The footsteps leading from a youth treatment centre to a nearby road in Selkirk, was the first piece of evidence police had to work with in finding a Brandon teen, who’s been missing since Dec. 2.
The teen’s parents have tried their best to ignore what the rumour mills are churning out through social media, which have only proved to put salt on a heartbreaking wound.
Their message to him is simple: Just phone home.
They just want to know he’s alive.
His disappearance is a tragic punctuation mark on a year which saw the teen slip into behavioural and anger issues fuelled by alcohol. He landed in jail and served house arrests.
The 15-year-old, who cannot be named under the Youth Criminal Justice Act, has been living with his father and his father’s girlfriend since he was nine, moving away from his biological mother’s home in Waywayseecappo First Nation.
The Brandon teen, facing numerous charges including theft, possession of stolen property and breaches of bail orders, was clean and sober since mid-August, according to his parents and began treatment at the Behavioural Health Foundation in Selkirk in an attempt to turn his life around.
He had been attending the youth centre for a month, opting to get behavioural help instead of sitting in a jail cell in Portage la Prairie following a court appearance in October.
"When he went for treatment, he was doing it for himself and it would help him," his stepmother said.
His father and stepmother, who also cannot be identified under the Youth Act, saw him just days before he disappeared and they said he seemed to be in good spirits.
"He was fine," she recalled. "He was getting a week to come home for Christmas, he was excited because (Child Family Services) also told him other family members, like his grandparents and aunties were coming up for that week and visit him as well."
But without their child, Christmas for the couple proved to be just another day.
"I didn’t even think of Christmas as being Christmas," she said.
"There was still that one spot," his father said. "The whole reason we do what we do is for him and it’s not a family without that reason."
After an attempted suicide just hours before he walked out of the youth centre, the boy appeared to have walked up to the road and hitched a ride with somebody, leaving the facility which he was free to do, since he was there voluntarily.
His father thinks he could be as far away as British Columbia or as nearby as Brandon — it’s impossible to say.
His slide into criminal behaviour was swift, beginning less than a year ago when he began drinking and running with the wrong crowd.
As a younger boy, the couple said he stayed in a lot playing video games and keeping to himself before he entered his rebellious teen years.
"Before (he) started going out with his friends, he played Xbox all the time, and one day I said ‘Get off that Xbox and go out and make friends and do something,’" his stepmother said. "Honestly, if I could take that back, I’d buy him all the Xbox games in the world."
The family believes he could have headed west to Alberta or B.C., since he has family members there who have since cut ties with his guardians in Brandon.
Meanwhile, rumours continue to swirl in the city and the couple is trying their best to tune them out.
"We’ve got messages saying ‘we’ve seen (him) in Brandon,’ but they don’t tell you the day they see him," she said. "People tell me he’s in Wayway or he’s in B.C."
He’s now been missing for seven weeks and fear of the worst is increasing for his stepmother.
"In the beginning I felt he was OK, for me now — because it’s been so long — I think something’s happened," she said.
For his father, he has hope his "smart" and "independent" son will make his way to the front door.
"I think he’s gone stealth and he’s hiding, worst case scenario, he’s not with us, but I don’t want to think about the worst case scenario," his father said.