One of the most tragic stories of 2021 was that of 23-year-old Shaelene Keeler Bell of Chilliwack.
The body of the young mother was found on Wednesday, June 2, more than four months after she went missing on Saturday, Jan. 30.
She was last seen when she left her apartment in the 9300-block of Edward Street in Chilliwack around 8:30 p.m. Her 2021 Hyundai Tucson was found near the Fraser River in the 47000-block of Ballam Road two days later on Monday, Feb. 1.
Her mother, Alina Durham, put out a tearful plea as she spoke with media by the river three days after her daughter went missing.
“Shaelene left her two small boys at home with a friend,” Durham said, her voice breaking on Feb 2. “Anyone who knows Shae knows that she would never, ever abandon her boys.”
For four months, the community rallied to try to find any sign of Bell. They searched the Fraser River, the shorelines, neighbouring properties and beyond.
Highway banners were installed, a reward was offered, posters could be seen all around town and a fundraiser was put in place to help support Bell’s two young boys and search efforts.
Durham’s efforts to keep the search going for her daughter never wavered.
“We have to keep this awareness going. It cannot stop, it’s imperative it does not stop,” she stressed in March.
During the months her daughter was missing, Durham delivered video messages to Bell, held a candlelight vigil, installed a huge banner along Highway 1, wrote an open letter to her for Mother’s Day and shared with the community what type of person Bell was.
“Shaelene is the most caring, kind-hearted girl you could ever meet. Anyone who knows her knows she would help anyone in any way she could. She’s a very loving, people-oriented person,” she said on Feb. 17.
Durham was grateful for the support from the community and also for the family of another woman who went missing in 2021 – Trina Hunt. She was last seen on Jan. 18, was found on March 29 and identified on May 1. Hunt’s family donated money from their GoFundMe to Bell’s fundraiser to help with search efforts and to support Bell’s two boys.
Sadly, the search ended in tragedy when Bell’s body was found in the Fraser River near Coquitlam on June 2.
“The Chilliwack RCMP have now concluded their investigation as there is no evidence to support criminal involvement in this death; however, the BC Coroners Service is conducting its own fact-finding investigation to determine how, where, when and by what means the death occurred,” RCMP said in a June 3 press release.
A celebration of life was held for her on June 26 where she was remembered by her mother as “kind, loving, warm and smart.”
“I want to thank you for enriching my life. You will be truly missed,” Durham said. “As a mother, I did not and do not want to say goodbye to my precious daughter, but sometimes God has other plans.
“You came into my life and fulfilled me perfectly. You are always on my mind and will be in my heart forever. Until we meet again, rest in peace. Mama loves you.”
In the weeks that followed, Bell’s family adopted a maple tree so her boys, family, community and friends could “come and honour” her, Durham said on July 15.
The maple tree is located on Luckakuck Creek Trail along Luckakuck Creek. Park at the end of Luckakuck Place (off Luckakuck Way), walk towards the creek, turn right (west) and the tree is about 60 to 70 metres down the trail on the righthand side.