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David Fortin: Hopes Not Out

Just before 8 am on 10 February 2009, David Fortin asked his mum for a ride to his high school. She couldn’t, so he rather put on his red winter jacket and walks to his bus stop. When the bus reached 7:55, he wasn’t there. He was never noticed again.

Alma is a town (2011 population: 30,000) in Quebec, Canada, near Lac-Saint-Jean (St. John Lake). It sits on the Saguenay River which attaches Lac-Saint-Jean to the St. Lawrence River, the main waterway that connects the Great Lakes to the Atlantic Ocean. There are a few big highways in the area which attach to bigger cities, although cities like Montreal are still fairly far away. Map.

David In Morning

Earlier that morning, before dawn, David had climbed into his mum’s bed like when he was a small kid, and said, “Hug me, Mom, warm me up”. At breakfast, he barely touched his food, which was unique since he was usually hungry. It was -25C (-13F) that morning, -29C (-20F) with the wind chill.

David faced brutal bullying at school, detailed below. His parents, Caroline Lachance and Eric Fortin have never quit looking for him and are convinced that he ran away to avoid the bullying from his classmates. David didn’t speak much and didn’t mention to his family how things were going at school, although they understood he had been bullied since grade school. The night before he vanished, he said that he had received a threat that he’d be hurt at school (also detailed below). His mum said that the bullying varied from verbal harassment to physical attack. The school had even appointed a security guard to keep an eye on David every day.

Many people reported David heading southwest, through the towns ‘Metabetchouan’ and ‘Lac-Bouchette’, probably heading towards the more rural area of Mackinac, north of Trois-Rivieres, a bigger city on the St. Lawrence River, 1.5 hrs’ drive from Montreal. That is to say, if one expected to go from Alma to Trois-Rivieres, both Metabetchouan and Lac-Bouchette lie on main highways which one would take for that trip. It’s simple to see the path on this map. It’s unthinkable to verify the accounts but his mum believes the description fits her son and that her son may have headed that way without really knowing where to go.

On 15 February, a truck driver picked up a teenager resembling David on a small road near Berthierville, which is 4.5 hrs southwest of Alma. He dropped the boy off at a roadside monument near St. Thomas, 65 km northeast from Montreal. The driver went to light a candle, but when he came back he saw the boy get into a blue 4 door subcompact car. The driver was interviewed by police and passed a polygraph test.

Comprehensive searches were done regionally and across Quebec, including a poster campaign. It produced thousands of tips but no substantial leads. People have reached authorities thinking to have seen Fortin in several places in Montreal, and other Canadian cities, but none of these panned out.

Police divers scoured the Petite Décharge River which crosses Alma. Hundreds of citizens scoured the woods near his home and distributed more than 20,000 posters of David. CIBC Visa and Rogers published David’s picture on envelopes. The Sun Youth Organization posted a $10,000 reward.

David life

This part is optional – you can skip to the “the left messages” section since it’s lengthy, but it’s a decent explanation of David’s life before his disappearance.

At 6 years old, David couldn’t settle down in class. The principal instructed David to take Ritalin and a psychiatrist diagnosed ADHD. The medication enabled him to concentrate, but teasing from the first day of school because of a speech impediment just got worse. He never battled back, and his only friend was a girl who was frequently bullied.

To frame just how terrible his bullying was, I will give some examples. In grade school, his teachers would dismiss him early so he could run home before the other children got out of school, so they wouldn’t beat him up or hurl snowballs at him. If he didn’t have time, he’d hide or stay for his younger sister to come. Gangs of kids would wait for David at lunch and after school.

In 2008, he was cycling home when a gang chased him into a dead end and took his bike. He had to wade through waist-deep water through a creek and sprinted to the nearby home of his older cousin, Maxime, who reported it to the police. Maxime’s wife looked outside and saw a gang of 20 young people out in the street and inquired David what happened. David told an untruth at first, saying he’d fallen into the water, but finally admitted the children had pursued him and taken his bike. He begged her to not tell his mum. Unfortunately, the police just told David, “just stay away from that neighborhood”, so David guessed to himself that even the police aren’t on his side.

