Three years after vanishing, where is Emma Fillipoff?

Today marks the third anniversary of the disappearance of Emma Fillipoff.

On the day she disappeared in 2012, her worried mother, Shelley, was flying to Victoria to see her.

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Despite an extensive investigation involving hundreds of tips from across Canada, there have been no confirmed sightings of Emma and Victoria police have been unsuccessful in determining what may have happened to her.

Her disappearance continues to be actively investigated, Victoria police said in a statement.

Shelley recently rented a billboard for $1,000 a month on the Patricia Bay highway, where 26,000 vehicles pass each day.

It has photos of Emma, with this text: “FindEmma.ca. Missing from Victoria, B.C. since Nov. 2012. $25,000 reward.”

She hired Vancouver private investigator Jasper Smith about six months ago and he tracked down a couple of people who knew Emma but had not been interviewed by police. Unfortunately, the interviews did not lead to anything significant, Shelley said.

She’s not expecting to ever get over Emma’s disappearance.

“It’s hard to believe, but I think I’m still in many ways in as much shock as when it happened,” she said.

“I still wake up in the middle of the night and think, ‘This can’t be happening.’ ”

Emma, 26 at the time, was last seen on the evening of Nov. 28, 2012, talking to two police officers in a police vehicle who responded to a 911 call made by an acquaintance of Emma.

He was concerned at seeing her barefoot and behaving in an unusual fashion in front of the Empress Hotel.

The officers spoke to her for about 45 minutes and after they concluded she did not require further assistance, she was allowed to continue on her way about 8 p.m.

Three hours later, after landing at Victoria International Airport and hurrying into a taxi, Shelley arrived at Sandy Merriman House, an emergency shelter for women an risk where Emma had been staying.

Emma had called Shelley on Nov. 23, saying she wanted to return to Ottawa, but changed her mind about having her mother collect her. From their conversation, Shelley felt something wasn’t right. On the morning of Nov. 28, she promised her daughter she would not come to Victoria, but then got on a plane.

Emma had left Merriman five hours before Shelley arrived. By midnight, police officers had arrived and classified Emma as a missing person.

Based on what she eventually learned from Merriman staff, Shelley said that Emma “required both physical and medical intervention.”

Her daughter did not have a history of substance abuse, and she wonders what kind of state Emma was in for police to speak to her for 45 minutes. Though she has been repeatedly assured the officers knew their jobs, she said, “I just do not believe they are qualified to make that call” as to whether Emma needed medical assistance.

Investigators read through Emma’s journal to try to determine where she might have gone or whether she was contemplating suicide. The waters near the Inner Harbour and Ogden Point were searched by divers.

“Investigators suspect Emma may have made her way to the West Shore area after speaking with officers,” a police statement says.

That assumption is based on a pre-paid credit card — purchased by Emma — used on Dec. 5 in a Colwood store, said police spokesman Matthew Rutherford.

Police obtained the store’s surveillance video and interviewed a man who said he found the credit card on the road near Juan de Fuca Recreation Centre.

But Shelley said that the man has telephoned her three times and told her that as a recovering alcoholic, his memory is sketchy and he can’t be sure how he got the card, saying it could have have been in Victoria.

The 911 caller told Shelley that Emma appeared to be shuffling her feet outside the Empress, when she was normally a very fast walker. But that doesn’t rule out her making her way to a bus stop and ending up in the West Shore, Shelley acknowledges.

But all of Emma’s possessions, including her laptop, passport and library books, were left inside her 20-year-old Mazda.

Shelley was disturbed by misleading information about Emma’s disappearance that was on the police website for an extended period. For weeks, media reports said Emma was last seen in the 800-block of Burdett Avenue by friends — not speaking at length to police in front of the Empress.

That “could very well have had a bearing, absolutely,” on how possible witnesses treated the disappearance, Shelley said.

She fears people might have assumed that Emma was “a party girl” who was sleeping at a friend’s house, not a serious missing persons case with police alerted by a 911 call.

The misinformation was described by a detective as “a typo,” Shelley said, and repeated requests that the incorrect information be removed went unheeded.

Rutherford, the police spokesman, said he believes the information is no longer on the VicPD website.

Shelley walked the streets of Victoria for several days following Emma’s disappearance expecting to encounter her daughter, having been alerted to her favourite places.

But there was no sign of her.

“I have no information that she’s alive, but no information that she isn’t,” she said in a sombre interview from her home in Ottawa.

But if she is alive, Shelley said she feels sick “wondering what’s happened to her, where she is sleeping and where she is waking up.”

Police are seeking the public’s assistance in solving the mystery. Anyone with information is asked to call 250-995-7654 or anonymously through Crime Stoppers at 1-800-222-TIPS (8477).

kdedyna@timescolonist.com

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