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Thu, August 17, 2006
'There might not be a resolution'

Search continues for missing 20-year-old

By AJAY BHARDWAJ, Staff Writer

Edmonton Regional Search and Rescue volunteer, Sithara Sernando (left) holds a photo of 20-year-old Robert Barrington Leigh as she and other volunteers prepare near Mill Creek Pool Thursday afternoon to search for Leigh who has been missing since Sunday. (RYAN JACKSON, Special to the SUN)

As a small army of police, search-and-rescue and civilian searchers scour the river valley and surrounding neighbourhoods in search of his missing son, John Barrington Leigh remains remarkably calm.

As the search enters its fifth — and possibly final — day, the retired physicist is at the centre of the storm of activity, answering phone call after phone call, question after question. He doesn’t lose his cool.

“I’ve been through this before,” says Barrington Leigh.

In 1989 a family member, travelling in Athens, Greece, was attacked by three men armed with stones.

She suffered a brain injury and Barrington Leigh was forced to track down information about her and put together a plan to fetch her home. She recovered fully.

“You go into a different mode,” said Barrington Leigh, who didn’t want to go into much detail about the 17-year-old incident.

“The best position is to be the point person. I was the least hit by that (incident). I was on point duty, so you’re busy with it.”

This time Barrington Leigh is forced to deal with the baffling disappearance of Robert.

The University of Toronto math scholar, who was home for a summer visit, hopped on his Raleigh mountain bike Sunday night around 10:30 p.m. to meet friends at the Folk Festival. He hasn’t been seen since and the only communication with him was a text message he sent to his girlfriend in Italy.

His credit card and bank account haven’t been touched and there’s been no activity from his cell phone, police said.

From the beginning, Barrington Leigh has maintained his son met with foul play, saying the young man lived life on the straight and narrow.

“It’s completely and utterly weird,” he said.

But as police took over and intensified the search for Robert Thursday, another possibility occurred to him - that his son may never be found.

“I’m beginning to get anxious there might not be a resolution,” he said. “I’m becoming more of that as a possibility.”

Police set up a command post in the Mill Creek area, blocks from the Barrington Leigh home. The police helicopter and jetboat were brought out to help the search.

Four dogs and their handlers from the Search and Rescue Dog Association also joined in. And city cops began going door-to-door with flyers about Robert.

“The public has been anxious to help,” said police spokesman Lisa Lammi. She added cops deal with 7,000 missing persons cases a year.

Police will continue the search Friday but if they find nothing, they’ll call it off.

However, it will remain an active investigation, Lammi said.

Persistent volunteer searchers -- friends, family and others just interested in helping -- are starting to get frustrated by the lack of progress, Barrington Leigh admitted.

“Tempers are getting shorter and it may even include me,” he said.

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