Cover Story: Two years later, Shin Noh's family seeks answers

Sam Noh admits it took a long time to accept that his father Shin was gone.
But as the grim two-year anniversary of Shin’s disappearance approaches, Sam and his family aren’t giving up on creating a legacy in Shin’s name.
To commemorate the date, the family will hold its second-annual Walk for Shin on Saturday Sept. 19, to raise awareness for both Alzheimer’s disease and the Silver Alert program.
The Silver Alert, which is in dozens of U.S. states but not yet in Canada, uses highway messaging boards and media broadcasts to alert the public when a senior, especially one with dementia, goes missing.
“The community has been very supportive of us from the beginning,” Sam told the Tri-Cities NOW of his family’s journey.
Shin, who was in the middle stages of Alzheimer’s, went missing from his Coquitlam home on Sept. 18, 2013.
A massive, months-long search followed, but the 64 year old was never found.
In the months and years since, Sam’s grief  turned to advocacy, with him pushing for a Silver Alert program in B.C. to help track people as soon as they go missing.
He’s met with government officials and the province’s seniors advocate, but so far there’s been a reluctance to start a formal alert program, with the province choosing an educational approach to prevent wandering.
But Sam argues wandering can’t just be prevented.  
“The moment they walk out of the door, what do you do then?” he asked.
“The moment my dad went missing, we felt like we were on our own. I’m going to continue to push for this because I know this issue is going to get worse. There needs to be some sort of resolution to this, just choosing an education approach is literally turning their backs on families to deal with it on their own.”
Not wanting to wait for government, last year he along with Coquitlam Search and Rescue’s Michael Coyle developed their own Silver Alert tool.   
The tool is basically a website that aggregates the alerts already sent out by police through Facebook and Twitter.
The Silver Alert was issued 35 times last year with 34 people found, though Sam acknowledged there is no way to track whether the alerts actually helped find someone.
Still, he suggested the public has been receptive to the Silver Alert.
The program has had major support from Coquitlam-Maillardville MLA Selina Robinson, who introduced a private members bill in the legislature calling for a formal Silver Alert in 2014.
But she admits at this point the idea is dead.
Robinson argued the issue isn’t an “either or”, adding education plays an important part in keeping people from wandering.
However, she said there will always be some Alzheimer patients that end up getting lost.
Robinson believes people in the community want to help when someone does go missing, but there is no formal structure in place.   
“There’s a whole lot that we could be doing that doesn’t necessarily cost more money but it helps to mobilize communities, and people want to help but we don’t capitalize on that in anyway shape or form,” she said.
Port Moody-Coquitlam MLA Linda Reimer, who has met with the Noh family on the issue of the Silver Alert, said she sympathizes with the family, but noted some problems with the a formal alert system.
She suggested some of the concerns are that the Silver Alert would take away from the Amber alert used in for cases of missing children and some families don’t want their loved one’s faces in public.  
She noted there are other programs in place including one that has the Alzheimer Society of BC teaming up with RCMP and the Canadian MedicAlert Foundation for a program called Safely Home.
Members of the program receive an engraved identification, which allows police and emergency responders to quickly identify the person who has wandered and get them back to the their family.
“We’ll continue to keep our eyes and ears open [for new programs], right now we’re moving toward increasing the education of people and making sure that our seniors are safe where they are at,” Reimer said.
The society told the Tri-Cities NOW some of its social science researchers are starting to do research into the way that social media is being used more frequently to disperse information when people go wandering now, and how this is producing a positive impact on people’s understanding of this aspect of dementia.
There are no quantifiable numbers yet in the research.
“No one thing can prevent a person from wandering,” said Rebecca Morris, the provincial coordinator, for advocacy and education with the Alzheimer Society, in a statement.
“The Alzheimer Society of B.C. can help people plan to reduce the risk that someone with dementia goes missing and to preparing for a situation where someone goes missing.”
She added the society is working with municipalities, professionals and the general public to create communities that are safer and more inclusive for people with dementia, including helping people recognize that someone may be disoriented and in need of assistance.
With or without a legacy, Sam noted the family continues to struggle with their father’s disappearance.
He said there are good days where the family can enjoy moments in life, but without a proper burial, there is no closure.   
“It’s ongoing, there’s no end to it,” Sam said.
“Life moves forward, but I don’t think we’ve really moved on.”
The Walk for Shin begins at 9 a.m. Sept. 19, with refreshments and announcements, while the walk starts at 10 a.m. at Eagle Ridge United Church, 2813 Glen Dr. in Coquitlam.
The walk is one hour long and follows the route Shin took when he left home.
To learn more about this walk go to

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