What Happened To Michael Dunahee?

Are you a work-in-silence person? Or a background noise person?

I am a something in the background person. 

Usually, it's music, but podcasts come in as a close second. My favorite podcasts are from the true crime genre. 

I stumbled across one the other day that brought back a flood of memories.

In 1991, mom and I lived in Richmond, BC. I was in grade six at WD Ferris elementary. Richmond is a suburb of Vancouver, and technically the YVR (Vancouver) airport is located in Richmond. I loved Richmond. It was close to the ocean, I could walk to school, and I made friends that lived on my block. 

Like many other towns, there were local ghost stories and houses that kids told other kids to avoid. The network of kids is always full of information. Not always fully accurate, but there is a whisper of truth. Not far away from where we lived, and even closer to the 7/11 where we would go to get Slurpees, was the Cindy James house. Cindy James was a nurse who met a tragic end. When we first moved to town, that was the local creepy story. Then another one came along. 

In March of 1991, across the Straight of Georgia and south a bit (a three-hour drive including the ferry, or a 35-minute seaplane ride), a little boy named Michael Dunahee disappeared. The four-year-old went ahead of his parents to the park and no trace of him was ever seen again. I can remember the posters were everywhere, everyone was talking about him, and every little boy was looked at closely. As an eleven-year-old (who at that point was obsessed with Unsolved Mysteries) I couldn't wrap my head around the fact that he was just gone. 

For me, that was when a lot of things changed. For the first time, my mom needed me to call her at work to check-in. I had a time when I needed to be home. And the rules about strangers we always had were underlined and highlighted. I was always a pretty street-savvy kid. From kindergarten on I was walking alone where ever I needed to go. I knew not to get close to a car if someone asked me for directions, I knew to yell fire and not help, and I knew where to hit someone if I needed to getaway. But now I had to recite the steps that I knew to my mom on an every other day basis.

From what my friends told me, the same things were happening at their houses. Playing outside until dark with no check-ins became a thing of the past. Going anywhere alone was looked down on and adults watched us with a closer eye when we were out. When we moved back to Calgary a few months later, I was surprised that the rules that had been laid out in Richmond would be continuing. I was even more surprised to find that the news was just as big in Calgary and that it felt like almost all kids had the same rules in place. 

As the saying goes, we all lost some of our innocence that day. A little more of the carefree nature of childhood went away. This podcast reminded me of feeling like every adult who approaches could be a threat, that we needed to be more aware of our surroundings, at that sometimes kids just don't come home. 

32 years later, no sign of Michael has ever been found. Several people have come forward saying that they might be him, but DNA tests have ruled them out. One predator in Wisconsin was found to have Michael's missing poster in his home and once claimed that he had something to do with the disappearance, but there was no proof. As a parent now and reflecting on how things have changed, Michael Dunahee's impact cannot be denied. It is odd now to see a kid out by themselves or to see a group of them at a playground with no supervision. Kids in school are taught about stranger danger and how to tell if someone is safe. 

I can't imagine what Michael's parents and family must have gone through. The pain in the years continued to come with no evidence of what happened. How could anyone continue to hold the hope that any information will come to light? Hearing the facts of the case as an adult, after hearing the whispers from the kids' tip line, I am also surprised to hear that many of the rumors passed between us kids may have turned out to be true. 

I don't know if the answers to this case will ever be found. But thanks to my inability to get anything done if it's quiet, this podcast gave me a reference point as to one of the times everything changed. While I don't remember exactly where I was when he went missing, I can point to the mystery of Michael as a life-changing moment for all of us. 

Music Corner

So today, I am not going to select a song. But, I am going to share the podcast that sparked this feeling. 

The podcast itself is called Island Crime and season three is dedicated to Michael. When news happens as a kid, you either ignore it as it has nothing to do with you, or you can't fathom that something that affects you would affect anyone else. This case was one of those that is always just in the back of my mind. 

Shopping Corner

Vanished: The Michael Dunahee Story


Ghost Stories and Mysterious Creatures of BC


The Berenstain Bears Learn About Strangers






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