“At what point do they declare her missing?” asks her exhausted father, Ross Pepin. “We have no idea where she is, or even if she’s safe.”
Chelsea’s 20-year-old sister fears the worst after an unsettling conversation a few days before the teen disappeared.
“She told me she had been hanging out and drinking with this guy in his 20s,” Desiree says. “She wouldn’t say much about him, other than he was hanging around with a bunch of kids her age.”
When Desiree pressed her for a name or description of the man, Chelsea clammed up. It was the last time they spoke to each other.
That sliver of information became even more disturbing for Chelsea’s dad after he heard rumours that she had been hanging around with other young teens at West Edmonton Mall.
“We know Nina Courtepatte’s family,” he says, referring to the 13-year-old who was lured from the mall in 2005, taken to a golf course outside the city and then savagely beaten, raped and murdered.
In that case, the accused ringleader was a 20-year-old who hung around with teenagers. Joseph Laboucan, now 23, was convicted of murder but granted a new trial in the case after successfully appealing.
“Anything could have happened in the last two-and-a-half weeks,” Pepin says, choking back emotion.
“But we’re on our own here. Chelsea’s case seems to be one that just falls through the cracks.”
The problem is that it’s not the first time she has disappeared. Since she started at a new school, Kenilworth, in September, her parents have watched her spiral downward from an attentive, studious and fun-loving girl to a defiant, secretive, class-cutting hellion.
The first time, Chelsea disappeared for a couple days but returned home. Last month she went AWOL again, but her parents found her at a house party.
The last time they saw Chelsea was the morning of Monday, Feb. 1, before they left home for work.
“We’ve tried to do everything right,” Pepin says. “We’ve tried to teach our kids responsibility and hard work, but this still happens. She started hanging around with a new group of friends and everything went downhill from there. She started going to parties and drinking.”
Desiree says she and Chelsea were close until last fall.
“As soon as she started at Kenilworth, she became this different person,” Desiree says. “When she went missing, I contacted all her old friends (from her previous school), and they said she had cut them out.”
Every year, about 8,000 people are reported missing to city police. Under a new system introduced in 2008, people taking the calls are trained to sort them into three categories.
In the highest-risk cases, such as child abductions or elderly people with health problems, regular patrol officers begin an immediate search.
Other people deemed legitimately missing and at risk, but not in imminent danger, are sent to the missing persons unit.
But the vast majority, according acting Sgt. Jim Gurney, are ruled not missing.
“And by that we mean, are they out acting of their own free will and it can be shown that they’re making their own decisions, no matter how bad they may be?” he says.
Police will always look for kids under the age of 13, even if they run away on their own, he said.
“With teenagers, it’s based a little more on the individual. If someone has a history of taking off or going missing, then, honestly, it will downplay the risk a little bit.”
Gurney acknowledged that can be frustrating for parents of teens who’ve taken off.
“It doesn’t make anything easier for them, but if circumstances change or new information comes to light, they can always call us again and (the teen) can be listed as missing.”