The search for Eduardo Balaquit — a 59-year-old Winnipeg man missing for more than a week — has now extended into the Interlake.
Winnipeg Police Service Const. Rob Carver confirmed Wednesday investigators have expanded operations to Arborg and the area around the town located roughly 110 kilometres north of the Manitoba capital.
Carver said he couldn't divulge what brought city police attention to the community of about 1,200, nor how long investigators have been active there. "The sum total of what I know is in the news release."
However, he said police are confident they are making progress in the case, which began as a missing person report and is now headed by the WPS homicide unit.
"They (investigators) don't feel they are at a stonewall," he said. "They feel significant progress is being made in this case. From my own experience as an investigator, when we move from Winnipeg to another area it is because the investigation has led us there.
"This isn't a stalled investigation. It's moving forward. We are confident."
Carver said police are asking residents and businesses in Arborg and area to check their properties and outbuildings for anything suspicious.
Balaquit went missing the evening of June 4. He was last seen heading to a business on the 300 block of Keewatin Street for contract cleaning work. He is also a full-time machine operator.
Balaquit's van was found the next day. The passenger window was broken and the man's cellphone was inside the vehicle.
Carver said anyone with any information — as well as anyone who has surveillance footage from the Keewatin Street area — to call the homicide unit at 204-986-6508 or Crime Stoppers at 204-786-TIPS (8477).
Family members have organized searches of the north Winnipeg area, as well as other areas they had received tips to search in.
Balaquit's son, Edward, said Wednesday morning the family had been told by police about the Arborg and area connection.
"I'm trying to co-ordinate with police to see if I can send a team of searchers up there," he said. "They're putting a hold on that for now. They said they want to survey the area first. But we probably still will go up there for awareness.
"We will make a presence. Hand out flyers. We want to bring awareness there so business and residents there can begin looking at their buildings and properties. We will flood the area with information," he said. "I want everyone in that community to be aware of it."
Edward Balaquit said he hopes the family can help police find his father, and also find the person or persons responsible for his disappearance.
"Everything that helps them, helps us," he said. "And whatever helps also helps the police or someone else find my dad."
Arborg Mayor Randy Sigurdson said the first he learned about police focusing their investigation on his community was when he got a message from the Free Press as he finished a council meeting.
"It's terrible how these people go missing... you wonder what the heck is going on?" the mayor said. "If we're asked, we will certainly help in any way we can."
Pat Eyolfson, founder and long-time president of the Arborg & District Multicultural Heritage Village on the south end of town, beside the Icelandic River, said she and two summer workers were about to check the 15 buildings on site.
"I don't want these two to be alone when we search," Eyolfson said. "We're shocked police are looking in Arborg. Why here?"
Jim Symynyshen, who lives in Silver, a community about eight km south of Arborg, said he saw "a black helicopter" in the sky Tuesday.
"I thought maybe some dignitaries were flying around," he said, adding he now realizes it was likely the Winnipeg police helicopter.
Another Silver-area resident, Phyllis Einarson, said she had also spotted the police helicopter Wednesday, as well as a WPS truck parked at the side of the highway between Silver and Arborg.
"They seem to be looking just east of the highway," she said. "It looks like they're looking closer to Silver than Arborg.
"This is very shocking to hear. I heard about (the missing man) every day, but I never thought it would come here."
Kevin Rollason is one of the more versatile reporters at the Winnipeg Free Press. Whether it is covering city hall, the law courts, or general reporting, Rollason can be counted on to not only answer the 5 Ws — Who, What, When, Where and Why — but to do it in an interesting and accessible way for readers.