When Myles Alexander Etheridge-Letto went missing at Wapiti River in Grand Prairie, Alberta on July 6 after spending his father’s birthday at the beach with his mother and friends, the worst news the family could face came six days later when his body was eventually found. While at a common spot along the river for swimming in the area, it is speculated that the two-year-old might have stepped off an unknown edge in the riverbank and was quickly swept away by a strong current.
“One minute he was there and the next minute he was gone,” lamented his grandmother, Lana Pierlot. “Alicia (Myles mother) had just taken a picture and put her phone down to talk to another girl in the water. She turned around and he was gone.”
It is common for many rivers to be unpredictable and hazardous with undercurrents - even a challenge for the best of swimmers. “You never know, you could walk four feet and then it could drop down to 10 feet, you just don’t know,” added Pierlot.“Any parent can relate. You take your eyes off your child for a few seconds and they end up choking on something - things happen. People have lost their kids in stores and have to find them. No one is to blame.”
Police protocol when a child goes missing is to search both land and water. “The first few days, you’re still hoping that’s he’s somewhere and has wandered into the trees - still hoping for good news. I think everyone feared what the outcome was going to be,” said Pierlot.
With his mother Alicia Etheridge-Letto staying at the beach for six straight days where Myles went missing, the news hit hard that her son was found by Peace River on July 12 by a bridge worker. His small lifeless body was sadly recovered with the help of a boater. Before the news, Alicia would stay in her truck, and only leave for short breaks to take a shower at home. She would have very little sleep, staying up half the night and refusing to leave until he was found.
“But I’m grateful they found him because I don’t think my daughter would have ever left the river till he was found,” said Pierlot.
As with close communities at times like this, many rallied to help out in many ways from providing food to being available to search. Meals were prepared for family and volunteers from breakfast through to BBQs in the evening. But three days after his disappearance, the ground search was halted and the focus moved to searching the water. Still the beach would remain full of people showing support and lending a hand. The generosity was so great, donations of food and other items were also made available to nearby shelters.
The community of Grande Prairie also had a bottle drive and gathered anything they could donate to help the family deal with the grief. Pierlot added it also provided an opportunity to help others at the same time. “They were very overwhelmed with what people had given them. So you might as well pass it on to somebody else if you can.”
The Carlyle connection came about just four days after the reported death of Myles. Leanne Dresser grew up in Carlyle with Pierlot, and their husbands also had worked together. They also shared a tragic bond with Pierlot having previously lost her first child in a quad accident and Dresser having lost a son in a car accident. “We have a bond now, a bond I wouldn’t wish upon anybody,” explained Pierlot. She added the two remain close sharing time on Facebook.
Dresser organized a hot dog fundraiser to help out Alicia and Mark, and a total of $1445 was sent along with many thoughts and prayers from the community. Pierlot had married and had both her children in Carlyle before Alicia moved to Alberta. Also both her parents had lived in the community before they passed away. “I’m so grateful to Carlyle for stepping up and having a BBQ. It means a lot when a community does a fundraiser for you. It is just heart warming,” said Pierlot. “It’s home to me. My daughter and her husband, I know, are thankful for what everybody’s done.”
Alicia and Mark have two other children with eight-year-old brother Marshall and five-year-old sister Amelia. The grandmother knows that it will be a tough road ahead for them. “With the support of friends and family, they’ll get through this. Amelia is having the hardest time. At five, they don’t realize what’s going on.” It was at the Celebration of Life on July 20 where this especially hit the hardest. “There was a video, and she said to her mom “Turn it off. Turn it off”. She didn’t want to watch it anymore.”
While the family starts to piece their lives together, Pierlot added that the family has also become victims to cyber-bullying. “Police had warned them from the start that they may get unwanted or harmful messages. But they decided early on to stay out of it, and not engage in any interactions. The hardest part was leaving my daughter, but people have to go back to work. It still feels like a dream but it’s reality and were all on the road to heal now.”