For five months after Tyler McMichael’s disappearance, Anthony McMichael would make the drive from Blenheim to London every other weekend to search for his missing son.
He clung to the hope that the then-20-year-old was still in the city, maybe living on the streets, after leaving Victoria Hospital on the heels of a conversation about suicide – and vanishing without a trace.
“At first people recognized him, but I wasn’t sure if it was because he was living on the streets in London or if they just recognized him from the past,” said McMichael. He placed posters throughout the city and would ask people if they knew anything of the young man’s whereabouts.
“But now I go to London, and I don’t get any response from people.”
Tyler was last seen in the area of Commissioners Road East and Wellington Road on May 24, 2019 according to London police.
Sunday marks the one year anniversary since he disappeared and McMichael and Tyler’s mom, Krista Mulholland, are asking people to leave their porch lights on that night.
It’s to signify guiding him home, and will also play a “really significant” role for a family left searching, according to Lindsay Lobb, of the Canadian Centre for Child Protection. She is a policing relations liaison, and also works on the centre’s missing children programs.
“It shows the widespread support that the community can provide to these families, even if they’re not personally connected,” she explained.
“To give people an outlet like that, where they can show their support, is really important.”
Thousands missing in Ontario
The day after the anniversary of Tyler’s disappearance is International Missing Children’s Day. There were 9,767 children reported missing in Ontario in 2019, according to a national database. Twelve of those cases are listed as abductions by strangers, while 6,636 are considered runaways and 2,504 are listed as “unknown.”
Although he isn’t one of the children reported missing in 2019 (he’s one of the 8,082 adults reported missing that year) Tyler is someone’s child.
And for Anthony McMichael, May 24th will never be the same.
I don’t want him to be dead, but at the same time, I don’t want him to be suffering.– Anthony McMichael, Tyler’s dad
“He called me the day he went missing. He said he was leaving the hospital, he wasn’t going back, and he wanted to know if I would be okay if he just disappeared. He said he was very suicidal,” said McMichael.
“And I said ‘no, I won’t be okay if you just disappear. You mean a lot to me. If you won’t go back to the hospital, will you at least come to me and spend the night here?'”
Tyler had been suffering from mental health issues and was in hospital for treatment.
Father left wondering if son is alive, in other community
McMichael said he and his son weren’t always close. Tyler lived with him from age 3 to 14, before going to a group home. They had a strained relationship in the years that followed, marked by Tyler’s addiction and mental health challenges, his father said.
But before he went missing, the pair had been developing a better relationship after McMichael discovered Tyler had been clean for three months.
“For about a year and a half, we talked every single day. He was, other than my wife, he was my best friend.”
A reoccurring goal throughout those conversations, said McMichael, was how Tyler wanted to bike from London to Blenheim one day. So when Tyler said that’s what he was going to do, the night he disappeared, his father didn’t think much of it.
“But he just never showed up,” said McMichael. “And then on Monday I got a call from police, and they told me he was a missing person and wanted to know if I’d heard from him.”
On May 29 2019, London police issued a media release asking for the public’s help finding Tyler. Less than a month later, police said he may have been seen in the downtown area, that he may have shaved his head, and that he might be going by his middle name “Sidney.”
“I don’t know if he’s in St. Thomas, or if he’s left the province, or if he’s gone to Toronto … I don’t want him to be dead, but at the same time, I don’t want him to be suffering.”
Stay engaged with missing persons’ cases
The way families with missing children play through the scenarios, and run through all the possible outcomes in their minds, is familiar for Lobb.
“We have families who, there is a large held belief is that their children might be deceased, but how do you not continue searching for your child until you have a resolution?” she asked.
The Canadian Centre for Child Protection’s missing children program provides immediate crisis support and guidance for parents who have missing children. They connect families with resources in their communities, and take cues from parents about how to move forward, rather than make recommendations for what’s next, said Lobb.
“Somebody might decide to search for 30 years and decide they can’t do it anymore. Somebody might decide to never stop.”
Lobb urges people who have any bit of information, no matter how small, to bring it forward. And if you don’t have any information, to keep your eyes peeled when someone is reported missing.
“Don’t look away. Look at that child’s face. And if it’s in your community, please be aware. We’re asking people to be engaged. More than anything, with these missing children’s cases.”
Tyler is described as being a white man, about 5’10” with a slim build and light brown hair, which might be shaved off. His father said he has bright blue eyes, a small, light brown birthmark on his cheek usually covered by facial hair, and condition called nystagmus, which causes his eyes to jitter from side to side, meaning he has to tilts his head back and has to look down at something, in order to focus on it.
And when “he laughs, you laugh along with him, because his laugh his funny,” McMichael added. “He’s soft spoken, but his laugh is not soft.”