Ryan VanValkengoed, 17, of Crediton went missing after leaving a friend’s house a short distance from home the evening of January 11. Police divers found his body in the Ausable River Monday afternoon. Ryan was the oldest of three sons of Bob and Lorie VanValkengoed, owners of Advanced Auto Parts and Salvage and Lorie’s Advanced Hair Care.
As told to Casey Lessard
Bob VanValkengoed: He was very responsible. With this incident, we knew there was a problem right from the start.
Lorie VanValkengoed: We were hoping this was the first time he did something out of character. But it wasn’t.
Lorie: When we first got married, we were probably married about a week and I remember saying to Bob, “Let’s have children right away,” and him saying, “Yep.” As a woman, I thought there were about 15 more sentences that needed to go with that, so I waited a week and asked again, and he said, “Yep.”
The hardest time Ryan ever gave us was giving birth. He was 19 days overdue. He was due December 9, and Christmas Eve, the doctor told me to come see him. I said, “You have no idea. If you put me in the hospital over Christmas, I guarantee I will make your life a living hell.” He said he just wanted to make sure I would make it through Christmas.
On December 26, we went into London to be induced and on December 28 at 2:32 in the morning, he was born by Caesarean section.
Bob: It’s the only time in his life he’s been late. He was pretty good otherwise.
He was always a good kid. I went to London three or four times a week, and every morning I had to get up at 5 o’clock and he would get upset if I didn’t wake him up. He wasn’t even two years old. So I would wake him up and put his work clothes on and we would go to work. He would sleep on my lap. We would take a load of products to London, and I always remember going to the restaurant for breakfast. At that age, he was just so busy fooling around or crawling under the table. We would drop off scrap at Zubick’s and every time he would get a chocolate bar. For years, if I didn’t wake him up, he would just be so grumpy that I didn’t wake him up.
After that, he was always in the shop. He was blonde as snow, but he’d come out of there covered in black from oil and mud.
One day I was working and I had bought an electric car for him. He wasn’t two yet, and I looked over; he had hooked a set of chain falls (for pulling engines out of cars) onto the electric car and it was sitting eight feet off the ground.
Lorie: He was interested in possibly taking over the business (Advanced Auto). We just talked about it over the holidays.
Bob: It was in his blood. He liked it. He could print invoices and take care of the business end of it. I always checked and there was never a time when he forgot something. And if someone came after hours, he would tell them, “I’ll deal with you this time, but you shouldn’t make this a regular habit.” He was good at training his customers. He was a real businessman.
Lorie: School was never an interest for him. He wanted to run his own business. One day, I got a call from the school saying Ryan had skipped. I asked him when he got home, and he said, “Yeah, I skipped.” I asked what he did, where he went. “To the cafeteria.” I said, “You skipped school to go to the cafeteria?” He said he was talking with the principal Jeff Reaburn. They were talking about starting your own business. So I called the school and said, “My son skipped, he was talking with the principal, so please give him detention.”
He was a thrill seeker. One day, he fell out of a tree on the property and he came to the shop and said to Bob he fell. He was walking and talking, and Bob said, “You look good to me.” We found out later he had fallen 30’. His first cousin said he landed and looked fine but started crying because he couldn’t find his shoe. It wasn’t the fall that hurt him.
Bob: We always had golf carts or dirt bikes. All the kids rode around on this one golf cart. I told someone that we went through 50 gallons of gas in one summer.
I bought him a new dirt bike in the spring, and he always wore a helmet. I was raised with a bike and I still ride without a helmet. But Ryan always wore a helmet. I always said, “What did I say to him to convince him to wear a helmet?”
Lorie: I cut hair out of my home, and I was with a client one day and Ryan was at the top of the stairs. Ryan asked if I could come up the stairs. I said I was busy – I think I was doing a colour. He called Jacob instead. Ryan had wiped out severely on his dirt bike. Jacob, to help Ryan had wrapped his wounds in toilet paper. It took me about two days to pick the toilet paper out of the wounds as it healed. To this day, he had scars (and he was proud of every one of them).
Bob: He was in bed three days, and Jacob took his meals up to him.
Lorie: All of us were very close with Ryan. He connected with each one of us in different ways.
Bob: Just a great guy to be around. Some of my hired help aren’t around this week because they’re taking it very hard.
Lorie: Ryan had a good group of friends.
Bob: [He didn’t like big parties.] Even on a Friday night, he was never comfortable if there were more than five people.
Lorie: The only time he liked that was for concerts. In fact, I have a $600 bill on my credit cards for Linkin Park.
Bob: He would take matters into his own hands and order tickets. One day he called me and said he needed (continued on p.4) (cont’d from p.3) $900 on my credit card. I said, “What are you doing?” He said, “We’re going to see Motley Crue and Aerosmith.” He said the tickets were $150 a ticket and if he got six guys to go he could get a limo lined up. He was 15 when he did that. He was organized and knew what he liked.
