Motorists driving south from Duncan along the Trans Canada Highway may have noticed a billboard sign recently that celebrates the life of Ben Kilmer.
His family and friends have been experiencing a sad Christmas season this year without the popular 41-year-old Cobble Hill man, who, in 2018, was the subject of one of the largest search efforts ever launched in the Cowichan Valley.
Kilmer went missing just before the May long weekend. A search was immediately initiated along Cowichan Lake Road in Sahtlam, where his van had been found, still running.
A line of cars and various command vehicles parked on Cowichan Lake Road, a helicopter buzzing overhead, and a sign — Search in Progress — made it clear that Cowichan Search and Rescue were on the job.
“We’ve almost exhausted inside the initial area,” search manager Tina Phillips said from the SAR command trailer outside the Sahtlam Fire Hall at the time.
The search area expanded and expanded, as 59 members from eight different Vancouver Island SAR teams joined the effort, along with 92 volunteers from the community, many of whom were friends and family of Kilmer. A swift water team also searched the Cowichan River.
SAR members went door-to-door asking neighbours if they may have spotted Kilmer and neighbours with security cameras were asked to look at footage for someone fitting Kilmer’s description.
By June 29, a spokeswoman for the Kilmer family said, “There are no plans to continue the organized search this weekend but we intend to saturate Vancouver Island with posters with Ben’s face on them and with information on his disappearance.”
Kilmer’s wife, Tonya, gave an impassioned plea to the public in Victoria at the headquarters of the RCMP’s Island District.
“We are devastated. We are broken without this man. He is everything, the core of our family,” she said as tears flowed and her voice cracked.
By mid-October, there was still tremendous support online for the family and their desperate worry for the missing husband and father.
The Facebook page “Find Ben Kilmer,” launched in May to offer support and information, was also the site that delivered the tragic news Oct. 24: Ben Kilmer — husband, father and subject of one of the biggest searches to unite Vancouver Island in recent memory — would not be coming home.
Kilmer’s family confirmed that his body had been discovered.
“We are heartbroken to confirm that our beloved Ben Kilmer was found on Oct. 17, 2018, in a remote are of Duncan, British Columbia,” a statement read. “Ben is not coming home to us as we had hoped. His death is a shock to all who knew him, and a devastating outcome to a vast and difficult search.”
Kilmer’s wife, Tonya said the North Cowichan/Duncan RCMP came to her door at 9 p.m. on Oct. 17, and that she had been hopeful to see them after there had been possible sightings of Kilmer in downtown Victoria. They instead told her that Kilmer’s body had been found at 2 p.m. that day by someone traveling through a remote area of the Cowichan Valley, near the Chemainus River.
“Now the hardest part comes, with the need for the strongest resilience I will certainly ever know; more waiting, more patience,” Tonya Kilmer wrote. “But 50 years for forever with you is worth the wait. I will be with you again and your children will grow up knowing their daddy as the strong, fierce, tenacious, loving family man that you are.”
Family spokeswoman Shannon Wiest added that there is an education fund being established for the two Kilmer children at www.gofundme.com/kilmer-children-education-fund.
“Also, we cannot emphasize enough how much support surrounded us at every step of this harrowing journey. This is a great comfort to the family as they grieve, knowing that everything that could be done was done, and with great love,” Wiest said.
When the news was released to the public, it sparked a massive outpouring of support across many social media platforms, whether from those who knew Ben, those who helped in the search, or those simply touched while watching from afar.
RCMP said foul play has been ruled out and the body was found “well outside the original search area.”