It was the ending many people feared.
RCMP confirmed Tuesday the body discovered last week at a pulp mill in Kamloops along the Thompson River was that of Williams Lake wildfire evacuee David Jeff, reported missing since August.
On Wednesday, March 7 at 3 p.m. — eight months after Jeff was last seen at the Kamloops emergency reception centre — Domtar pulp mill employees reported they found a body in one of the settling ponds on site at Mission Flats Road.
Police had launched a search for 67-year-old Jeff in the months following his disappearance, which was assisted by the community of Esk’etemc First Nation under the leadership of Chief Charlene Belleau in October.
Belleau and 60 others from the Cariboo Chilcotin did a mass search in Kamloops and then went on to look for Jeff in Kelowna, also, because there had been a possible sighting of him there.
Jeff was a member of the Alexis Creek First Nation but was a regular fixture in the city of Williams Lake for many years, often seen walking with his guitar.
Chief Otis Guichon Sr. said Tuesday he heard of Jeff’s death just before midnight Monday when he received a text from Jeff’s sister Lila Casey letting him know the news.
“I was saddened to hear it, but for the family’s sake I know it’s important that he’s been found,” Guichon said.
Guichon was younger than Jeff but knew him growing up, he said.
“Ever since he went missing, I’ve been missing seeing him around Williams Lake,” he added. “If I was in town for business and I saw him, I’d stop and visit with him. I think he was fine in Williams Lake, but I guess not in another city.”
Guichon is with Chief Belleau and other leadership at a First Nations caucus meeting in Kelowna this week and said they will pause to remember and acknowledge Jeff.
“Chief Charlene asked me if that would be OK,” Guichon said.
Williams Lake chief administrative officer Milo MacDonald, formerly with the RCMP, said he was sad to hear of Jeff’s passing.
“I had hoped and expected that perhaps he might have surfaced in another community,” MacDonald said. “I remember him from when I was here the first time in the mid 90s with the RCMP and even in the last few years, I often saw him around town until the point where I was told he was missing. It must be 20 years ago but I often used to drive him up to Abraham’s Lodge where he was staying at the time.”
Jeff is the person MacDonald said he always thinks of when the City discusses the need for housing, the need to support mental health initiatives, the need to support seniors and the need to focus on giving youth the tools to avoid addiction.
“There are so many great groups in town both governmental and non-governmental that provide this safety net and although David’s story is a sad story, I feel like we are hearing fewer sad stories,” MacDonald added.
“There is a renewed commitment by First Nations leaders, community leaders and volunteers to make these changes for the better.”
Canadian Mental Health Association homeless outreach worker Wayne Lucier was also saddened by the news.
“It’s good for the family that they’ve found him, but sad that David is gone,” he said.
Jeff was very self-sufficient, so for months Lucier said he held out hope that he was somewhere out there looking after himself.
Lucier and Jeff shared the same birthday in October and often got together for a cigar, Lucier added.
“Maybe today I will go somewhere quiet and smoke that cigar.”
In a news release issued Tuesday morning, Kamloops RCMP said they did not suspect foul play, however, they are asking anyone who spent time with David Jeff last summer to contact them.
Specifically, if anyone knows where he spent time during the day or where he was sleeping at night, the police would like to talk to you.
Please contact the Kamloops RCMP at 250-828-3000 or Crime Stoppers at 1-800-222-8477.