A Teenage Boy Goes Missing in Montreal
Feng Tian had only been living in Montreal a few months before his abrupt disappearance on Oct 17 in Notre-Dame-des-Grâce.
by Miriam Lafontaine
Sujing Nie still goes out searching for her son everyday ever since his disappearance nearly a month ago.
But the mother of Feng Tian is starting to fear the worst the more time passes without hearing any leads from police. The 17-year-old isn’t fluent in English or French, and had only been living in Montreal as of July when he moved to Notre-Dame-des-Grâce from Zhengzhou, in central China.
“Everyday I go out and I search for my son,” said Nie, who shared her story in Mandarin at a candle lit gathering Monday in the west Montreal neighbourhood.
“I take the same route that he would take to walk to Chinatown with posters in my hands,” she told reporters with the help of an interpreter. “But at this point because there is no news. I am very worried.”
The last he was seen was on Oct. 17 near the corner of Sherbrooke Street and Cavendish Boulevard. It was a day like any other, his cousin Yuan Tian said. He got up to attend his English classes at YMCA in downtown Montreal before visiting him at his home in NDG. He then went back to his family home a few streets south, texting his mother around 9:30 p.m. to let her know he had left her some hot milk to drink and would be heading to bed soon.
That’s when he left for an evening walk in the Upper Lachine area, not something that was too unusual for him, his cousin said. It was only by the next afternoon when his mother hadn’t heard from him that the cousin gathered a dozen family and friends to start searching the streets for him. His room was empty but his backpack was still there.
Surveillance footage from a home address a few doors down from the family home show him walking off that night at around 9:40 p.m. Footage from another surveillance camera along the St. Jacques overpass near the MUHC hospital also seems to show someone who looks like him later the same evening, but the family says police haven’t shared any more news since then.
His last text message came in around 10:30 p.m. the night of Oct. 17, a quick thumbs up in a group chat his cousin Yuan Tian is also in. Since then police have told the family the trace of his cellphone can’t be located, he said.
Groups of family and friends have stayed up to 2 a.m. some nights looking for him, asking people at parks or metros whether they recognize him. But it’s difficult to keep up the pace of the search while also having to juggle their studies, his cousin said.
Tricia Bartley organized the gathering Monday and has been in touch with the family ever since she spotted the first poster about his disappearance. It was then that she learned Tian’s mother and his 10-year-old brother were all new to Montreal.
“I just shot them a text message saying 'Hey, I live in the community, what can I do to help?' And they invited me to the home immediately.”
She’s among a group of neighbours who have been getting posters up, getting in touch with Chinese Montrealers to have many published in Mandarin as well. As a mother it hit close to home for her. She has three children herself and raised them by the very corner on Upper Lachine Road where the gathering was held Monday night.
“Pain is a universal language, especially for mothers,” she said. “I still can't say this without getting emotional, but I felt her pain as I held her. And if this was my kid, I'd want my community to be there to show up and to help.”
Tian hadn’t yet graduated from high school in China and had been taking English lessons at the YMCA language school in the hope of earning a diploma in Montreal. His cousin said he was hoping to land a career that would allow him to do some good in society, possibly as a firefighter or police officer.
“I showed him Mont-Royal, the Old Port. Taught him how to take the metro and bus,” said Yuan Tian, who studies computer engineering at Concordia University. He was excited to show him around, bringing him for a trip around île-Perot in mid August.
“I’m always hopeful for my son’s safe return. I do not want to think negatively, I’m choosing to think positively,” the boy’s mother said.
But the reality is that it has been so long without no news, and she says she’s afraid she won’t find any more leads about what could have happened to him.
Tian is 5’11'' and weighs about 150 pounds. He has black hair and was last seen wearing a black sweater and black denim coat, with black and white sneakers, at the time of his disappearance.
To date police officers have patrolled the wooded areas at the limits of NDG near Saint-Jacques as well as the areas surrounding the Turcot interchange and the railway tracks that run west through the borough. Internal communication suggests police have no reason to believe he was kidnapped.
Montreal police are expected to share another update about the boy’s disappearance sometime this week.
I cannot imagine how trying this must be for his mother.