In the spring of 2007, like clockwork, 14-year-old Luke Degneress went to Edmonton’s Mill Woods Town Centre every day to hang out with his friends.

At that time, that part of the city was better known was Murderwoods for the prevalent crime rate.

One day, he suddenly stopped going.

“It was strange. He wouldn’t say why,” said his mother Gina.

So after a few days of no answers, when Luke went to shower, she checked his computer.

“Hey, ask your brother for me — how do you join the Bloods?” Luke had typed over instant messenger to an unnamed friend, referring to the street gang.

“Before he was out of the washroom, I’d booked us a flight to Prince George (B.C),” said Gina.

***

It had been a tough time for the family, explained Jolene McDonald, Luke’s older sister.

Jolene, now a grade school teacher living in Yellowknife, was born in Fort McPherson. She and Luke share a mother, Gina.

Gina and Luke visited Fort McPherson, where their extended family is from.

Luke lived with his father in B.C., and at Gina’s.

At that time, Jolene was living with her boyfriend in Edmonton and Gina had just given birth.

“The home was stable but all attention was on Jade (the newborn). I think Luke had been at his mother’s for 11 days before Jade was born,” said Jolene.

Jolene described Luke as a “typical teenager” who had an independent streak, but they were close nonetheless.

When their aunt came to town, the two siblings got matching eyebrow piercings.

“It was like a family event,” Jolene laughed. “It’s a memory I will have forever.”

***

When Gina, Jade, and Luke arrived in Prince George, things weren’t much better.

Gina and her family fought and they struggled to find housing.

“We lived out of suitcases at my sister’s house.”

Luke started skipping school and failed a grade.

On June 7, 2007, about three months after they’d moved to Prince George, Gina and Luke met with his school’s vice-principal so they could plan to get his studies back on track.

“I remember it was raining when we were getting ready. Luke said he wanted to walk,” Gina said.

“He said: I have to tell you something, I have a decision to make. And I’m thinking he’s 14, how big could it be? I said we could talk about it on the way back.”

After the meeting, Luke was excused back to class while Gina and the vice-principal finished up.

When they checked the classroom about 20 minutes later, Luke was gone.

She has not seen him since.

“I still think about what he wanted say.”

***

With a newborn in tow — Jade was only nine months when Luke went missing — Gina canvassed the streets.

“I went to malls, the streets — everywhere — looking for him,” she recalled.

There were rumours and alleged sightings of Luke stretching to downtown east-side Vancouver.

Over a year after he went missing, a Victim Service’s counsellor told Gina that her daughter had seen Luke sleeping on a discarded couch behind her house.

“There was another Luke, the same age, in Prince George that would often be mistaken for my Luke,” said Gina.

Over the years, her mind has looped with possible scenarios.

“He had carried raw hamburgers in his backpack; he could’ve been attacked by bears?” she speculated.

Her anxiety wasn’t helped by a Facebook post a girl left on his page, something to the effect of: “RIP Luke. That’s what you get for f‘ing around with us!”

Gina said the RCMP contacted the person who posted it and dismissed it as a prank.

“I want to talk to those girls,” said Gina, adding that she may apply to find their names in the records. “Or, miraculously, they’ll hear or read this and reach out to me.”

The case went cold for a few years until 2014, when a man called the Missing Kids hotline and claimed to be Luke.

According to Gina, the operator thought it was actually Luke.

But now she says, “I think it was someone trying to ease my pain.”

The man never called again.

***

An unnamed artist drew this for Luke Degerness’s mother, Gina, so she has an idea of how her son might have looked at age 24. Even though he would be almost 30 now, “It’s truly how I imagine him,” she said of the drawing. Photo courtesy of Gina Degneress

The disappearance of Luke Degneress is unusual, according to national statistics.

In 2021, there were 28,033 reports to the RCMP of missing children in Canada. Sixty-seven per cent of these reports were removed in 24 hours and 92 per cent within a week.

“Luke Degneress has been missing now for 15 years, and we continue to search for answers for his family. Luke’s mom has missed out on the opportunity to watch her son grow up, something no mother should have to go through,” said Lindsay Lobb, support services manager with the Canadian Centre for Child Protection (C3P).

“We won’t stop searching and sharing his pictures until his family knows where he is, and what happened to him,” she said.

June 7 is especially hard for Gina, who’s a youth worker in Edmonton.

“I hate today, today is June 7th, the date he went missing,” she said. “I’ve got my daughter and I have work, but today and his birthdays are the worst.”

For Jolene, it reminds her of the little brother she’s missed all these years.

A year after Luke went missing, Jolene gave birth.

“For that time my focus was there, reality didn’t sink in. I didn’t process it for years,” she said. “Now he is at the forefront of my mind and in my heart. I’m still looking for him.”

At the time he went missing, Luke was 5-foot-8 and around 140 pounds, but he’d have grown considerably since then. He has brown hair and brown eyes.

Information can be reported to the RCMP, missingkids.ca online or by calling 1-866-KID-TIPS (543-8477).

Tips can also be logged at MCSC.ca or on crimestoppers 1-800-222-8477 anonymously.

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