Inspired by the generosity of a man he only worked beside briefly, Tony Friesen fired up his motorbike and set out on the highway to find a missing Penticton couple he only knew for a short time.
Seeing the faces of Al and Rita Chretien grace the front pages of newspapers with headlines stating they were missing after leaving for a road trip from Penticton to Las Vegas on March 19, Friesen was shocked.
“They are not the kind of people that would just go missing. When I saw their faces on the front of the paper, I told my wife that I am not tied into anything here right now and I think I’m going to get on my bike and head down there because I know the area very well,” said Friesen. “It just made sense to me that we should be able to find out where they are.”
Friesen had only met Al Chretien shortly while volunteering to build the Penticton Christian School. Al had been doing all the machine work on the construction site.
“I only knew him briefly. I didn’t know Rita at all, but I feel like I do now,” said Friesen, who met up with the Chretien’s family and friends searching for the couple in their last known whereabouts in Baker City, Ore. “Al is just a really generous guy, the kind of guy that would do the same thing for you.”
Friesen said he scoured the area on his motorbike for about a week. He slowly combed through the rough terrain areas, stopping and walking along roadsides to get a better view off the shoulders. Law enforcement officials said on Monday that 23 days after the Chretiens were last seen, search efforts throughout Oregon will continue to scale back. Still family and friends continue to look.
“I feel confident where I looked they are not there, but to me, you just don’t stop looking. The family is going through a lot and they are young. It is a pretty hard time for them especially with keeping the business Al has running and making payments. All of a sudden his son is drawn into something that he didn’t expect to be drawn into, so it’s really hard on them in every aspect,” said Friesen.
Police patrols will continue to respond as needed having already travelled over 5,600 kilometres of roadways and flown 13 hours looking for any signs of the Chretiens. Friesen said the Chretiens remain on a lot of people’s minds in Baker City and the surrounding areas. Ranchers are keeping their eyes open for the couple’s 2000 Chevy Astro van. And with the upcoming wild turkey season starting this week for hunters, it puts even more eyes out in remote areas that may not be seen from the highways.
Friesen said the people in Baker City and the parts of Oregon he travelled have a genuine concern for the missing couple and are trying to help anyway they can.
“The motel I stayed at, when I went to check out the gal wouldn’t take any money from me and said it is the least we can do to help out the cause,” said Friesen.
He said he happened to sit down for a coffee on a bench alongside the operations superintendent for the telephone company in Halfway, Ore.
“He says we have all our crews looking and everybody is concerned about finding them. Then he says if you need a place to stay you can come up and stay at my place and search from here and stay as long as you want,” said Friesen. “It was a neat experience to meet such generous people, but it was unfortunate that I didn’t get any results for what I was there for.”