B.C. Amber Alert: Hard to stay hidden in rural areas, says geographic profiler

Criminologist says those trying to evade detection are more likely to remain in cities because it’s harder to stay hidden in remote areas

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People trying to evade detection usually hide out in crowded cities than trying to hide in remote areas, and it’s just a matter of time before a mother on the run with her two children are found, says a criminologist with expertise in geographic profiling.

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Police have said they believe the abduction of Aurora and Joshuah Bolton by their mother, Verity Bolton, was well-planned and that along with her boyfriend, Abraxas Glazov, and her father, Robert Bolton, 74, they are living in a trailer somewhere off the grid.

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Aurora, 8, and Joshuah, 10, weren’t returned to their father, their custodial parent, in Surrey as planned on July 17. Two days later police issued an Amber Alert, which remains in effect.

Surrey RCMP Sgt. Tammy Lobb said it appears the three adults and two children “have moved off the grid with the children and are believed to be living in trailers somewhere in a rural area.”

“The public is going to play a major role in locating Aurora and Joshuah,” she said. “We need the public to be alive to the information and photos we have shared and to be our eyes and ears and continue to call us with any tips and possible sightings.”

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Criminology professor Kim Rossmo at Texas State University, a geographical profiler formerly with the Vancouver Police Department, said the group won’t be able to stay hidden forever, especially with two children and an elderly man with health problems. 

“To keep constantly moving in the wilderness will be quite challenging,” he said. “They’re going to need gas, food and to follow roads. That way, I don’t think they’re completely off the grid.”

Trying to stay hidden in a remote area is “quite unusual because it is much more likely for people to stay in large cities” when they’re trying to evade detection, said Rossmo. “With two children and an elderly person, it’s a lot more complicated than it seems.

“It’s hard for people these days to disappear,” he said. “All it takes is for one person to see them and the game is up. You have to be constantly hidden.”

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He said it’s rare for people to disappear for decades.

“Eventually they will be caught.”

But the police’s request for help from the public shows what a difficult task officers face in finding them alone, he said.

“The key thing is the emphasis on the role of the public in finding them because there is only a handful of RCMP officers” in rural areas, said Rossmo.

Denis Gagnon, a former police officer who runs a private investigation firm called BCSI Investigations, said police would first check to see if they could find the mother by pinging her cellphone, by checking to see if she uses credit or debit cards, or by looking at intersection cameras or other CCTV or dashcam footage.

But if they’re in a remote area without cell reception or purposefully avoiding electronic devices, police would have to employ drones to scan potential areas or do aerial flypasts, possibly with heat-seeking detectors, he said.

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And Kash Heed, a retired police chief and ex-B.C. solicitor general, said once the group is located, police will have to approach them with caution because there are two young children involved and there is the possibility of the abductors possessing firearms.

Though the kids were allowed to go on a camping trip in the Kelowna area with their mother, that campground booking was cancelled, Mounties said.

There have since been confirmed sightings in Kelowna, Merritt and Kamloops. Only Verity was seen in the latest sighting, in a Kamloops’ grocery store, on July 15.

They’re travelling in a dark blue Dodge Ram 2500 pickup and the July 15 sighting shows the vehicle towing a trailer.

Lobb said more than 180 tips have come in since the start of the investigation, but the only time the children were seen was at a Merritt gas station on July 7.

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