A drum beat echoed over the rush of traffic on Highway 16.
From Lake Kathlyn Elementary School, dozens of people set off along the highway, passing the Smithers Airport, before stopping at Yellich Road.
The Wilson family has been walking to Yellich Road each year for 16 years now. That road is where the remains of Ramona Wilson were found in 1995.
Ramona, 16, went missing 17 years ago, her remains found a year later. The family has been walking ever since.
“We started to do the memorial walk for her to try to find answers as to what happened to her,” said Brenda Wilson, Ramona’s sister.
After family and friends had walked last Saturday — June 11 was the date she went missing in 1994 — everyone gathered to break bread and connect at the Dze L K’ant Friendship Centre. Children and youth, some whom would not have been born when Ramona went missing, sit among family and elders as speeches were made and songs were sung.
Sixteen years hasn’t broken how strongly family and friends remember Ramona.
“She was very beautiful and, for myself, she was like a daughter to me because my mom was a single mom,” said Brenda. “We all looked after her a lot of times.”
She explained that it’s a constant struggle to put together the walk, which is made possible by the contributions of the whole family.
“A lot of times we have to pick each other up,” said Brenda. “We go back and forth where it just feels like we can’t do it anymore but we always lean on each other to get it done.”
Ramona’s mother, Matilda, said the walk is always a success each year, even by just raising the profile and awareness for the missing girls cases.
Were Ramona’s killer to be found today, the walk would still continue, said Matilda. There are too many others who are missing along highway 16 to give up.
“Even if Ramona’s case was solved and they did find the killer, we would still do these walks because there’s a lot of girls still missing yet,” she said. “We do it for the ones who are not found yet or the ones who are murdered also. That’s what we keep in mind. We want to keep in mind that these are local girls and they’re not just anybody you don’t hear about. They have parents, they have sisters, brothers, uncles, aunts….”
Brenda agrees with her mom, saying the walk will always go on.
“I can’t imagine not doing these walks because there’s so many other young ladies missing or murdered. I think it still has to continue on as an awareness campaign,” said Brenda, who said she is cautious on using the Highway of Tears moniker.
The RCMP issued a call for help from the public in anticipation of the anniversary of Ramona’s disappearance.
Ramona, RCMP say, is one of 18 women whose disappearance or murder is being investigated by a group of investigators under the banner of E-PANA.
RCMP said there are theories about what might have happened but they were not publically revealed. Yet they have no closed the case and all tips into this investigation can be directed to the Unsolved Homicide Unit tip line, at 1-877-543-4822.
The Wilson family needs some answers to.
“We are looking to our community to be able to stand up for us in higher government so we can start to find answers to what has happened to our murdered and missing loved ones,” said Brenda. “I’m pleading them, please come forward and help us find answers.”
Even as they wait for answers, the family is still grateful for a good turnout for this year’s walk.
“I’m so happy, it gives us so much hope,” said Matilda, thanking her family and everyone who came out to give their support.