to increase his advocacy for missing persons once the pandemic has eased and people can travel again.

"I'm not standing for it for anymore," he said.

"We are going to hold rallies and we are going to let the government know that we are not going away and that they have to do something to find the missing."

John's cousin Rose Simpson is determined to keep Ashley's story alive by writing about her case on her website.

"Ashley was a beautiful person. Her nickname was Gypsy. She loved to fish. She loved to play with children," Rose said.

Rose believes people in the Salmon Arm area know what happened to her.

One of her cousins has put forward a $10,000 reward for information that would help solve Ashley's case, but Rose said no one has come forward with information.

"I will, until my dying day, support this family and not let anyone forget Ashley Simpson, as long as I am alive."