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John Simpson spent this past weekend playing host to golfers at the 2nd Annual Ashley Simpson Golf Tournament in Niagara. John, his wife Cindy and organizer Amanda Haveman have been working tirelessly on this event for weeks. It's meant to raise money, as well as awareness about the plight of missing women and girls in Canada.
It's the cause of John's lifetime. He's spent his savings trying to find his missing daughter Ashley -- my cousin -- who disappeared without a trace in Salmon Arm, B.C. nearly two and a half years ago. Like all parents of the missing, thoughts of Ashley consume him. The stress has cost him employment, and his health, and yet he continues looking straight ahead, fueled only by his faith that he will some day find Ashley.
Every spring, John goes back to Salmon Arm, and joins Ashley's Army, a group of volunteers who get to work scouring the bush and logging roads, casting their gazes toward running streams and rivers. Cindy returned this year, too, hoping to find any scrap of evidence that could help police discover what could have happened to the girl known as "Gypsy".
Much of the money raised will go towards funding the purchase of drones that can fly over the treacherous terrain, and go where humans fear to travel. The technology is getting better, thanks to the efforts of Shane Michaels, who has developed software that improves the precision and sharpness of the images. The drones, John believes, are the future of search and rescue. So are their operators who are increasingly becoming the last hope for many families looking for loved ones in rural and remote North America.
The drones are filling a gap. Most communities and police forces have limited search and rescue resources. In the case of Ashley, only one search was conducted soon after her disappearance, and the family was left to fend for themselves and rely on the kindness of strangers.
For that reason, Shane Michaels has founded a Facebook site called Wings of Mercy, and he is enlisting an army of skilled drone pilots to fan out into communities to help with the search and rescue efforts. This is a wholly volunteer operation, with operators often funding their searches out of their own pockets. Drone technology is an expensive enterprise with the hardware costing upward of $5,000, and these costs are borne by the pilots themselves.
What's important, and different, about Wings of Mercy, is that these dedicated individuals will continue to search when everybody else has gone home. They offer hope to families who are stricken with grief, who may never know what's happened to their loved ones.
I am proud to be a member of Wings of Mercy, and I would encourage each and every one of you to think about donating to this worthy cause. Just ask yourself one question: what if it was my child, my spouse or my parent?
Sometimes hope, and help, is all we have.
To learn more about Wings of Mercy, and how you can help, please visit this site