In April 2007, 17-year-old Jeff Surtel left his home in Mission at midnight on a bicycle and hasn’t been seen since.
Over 16 years later, his family is still searching for answers.
Gary and Dawn Surtel, Jeff’s parents, say until they find out what happened and get closure, the pain will never end for them.
“It’s probably any parent’s worst nightmare basically. It doesn’t get any worse,” Gary said.
Gary and Dawn reached out to Please Bring Me Home to help find new leads in a case that has gone cold.
Please Bring Me Home was founded in 2018 with the aim of soliciting anonymous tips regarding cold missing person cases across Canada.
“Any time we can get Jeff out there in public’s thoughts again, it’s a good thing. Maybe someone is holding back on some information and due to passage of time, maybe they’re willing to bring information forward now,” Gary said.
Jeff is described as 6’1 with brown hair and eyes and several moles on the left side of his cheek. At the time of his disappearance, he was wearing dark blue jeans, a navy blue t-shirt, a navy hoodie and black runners.
His bike is described as a blue CCM mountain bike with yellow front forks.
For Angela Heino, Surtel’s disappearance is her first case as a volunteer investigator with Please Bring Me Home.
Heino’s background is in nursing and education. She currently works as a nursing teacher at BCIT but has built a background in forensics over the years.
She’s passionate about the work and says she’s honoured to be able to help in any way she can.
“I’m drawn to the case because it is so complex, I think. Jeff disappeared in April of 2007 and there’s been really …nothing that substantial to indicate what happened to him. Both he and his bicycle that he was riding at the time have not been located,” Heino said.
She was assigned the case by the Please Bring Me Home leadership team.
Heino has reviewed all of the available information — including the intake interviews — but also anything that’s publicly available. She says volunteer investigators work collaboratively with law enforcement whenever possible because the goal is strictly fact-finding.
“Our purpose is to find information or uncover information that could help move the case forward and bring some answers,” she said.
As she takes on the case, Heino is exploring all avenues. She has spoken with anyone willing about information they may know about the situation or the context that led to his disappearance.
Heino says the family is hoping for some information that could help the case progress forward, and bring some much-needed answers in what has been a painful situation.
“They’ve been very kind. They have been helpful and as a parent myself, I can imagine few situations more excruciating than not knowing where your child is,” Heino said.
Heino always feels humbled when speaking with the family. She says she’s trying to understand the situation from their perspective and find out more about Jeff as a person.
“It’s not an easy process, but it’s such an important one,” Heino said.
She made the trip Mission to familiarize herself with the geography of the area and made connections both intentionally and unintentionally.
“Any kind of little piece of information can be significant and so, really investigation is about the connection that you make with people and then the conversations that you have,” she said.
As a new investigator, Heino says it can be challenging to know how much to push or be patient. The amount of time that has elapsed since Jeff’s disappearance is also a hurdle.
“Sometimes the memory that people have fade over time,” Heino said. “Sometimes it’s difficult to remember some of the unique standout pieces of information that, when something occurs much more recently, are easier to retrieve and recall. But when this much time has elapsed, it becomes difficult for anyone who might know or determination to remember.”
The lack of information about what happened to Jeff after he was last seen leaving with his bicycle also makes the investigation more complex.
“I think there’s just so many potential scenarios of what might have occurred but no clear sense of —currently, from my perspective– what actually happened. And that’s what we’re hoping to try to understand and get information on,” she said.
“That is so puzzling me because one would have hoped that there would have been some trace or some evidence that pointed us to one particular scenario or another.”
The Surtels say there have been extensive searches of the Fraser River and a sonar search underneath the Mission Bridge.
“The fact that his body has never been found is a positive thing. Until that happens, we’re considering him to be alive and out there,” Gary said.
Jeff Surtel’s disappearance remains an open and active Mission RCMP investigation.
“I’ve done everything that I can possibly think of searching for Jeff. I’m at a loss as to what more I could do or could have done. All we can really hope for is someone to come forward,” Gary said. “Somebody must know what happened to him — if he’s still around. Someone knows.”
Please Bring Me Home will continue with the investigation for as long as they need to move the case forward.