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'It tortures me:' Parksville mother gives up search for missing daughter

For the past seven years, Barbara Gilmour has done everything she can to find her daughter Carmel, who disappeared in November 2017

Barbara Gilmour has decided to lay her missing daughter to rest so she might get some rest, too.

For the past seven years, the Parksville mother has done everything she can to find her daughter Carmel, who disappeared in November 2017.

Gilmour is under no illusion she will find her daughter alive. Carmel, 36, was a mother of two, and also an addict who hung around with dangerous people living in a homeless encampment near Parksville.

Gilmour believes Carmel was murdered or died of a drug overdose that someone covered up.

“I will not torture myself with 20 years of searching,” she said. “I don’t believe it’s a missing person’s case. At this point, I think it’s going to be DNA.”

Though she speaks matter-of-factly, losing her daughter has been devastating for Gilmour. She said she has often been approached by townspeople who tell her of their dreams and visions of Carmel.

“It’s agony. There are times I want to move out of this town because it tortures me,” she said.

Laying Carmel to rest will involve some kind of ceremony, said her mother.

“She deserves that. She was a good person and was loved by a lot of people.”

Gilmour understands the instability and addiction that rocked her daughter’s life.

When Carmel was born in Cranbrook in 1981, Gilmour was a single mother struggling with alcohol and drug addiction in the East Kootenay.

When Carmel was two, Gilmour gave her up for adoption and moved back to Parksville, where her family has lived for five generations. Carmel was returned to her at age four, but both she and her older brother ended up in ministry care while Gilmour got the help she needed.

Carmel was an angry, feisty child but also talented and bright, her mother said. She was nominated for the gifted program in Grade 3 in Vic West.

The family, which now included daughter Sarah, moved to Salt Spring when Carmel was a teenager. She started doing drugs, staying with friends and not going to school.

“She put her hands on her hips when she was 14 and said: ‘I’m tired of being the good girl. I’m going out to be the bad girl,’ ” Gilmour recalled. “She spent many years struggling with drugs and alcohol — half her life.”

Carmel would get better, for a while. It usually hinged on who she was dating, said her mother. At one point, she was in recovery, doing well and enrolled in school. She really enjoyed her work as a landscaper, but slipped back into drugs about five years before she went missing.

Carmel gave birth to a son in 2001 and a daughter in 2010. Despite her addiction, she kept trying to find some stability. Her children were in ministry care and she was trying to get her life back, trying to get her kids back, said Gilmour. She was always in contact with her family.

“But things really tanked when her boyfriend introduced her to people who took her down a really bad path … a thugging lifestyle in the last two months before she went missing.”

Carmel’s mental health was deteriorating, probably because of crystal meth, her mother said. She became violent. She was using and abusing people and stealing from them, said her mother.

When her boyfriend’s mother asked the couple to move out, Carmel ended up living in her van in Little Mountain Park near Parksville. Gilmour admits she was becoming afraid of her own daughter.

“I tried to keep the door open for her, but the mental illness was really showing itself. She was paranoid and thought people were after her.”

Carmel told her ex-husband she’d been coerced into being a driver for one of the “bosses” in a nearby homeless camp. The boss was prohibited from driving and had a curfew. Some of the runs they were doing were for supplies. Some involved drug trafficking, the ex-husband told Gilmour.

The last time she saw her daughter, Gilmour didn’t even recognize her. Carmel had cut off her long brown hair and dyed it black. She wore a hoodie over her face.

Carmel was reported missing on Nov. 15, 2017. The last confirmed sighting of her was between 10 p.m. and 11 p.m. on Nov. 14 on Little Mountain.

Earlier that evening, she was at the Liquor Depot in the 1000-block of the Alberni Highway. Staff described her as confused and paranoid, said Oceanside RCMP Staff Sgt. Shane Worth. Carmel was alone and driving her 2002 Chevrolet Ventura.

The van was found on Nov. 21 in a public parking lot on the waterfront in Qualicum Beach. It had been seen on Nov. 15 and was reported as suspicious when it had not moved in six days, said Worth.

Police searched the van and found no sign of any struggle or violence, said Worth. Police did not find her keys, cellphone, purse or wallet.

Investigators do not believe her boyfriend is responsible for her disappearance, said Worth.

“Numerous interviews have been conducted and no information regarding what happened to Carmel Gilmour or where she may be has been uncovered,” he said.

Searching for Carmel has led Gilmour into the world of addiction, homelessness, missing women and crime on the mid-Island.

She learned that the parking lot where Carmel’s van was located is a common launching spot for homeless people to transport goods into the bush. Close to 300 people are living in the bush in the area.

She learned Carmel was involved with the people who were murdered three years later on Oct. 31, 2020 at a homeless encampment in a gravel pit at Whiskey Creek, said Gilmour.

“I know she knew them. I know she was providing transportation for them.”

On Nov. 1, 2020 a dirt bike rider came across the body of a man lying on the side of Melrose Forest Road in rural Quamican. When investigators arrived and went deeper into the encampment, they found the bodies of Shawn McGrath, a 52-year-old with an extensive criminal history, and his girlfriend, Shandra Wilson, in a nearby burned-out travel trailer.

A man with gunshot wounds was found in critical condition in a second trailer. The man, whose name has not been released, was airlifted to hospital and survived.

Gilmour said Carmel knew McGrath and she wonders if he had something to do with her disappearance.

The homicides are being investigated by the Vancouver Island Integrated Major Crime Unit but there is no update, said RCMP Cpl. Alex Bérubé.

At the time of the homicides, Oceanside RCMP said in a news release that investigators believed the crime was “an isolated incident between parties well known to one another” and that there was no ongoing risk to the public.

Leanne Salter, director of electoral area F in the Regional District of Nanaimo, said she can’t imagine the pain the Gilmour family has gone through.

“If Carmel had got the help she required, she wouldn’t have been in that situation,” said the former drug and alcohol counsellor with the Ministry of Social Development.

Carmel’s disappearance is part of the bigger picture of people struggling with addiction who are not getting the care they need, she said.

“The interventions they are getting are from people who are volunteering,” said Salter. “There are a lot of groups that are helping, but there’s only so much they can offer because they don’t have the resources behind them.”

People land in Parksville and move out to the forested areas near Errington, Coombs and Whiskey Creek because it’s very close to Parksville and also borders Qualicum, said Salter.

The situation hasn’t improved since the murders at Whiskey Creek, which she believes were drug-related. “In fact, it’s worse,” she said. “These encampments are not safe. There are folks in there who are using heavily. They’re drinking and on top of that, they could already have a mental-health issue.”

Rumours have swirled for years about Carmel’s disappearance, said Gilmour.

Now 69, she takes comfort in her children and grandchildren, but Carmel is never far from her mind.

“Someone knows something. We don’t have a body, so somebody did something,” she said.

“It’s weird knowing but not knowing. Maybe it’s not closure, but a finality of sorts.”

ldickson@timescolonist.com

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