Ohio parents Carla and Herb Sill visited Terrace Search and Rescue (SAR) to thank them for finding the body of their son, 26-year old Warren Andrew Sill, seven years ago.
In July 2012, Warren loaded up an SUV with camping gear and camera equipment and left his home in North Ridgeville, Ohio for northwest B.C. A lover of nature and wildlife, Warren embarked on a cross-country journey to film the rare and elusive Kermode bear as part of an educational film for young students.
“He wanted to take this back and do talks in schools about what the [Northern Gateway] pipeline was doing to the habitats,” says Carla, Warren’s mother. “He just wanted to educate kids, he loved kids. He would have loved to be a teacher.”
Five days after Warren was last seen in Prince George, his vehicle was discovered abandoned, with his tent and sleeping bag still inside, at the entrance of the Whiskey Creek Trail approximately 80 kilometres east of Terrace. The multi-day 7.2-kilometre hike in Seven Sisters Provincial Park can be a difficult trail to follow in the remote wilderness. With no bridge, the Whiskey Creek crossing is also extremely hazardous when water levels are high.
Despite exhaustive efforts from Search and Rescue teams throughout the province, the search was called off on July 20.
Four months later, Terrace SAR swift water rescue teams found Warren’s body near a waterfall site that could not be accessed through the summer months.
“For us, we’ll use a search area for practice for months after because we know the subject was there,” says Dave Jephson, search and rescue vice-president. “In this case, with Warren being missing, we believed there was a good possibility of him being there.”
Terrace SAR president Dwayne Sheppard, being an experienced hiker, marked out areas of the river and took crews out to search and subsequently rule out sections. This included rapelling down the canyon gorges ranging between 300 to 500 feet down, Jephson says.
“In one section they noticed something green [that looked like a shirt], and it was wrapped around the tree,” he says. “Once they put the [ripped shirt] back together, they could see there was an emblem on it for an orthodontist in Ohio.”
Terrace SAR had already established a strong relationship with Herb and Carla, keeping them updated of search efforts. Once they confirmed the shirt had belonged to Warren, crews went back out to try and locate his body.
At the end of the five kilometres of Whiskey Creek that had not been searched, crews rappeled down to the river bottom through a chute and discovered a log jam near a 46-foot waterfall. They found Warren inside the log pile-up nearly 100 feet down into the gorge. His body was recovered with a helicopter longline and taken to a nearby field where police and the coroner were waiting.
Both RCMP and SAR believe Warren had lost his footing and drowned.
In the years since his death, Carla and Warren’s father, Herb, started a non-profit organization in Ohio establishing a scholarship fund at Kent State University, their son’s alma mater. Since 2016, the Warren A. Sill Fund has also brought in educational programs from Cleveland science and history museums to inner-city elementary schools.
But returning to the area where Warren spent his last days, to say goodbye and to meet the people involved with the search, was a trip the Sills knew they had to make.
“When they found him, [SAR] told us when we were ready, they would take us up in a helicopter and show us where they found him,” Carla says. “Seven years later, here we are.”
On Aug. 4, Terrace SAR members and Warren’s parents got into a helicopter to visit the location. Near a plaque set up at the bottom of the waterfall, Herb and Carla spread their son’s ashes.
“We want to meet the people who gave us closure…We can never repay them for what they did,” Carla says.
Before they left Terrace, the couple presented Terrace SAR with a $10,000 donation for the construction of their new headquarters, describing it as just a small token of their appreciation.
“You have to be a parent, you have to be in our shoes to understand,” she says. “In my heart, they’re my family. They gave us closure, and for that, we’ll forever be grateful.”