Bob: He was very thrifty. He came from the movies one night and said, “Dad, I got free popcorn.” I asked how he did that. He said, “It was easy; I just went into the garbage bag and grabbed an empty bag and told the guy to fill it.” I said, “Don’t you find it gross to grab a bag out of the garbage?” He said, “Do you think I’m that stupid? I told the guy I needed a new bag!”
Bob: Lorie had gone to the States for a business meeting for the weekend. I was with the boys myself. I woke up at about 12:15 a.m. I went and checked him out and he wasn’t there. So I laid down again and kept getting up again every couple hours. All of a sudden, at 5:45 a.m., he’s still not there. I thought maybe this was the first time he slept over at a friend’s house. I had to take one of the other boys to hockey practice and on the way, I called the shop but got no answer. He would sleep out in the shop sometimes. I kept thinking he was staying at one of his buddy’s places. I had breakfast with a friend of mine that morning before 8 o’clock, and through the morning I kept trying to call a couple of his friends and got no answer.
Finally I got through at 2 o’clock when I called his cousin. His cousin said, “Oh, Ryan should have been home.” There were five or six people at the house he was at Friday, and Ryan was one of them. That’s when I started getting scared.
In the meantime, one of my nephews drives over here and he’s concerned. That’s when I called the police and told them it was very out of character. I thought they would just fill out a missing person’s report, but he took it very seriously. Within hours they had the dogs out and police officers all over the place. It was on the news Saturday night.
Lorie: I was at a big conference, and one of the ladies called my room Saturday night. She told me Bob had been trying to get in touch with me. I looked at my friends and to
ld them, “It’s not good.” He wouldn’t call me for anything unless it was very serious. I phoned home and when I came downstairs, my one friend said, “You look like you’re going to be ill.” I kind of half-smiled and said, “Ryan’s missing.” A couple other friends gathered around and asked, what do you want to do, do you want to sit down, what can we do for you? I said, “Actually, I’d like to breathe for a minute.”
I sat and collected my thoughts, and one friend who had disappeared showed up and said, “We’re packed and ready to go.” It was a surreal ride home. We were about four hours away and I think we did it in two-point-five. The closer we got to home, the more it started to sink in.
Bob: From Saturday afternoon to Monday, we hardly slept. You doze off for a few hours here and there. I sat in the chair in the kitchen, and from that chair, I could see the door to see if anybody was coming in, I could see the road to see if anyone was coming there, and I could look at the clock. For three days, I kept looking at the clock, the door, the window.
Everyone was helping. Even people I knew didn’t have their driver’s license were driving around trying to find him.
Lorie: Two officers, Ralph Christmas and Jeff Adkin, were in charge. They sat with us, they gave us minute-by-minute updates. We had many people call offering to volunteer. The police had to treat it as a possible crime scene, so volunteers couldn’t come in. They tried to get a helicopter from Orillia, but it was grounded due to fog, so local pilots took officers up and did an air search. There were at least a couple of planes. There were numerous neighbours and their kids out looking. From young to old and everybody in between.
Bob: The police found some of his belongings by the tree by the river. They said that’s the last trace of where he’s been. Monday afternoon, they found him about 25’ from the bridge. The autopsy said he had drowned.
My brother-in-law didn’t want to be the one to tell us, so he asked a neighbour to do it, and all he said was, “It’s not good news. They found him.” And we knew.
The house was full of company – friends and family and relatives. And it was devastating. I’ll never forget that.
Lorie: The O’Briens had taken the kids for two nights and took their kids out of school to keep them company. Before the news spread, I went to tell my boys. They had some questions and some tears.
I called Const. Adkin and told him I was ready to come and see Ryan, so I got to spend some time with him before he left. That was a really good time.
Lorie: You couldn’t sit and write enough thank you cards. The first one would go to the police officers, then the professionals who did the search, the pilots who volunteered, the volunteers, the fire department.
Bob: The phone calls, the food. I’ve never seen so much food in my life.
Lorie: I’ll miss the stupid stuff. Folding laundry and making three piles.
Bob: Four people for supper, not five.
Lorie: It seems like it’s a lifetime away. I’ve told everybody there’s part of me that believes I knew this was coming. I don’t know if it’s just concern for a child normally or something more than that, but I’ve prepared for this for years because I believe the day he was born, the day of his death was pre-planned.
Bob: I wouldn’t have believed it was this bad to go through something like this. You keep blaming yourself and wonder what you did right, and your mind is racing with what went wrong.
Lorie: But if we had to change one thing, there’s nothing we could change. For a teenager, he was good.
Bob: We just feel it’s a big dream and everything’s going to go away and be back to normal.