The public may never fully understand why a Lethbridge man wanted to disappear. After searching for 25-year-old Matthew Robillard for almost two days, police now say the young father was no crime victim. Instead, investigators allege, Robillard deliberately tried to make it look like he'd gone missing under suspicious circumstances - a hoax punishable by potential public mischief charges, although police haven't revealed any reason for Robillard's alleged deception. Police are still investigating and they hadn't laid any criminal charges against Robillard as of Tuesday afternoon, nor would they say specifically how they tracked him down.
After he left his West Lethbridge home early on the morning of Jan. 31, leaving behind his wife and six-month-old son, Robillard's car was found abandoned in northeast Calgary. Police found the Honda Civic still running with the passenger window smashed and his wallet, cellphone and a pack of cigarettes still inside - a strange detail, since as far as his family knew, he didn't smoke. Robillard didn't show up for work at a Picture Butte bank that day. Before Calgary police found him alive, reportedly beaten, in a northeast hotel around 3:20 a.m. Feb. 2, dozens of his friends and church group members enlisted help from private planes and a helicopter. Together, they combed nearly 1,500 square kilometres between Lethbridge and Calgary, fearing the worst.
As soon as they heard their friend Matthew was missing, Jess Cahoon and his wife Cheryl drove through the night from Red Deer to join a hastily organized search party.
"And we would do it again knowing the outcome. We stick by them 100 per cent. We love that family and we just hope the best for them," Jess Cahoon said. "I don't know a single person that was involved in the search that wouldn't do it again. Even knowing how it ended, we'd still have gone out and spent all day looking for him."
The couple, who's been close friends with Matthew and his wife Angelina Robillard for about seven years, teamed up with more than 65 others who headed west to look for their friend between Lethbridge and Claresholm, as well as north to Picture Butte. Other groups searched in Claresholm and in Calgary. They looked in ditches. They urged landowners to check their sheds, their garages, their crop fields, in case Robillard's lifeless body had been dumped somewhere out of sight. They were afraid they wouldn't find him alive. Now that he has been found safe and is the subject of a criminal investigation, Robillard's close friends haven't ditched him -even though many of them are still in the dark about the reason behind his disappearance.
"Honestly, yeah, I'm a little curious, but it's not really any of my business. And when it comes down to it, I'd rather know that Matt's home, he's safe, and he is able to get on with his life with his family than know exactly the details of what happened. For me personally, no, I don't need to know the answer," said Cahoon, who said Robillard and his family are good people.
"He's one of the best people I know and he would've been up here in an instant had it been me that had gone missing, out doing the search," he said, adding that he hasn't spoken to Matthew or Angelina since the search ended.
"Angelina's with him. He's with his family and they've been together ever since he was found. I've heard that they're doing all right under the circumstances. I mean, it's a little hard being in the spotlight after something like that, but they're doing as well as can be expected, I think."
Robillard's relatives genuinely believed he was missing and weren't in on the hoax, Lethbridge police said.
"We can certainly empathize with these people. They didn't know. They went about something with all the best of intentions and at this point in time Mr. Robillard has to answer to his own actions within those family dynamics and all those friends, family and associates that (were) involved in that search," Staff Sgt. Ian Sanderson said at a news conference Tuesday.
Lethbridge and Calgary police services devoted about 12 officers to the missing person investigation, which ran concurrently with a homicide investigation and an arson investigation in Lethbridge and used up a "huge amount" of money, resources and overtime hours, Sanderson said.
"It would be difficult to put a price tag on it," he said.
"There's only so (much) manpower to go around and we were stretched beyond our ability."
Those found guilty of public mischief face penalties ranging from a fine to a maximum of five years in jail.
Police are still working with the Crown prosecutor's office to decide whether to lay charges in this case, Sanderson said.
"This is certainly not a common occurrence by any stretch of the imagination. We're putting up all resources that we can so we can reach the most appropriate decision."
This is not the first time a Lethbridge resident has allegedly faked a suspicious disappearance.
In 2004, former Lethbridge alderman Dar Heatherington was convicted of public mischief for lying to police about being stalked, kidnapped and sexually assaulted. After police accused her of writing letters to herself and passing them off as a stalker's, she disappeared and was found in Las Vegas three days later.
And in 2008, 24-year-old Lethbridge resident Marcus Ma was found alive and well in B.C., eight months after his wife and parents had reported him missing and six months after his car was found in the Lethbridge Centre Mall parkade with his personal identification inside. No criminal charges were laid in that case.