Port Alberni RCMP investigators are still trying to reach a Port Alberni man who was reported missing along with his son on July 5.
“Investigators are aware that there are claims on social media advising that the individuals we are searching for are okay, but out of the country,” RCMP stated in a release issued late Friday.
“Our efforts right now are to conclusively confirm that information on social media is accurate. In order to conclude a missing person’s investigation we do need to speak directly with the individual and ensure all is well.”
It was family members of Jan Stelmaszyk and his three-year-old son, Matt Bartnik, who reported the pair missing to Port Alberni police after not hearing from them for four days.
The 35-year-old father and his son were believed to be camping somewhere on Vancouver Island, police said Thursday, and had been keeping loved ones updated about the trip through posts on Instagram.
However, in a post to his account on Friday, the location was listed as Arco, Italy, and the photo he shared had his son and another child in a double stroller with a pair of pizza boxes on their laps.
“OMG!!! I just woke up to realize me and my son are ‘missing.’ That ‘some family members’ are ‘concerned’ about where we are and that I haven’t posted anything on social media for a couple of days,” Stelmaszyk wrote in a post accompanying the photo with his son sitting next to an unidentified child.
Stelmaszyk called the missing persons report “#fakenews.” Two additional posts labeled as Arco, Italy were put up on his Instagram account Friday afternoon. An Instagram user can geotag any location whether they are actually there or not.
One woman in Port Alberni is disputing the fact that Stelmaszyk and his son are in Italy. Sarah Zigay said her child played with Matt Bartnik at Gyro Recreation Park in Port Alberni for more than an hour the morning of Wednesday, July 4.
The children played together in the park for more than an hour, while the father sat on a park bench alternating between checking his cellphone and playing with his son. Zigay thought nothing of it — until she woke up Thursday morning and saw news of a missing Port Alberni man and his son who matched the descriptions of the same people she had interacted with at the park that day.
“When I saw the next morning on the Alberni Valley News, I thought, what’s up here? Everyone’s concerned, the family is looking for them,” Zigay said. “I phoned the local RCMP right away. I told them I was at Gyro Wednesday morning just before 10… you can’t miss the guy, he’s six-foot-two, tall and skinny with a thick accent. (His son) was playing with my two-and-a-half-year-old.”
Apparently just learning of the situation Friday morning, Stelmaszyk took to social media to claim he and his son were safe and were not “missing”.
Zigay said while she understands and respects a person’s desire to unplug from social media, with so many people — including police — looking for a man and child, it’s no joke.
“I don’t think that’s funny,” she said. “Coming from a mom with a little one… it makes me worry about my baby, that’s why I had to speak up,” she said, choking up. “It’s a mom worrying about a baby. That’s not OK.”
The Alberni Valley News has reached out to Stelmaszyk for comment but he has yet to respond.