BLAIRMORE, Alta. — A frantic search for a missing two-year-old girl was launched Monday after her 27-year-old father was found dead of a suspected homicide inside a home in southwestern Alberta.
RCMP issued an Amber Alert across Alberta, British Columbia and Montana for little Hailey Dunbar-Blanchette, then hours later confirmed they had found the body of Terry Blanchette in the family home in Blairmore, Alta.
Investigators believe the girl had been taken from the home around 3:30 a.m. by a suspect or suspects in a newer model white van with a large rear antenna and a flag flying from it.
Witnesses reported seeing the van fleeing the scene at a high rate of speed heading west.
As Hailey's mother, Cheyenne Dunbar, rushed from her home in Edmonton to be with relatives in the Crowsnest Pass, family friend Corette Harrington was both devastated and sick with worry.
"We just pray that whoever has her will keep her safe,'' Harrington said in an emotional, tear-filled interview. "It's heartbreaking to know that when she comes back, her dad's not going to be there.''
Tony Hamori, RCMP assistant district commander for southern Alberta, called the situation very troubling.
"This type of incident combined with the scene at the residence that we found is concerning to the highest degree both to the RCMP and to the communities in the Crowsnest Pass,'' he told reporters at a news conference.
"We're just hopeful that this media release and the information we've gotten so far will be enough for the public to put as much energy into this as we are in terms of trying to locate this van or any other information that could be helpful to our investigation.''
Hamori said police do not have a licence plate, make or model for the van, nor do they know what kind of antenna flag was on the van.
Extra police resources were being brought into the area, including tactical officers to secure the scene and the air unit to help with the search.
Hamori did say there is no safety risk to the public, but added if the van is spotted that people should call police and not engage with anyone in the vehicle.
Blanchette worked as a cook at Pure Country Bar and Grill in Frank, a nearby town in the Crowsnest Pass.
Monday was his day off, said manager Tammy Tracey.
"He was a good worker and a good father. He did anything for his daughter, he loved her dearly. He was a good dad. He lived for her.''
Tracey said Blanchette had worked at the bar for the last three years.
"He would never miss a day of work, he had to support a daughter. He was a good kid. He had responsibilities, right?''
Harrington confirmed that, calling Blanchette an exemplary single father.
"He loved Hailey very much and everything he did, he did for Hailey. He was an incredible dad. He worked hard for her.''
She explained that Blanchette and Dunbar, who was his former girlfriend, amicably shared custody of their little girl.
"She lived with her dad full-time, and every few weeks would visit her mom in Edmonton,'' she explained, adding that the little girl would often stay with Blanchette's father in Elkford while he was at work.
She said Blanchette and her oldest daughter, Rebecca, were good friends.
"We knew Hailey since the day she was born,'' Harrington said. "She's like a little sister to our kids.
"She has this incredible little nose-scrunch thing she does when she's happy. She loves to play and to laugh and every time she would see her dad she would light right up.
Harrington said she hopes everyone can stay focused on what's important — finding Hailey.
"It's just surreal not knowing where Hailey is,'' she said. "It's hard to comprehend what happened.
"I just want her to come home and come over to my house and scrunch Goldfish (crackers) all over my floor. I swear she used to do it just to irritate me. I'd give anything to be sweeping up Goldfish right now.''
Blairmore is about 220 kilometres southwest of Calgary in the Crowsnest Pass area near the B.C.-Alberta boundary.
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