Madison Scott's disappearance haunted Vanderhoof for 12 years. Now, the community is grappling with her death

A billboard advertises the annual search for Madison Scott in Vanderhoof, B.C. Days after this year's event was held, RCMP announced the discovery of Scott's remains. (Andrew Kurjata/CBC - image credit)
A billboard advertises the annual search for Madison Scott in Vanderhoof, B.C. Days after this year's event was held, RCMP announced the discovery of Scott's remains. (Andrew Kurjata/CBC - image credit)

Madison Scott's face is everywhere you turn in Vanderhoof. It's plastered on billboards placed every few kilometres along the highway into town. It's on store windows and truck bumper stickers and enlarged on the side of a building.

She was 20 years old when she was last seen, the posters say. She was five feet four inches tall with ginger hair down to her shoulders, a piercing in her left nostril and the silhouette of a bird on the inside of her left wrist.

These posters and billboards have been put up in the hope that Scott might someday be found alive, able to return home to this tight-knit community in central B.C. that has dedicated itself to finding her for the past decade.

Andrew Kurjata/CBC
Andrew Kurjata/CBC

But now friends and family and even people who never met her are grappling with a new reality: On May 29 — 12 years to the day since Scott was first reported missing — RCMP announced they had found the remains of "Maddy."

No cause of death has been released, but police say foul play has not been ruled out, and a team of investigators is carrying out a search of a rural property just a few kilometres away from the campsite where Scott was last seen alive.

In a statement released through RCMP, the Scott family says they are still hoping to get more information about what happened to their daughter.

"While there is some relief that Maddy has been found, we are left with many questions that now has us motivated to find answers to truly bring Maddy home," the statement reads.

"As a family, we now have the opportunity to allow Maddy to rest, although nothing has yet been planned."

Others in the community are also taking time to let news of the discovery sink in.

"It's really a state of shock," says Mayor Kevin Moutray, speaking to CBC News in council chambers the day after RCMP announced their findings. Outside, the municipal flag has been lowered to half-mast, a sign of just how much this young woman's death has impacted the community.

"We are mourning," Moutray says. "The community as a whole is taking a step back [and] thinking of Maddy."

What happened to Madison Scott?

The District of Vanderhoof is home to roughly 4,300 people and bills itself as being in the geographic centre of the province, 100 kilometres west of Prince George and 800 kilometres north of Vancouver.

It hosts an international airshow in the summer and is home to a sturgeon recovery centre and a bird sanctuary that sees hundreds of migrating geese and swans pass through during the spring. But to countless people worldwide, it's home to the mystery of what happened to Madison Scott.

Andrew Kurjata/CBC
Andrew Kurjata/CBC

"This story ... has defined the last decade of Vanderhoof," says Chris Mushumanski, a search and rescue volunteer who helped lead the efforts to find Scott 12 years ago. Her disappearance has been recounted on multiple true crime podcasts, investigative documentaries on U.S. network television and through word-of-mouth campaigns, such as when a group of her friends travelled to the Grey Cup in Vancouver to distribute 6,000 flyers asking for clues.

The basic outline of the story is this: Scott was last seen at approximately 3 a.m. on May 28, 2011, while celebrating a friend's birthday at Hogsback Lake, a group campsite roughly 26 kilometres southeast of town popular with locals.

She had been texting with her parents during the party, but they could not reach her the next day. She was reported missing on May 29 when her tent and truck were found abandoned at the campsite, and extensive air, ground and water searches were carried out to no avail.

Hogsback Lake southeast of Vanderhoof is the last place Madison Scott was seen alive. Police are now searching a rural property near the campsite in connection with the discovery of her remains.

Mushumanski recalls that aside from her iPhone, the other personal belonging of note she was believed to have with her were flip-flops, which would have been difficult to walk on through the dense brush surrounding the area. Both police and family say it was unusual for her not to be in touch with loved ones, and her disappearance was considered suspicious.

A hope for justice

The search for Scott also came at a particularly dark time for the region: Vanderhoof is along Highway 16 between Prince George and Prince Rupert, a stretch of road known by many as the Highway of Tears due to the number of women and girls — primarily Indigenous — to go missing or be murdered along it, including several in the same time period as Scott.

In 2014, it was confirmed that a serial killer was operating in the area and had killed at least four women in the two years prior to Scott's disappearance.

"There was a whole lot of unease," Mushumanski recalls.

Andrew Kurjata/CBC
Andrew Kurjata/CBC

Beyond that, she was well known in the community, described as vibrant and caring with a talent for filmmaking and photography, as well as riding horses and playing hockey.

But despite an extensive campaign to find Scott, which included a $100,000 reward and annual searches of the wilderness surrounding her last known location, there have been sparingly few developments in the case until now.

"Nobody foresaw this," said Mushumanski, adding he had to read through the RCMP news release multiple times before it sank in that Scott's remains had been found.

"For 12 years ... you've had hope. And to see that now extinguished has to be devastating."

Still waiting for answers

In their statement, Scott's family ask for privacy as they mourn their loss.

"The emotions that we have experienced since Sunday cannot be summarized. However, we are once again astonished at the outpour of support that we have received from family, friends and our communities," the statement says.

"We trust that with patience, persistence and belief that we will receive answers and remain motivated to achieve closure."

On the website, which for years has been run by one of Scott's friends as a hub for information about the search, an update posted late Monday reads, "We have held onto hope for 12 long years that Maddy would be found alive. Now we know she is truly missing from our lives."

A candlelight vigil is planned for the community Saturday with participants invited to wear a jersey in honour of Scott's love of hockey and baseball.

WATCH | Community in mourning after death of Madison Scott:

Mushumanski says for many, including himself, the discovery of Scott's remains has reopened old hurts from both Scott's disappearance and other unsolved losses across the region. But he's also optimistic that this latest break in the case may eventually provide some answers to a mystery that has haunted his community for years.

That's a sentiment echoed by Mayor Kevin Moutray, but for now, he's asking people both in and outside of his community to exercise patience while the police do their work.

"We've waited 12 years for answers," he says. "We can wait a little bit longer."

Andrew Kurjata/CBC
Andrew Kurjata/CBC