It should have taken Melanie Ethier 10 minutes to walk home.

The 15-year-old had spent a movie night on Saturday, Sept. 28, 1996, at a friend’s home in her hometown of New Liskeard, a Northern Ontario community of about 4,400, off the Trans-Canada Highway on the shores of Lake Timiskaming.

Five teens watched a rental copy of “Sudden Death” starring Jean-Claude Van Damme.

There were no drugs or booze, and no drama, outside of the movie.

Then Melanie set off alone for home around 2 am — less than a kilometer’s walk to her home on Church Street, where she lived with her mother and five-year-old sister.

Somewhere along the way, Melanie, a Grade 11 student at École Secondaire Sainte-Marie, vanished.

“What’s unique about Melanie’s case is that we don’t have a crime scene,” Det. Sgt. Lisa Laxton of the Ontario Provincial Police said in a video published online.

Melanie wasn’t the type to run away.

Remove the opposite. The word most commonly used to describe her is “bubbly.”

“Melanie was a very bubbly person,” her mother Celine told police for a video. “She had a good spirit about her. She was always happy and she hung out with a good crowd. She was good at school. She was responsible.”

Until the night she vanished, Melanie seemed at the center of a happy world. No one had particularly creeped her out at the time she disappeared, and she loved her family and friends of her.

She had happy dreams of her future, like volunteering in Africa, where her father lived, and then teaching.

Melanie had spent much of that Saturday afternoon picking out a cake tray to buy so that she could bake for her grandmother’s upcoming birthday.

The last time her mother Celine saw her was around 10 pm that Saturday. Melanie asked if she could have friends over. Her mother de ella reminded her how messy her room was and her plans de ella shifted.

Melanie cheerfully left for a friend’s house, saying “let’s go guys.”

“She was in a good mood when she left the house,” her mother said.

Her mother woke up on Sunday morning to the sound of Melanie’s alarm and the realization that Melanie still hadn’t made it home.

Most likely, she thought, Melanie had just dozed off at the friend’s house.

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She had done that before.

But then Melanie missed a babysitting appointment on Sunday afternoon and the alarm bells went off.

It wasn’t like Melanie to miss work.

A massive search was mobilized.

There were aircraft, drones, an army of police, including scuba divers, and the OPP canine unit.

There were phone calls to Melanie’s friends from her mother and then interviews by police.

Her mother put up posters and even visited a psychic.

Some of her friends were given lie detector tests.

There was a giant billboard on the outskirts of town.

Still, there was no trace of Melanie.

At five-foot-five and 120 pounds, Melanie wasn’t likely to overpower many men, but she was reasonably athletic and could run.

Police did hear that a friend who left the movie night about 90 minutes before Melanie was frightened by a suspicious vehicle she passed on the bridge over the mouth of the Wabi River.

The friend was so troubled that she ran home.

By November 1998, it was hard not to imagine the worst. Melanie’s mother begged in a local newspaper for whoever took Melanie to “please find it in your heart to do what is right … I am pleading with you to hear my pain.”

Melanie’s mother continued in her painful public letter to say that Melanie’s five-year-old sister Jessie asks her when her big sister is coming home. How can her mother answer that?

The first Christmas without Melanie was particularly painful for Melanie’s loved ones, as she was a Christmas baby.

That Christmas would have also been her Sweet Sixteen.

Social media wasn’t a big thing when Melanie went missing.

In time, there was the establishment of a group on Facebook called “Let’s Work Together to Find Melanie Ethier.”

It has 13,200 followers, almost 26 years after she vanished. Followers discuss theories of her disappearance from her and thoughts on her life from her.

Since Melanie vanished, there have been huge improvements in police computer software.

Information in Melanie’s case was fed into programs which look for similarities between her disappearance and other cases.

Databases also contained plenty of information about the disappearance of Robert Goulet, 18, from north of New Liskeard in November 1996, shortly after Melanie vanished.

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Goulet was also known as “Robert Lafrenier.” His badly beaten body of him was found in April 1998 in a makeshift grave in a gravel pit in nearby Hilliard Township.

Gregory Crick of Brantford was found guilty in April 2000 of two counts of first-degree murder for taking the lives of Goulet and Louis Gauthier, 46.

There were also mentions of 19-year-old Tammy Lynne Lamondan Gagnon, of Newmarket, who disappeared 1999 after visiting a nightclub.

One of the last people to see Gagnon alive killed himself.

Computers also scanned for any possible links with the disappearance of Christina Calayca, 20, of Toronto, who vanished in August 2003, after going for a jog in Rainbow Falls Provincial Park east of Thunder Bay. She had been camping with a cousin and two friends from a church group.

Also fed into police computers was information about the disappearance of Pamela Holepanon, 22, from the Timmins area. She was last seen while attending a house party in December 2003.

Plenty of the suspicion in Melanie’s case lingered around Denis Léveillé, a powerfully built convicted sex offender who suffered serious brain damage through a car accident and aggravated things through drug abuse.

Léveillé, who knew Melanie through a mutual acquaintance, died in January 2016 of natural causes.

There was a report in October 2021 of new information that Melanie might have been left in the Cobalt area in northern Ontario.

That tip hasn’t panned out.

When last seen, Melanie was wearing a green Nike jacket, blue jeans, a white T-shirt and black boots.

Melanie’s mother told police she doesn’t hold out hope any more that her daughter will come home alive.

Closure would still mean a lot to Melanie’s loved ones.

“It’s like it’s never ended,” Celine Ethier said. “It’s like a very long funeral.”

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