He began failing in school, had to repeat grade 8, and was placed in a class for students with learning problems. The girl who was his only friend began avoiding him. During that 2nd grade 8 year, some children found out Hannah Montana music on his iPod (famous at the time) and accused him of being gay, using critical french terms I won’t repeat here. His mum said David had downloaded the music for his sister at school since they didn’t have a computer at house.

In December 2008, he began taking long walks alone after dinner. Maxime had also suffered bullying when he was young and guessed that David took the walks to reflect on his life. Maxime had considered suicide during these walks, and David’s mum, concerned about the silence and the solitary walks, took him to a child psychiatrist. The psychiatrist told that David was in a problem at school, so his mum called the assistant principal to demand that steps be taken to quit the bullying, but nothing was done.

Pic: CTV News

David’s mum says he stopped notifying her about the bullying because he knew it depress her. He told her that if he told her and she told the principal, it would make the bullying worse and he would get picked on more.

The bullying eventually stopped when he was 14 when he lost his temper and hit a boy who’d been bullying him to the ground, which drew blood.

On 28 January 2009, his mum called Maxime in a panic. It was almost dinner and David hadn’t come back from school. That afternoon, David had told a girl in his class that he was fed up and decided “to disappear”. Maxime put on his truck’s searchlights and set out to discover his cousin. He sighted David on the town’s main road, avenue du Pont. This road attaches the two sides of Alma over the Saguenay River, but I don’t know at which part of the road David was found at. David was chilled to the bone and had been roaming around for hours, so Maxime took him to a McDonald’s to warm up, inquiring how he was doing. David answered, “I’m really at the end of the rope. I can’t take it anymore.” They went back to Maxime’s house where Maxime suggested getting together quickly for dinner together and skating, but David refused, saying he had no skates and turned down Maxime’s offer to borrow some. Maxime says David was able to conceal his sorrow, his emotions, all the unhappiness he was living through. He knew how to hide the horror he was living through behind a smiling face.” When Maxime drove David home later that night, a cop was waiting to question David, who wasn’t pleased. Maxime wished he had readied David for the cop’s presence, as David was not somebody who trusted easily – you had to take time to build his trust. Maxime feels, looking back, that the chance to gain David’s confidence had been lost that night, as David wasn’t warned about the cop. Maxime says, regarding, David, “I think he had lost faith in the system. Because generally, when you go to school, you should feel safe. I think that was the straw that broke the camel’s back, the fact that the police got involved.”

For the next 2 days, his mum didn’t send him to school and he appeared serene being safe at home. Nonetheless, the police reported David’s runaway to the youth protection authorities. A psychologist from the local community center reached David’s mum and agreed to write a note excusing David from school for 2 days. She told her that David was legally obligated to be in school until he was 16 yo (this is a Canadian law that kids must be in school until 16 yo).

So, on 2 February, his mum sent him back to school. He didn’t want to go but he went without a fight. His mum sadly says, “He never put up a battle about leaving in the morning. And we kept sending him back to school, despite everything”. On 9 February, David was in gym class when some children began playing with a fire extinguisher. David reported it to the teacher and one of the boys vowed to make David sorry for tattling, saying “I’ll smash your face”.

The left messages

Claude Poirier is a negotiator and crime reporter for the francophone tv network TVA. He is recognized for negotiating with suspects in captive situations. He hosts a show called Le Vrai Négociateur similar to the famous show Frontline – the show discusses cases of justice and crime.

In September 2011, it was reported that during one of the show’s episodes, Claude said that an individual (unknown if male or female) left him messages on behalf of David Fortin and a third person. In one of the messages, the person says that David is willing to return home, but under the circumstance that he is left alone, his parents leave the Jehovah’s Witnesses and respect his sexuality and that no charges be brought against the individual helping David. The message-leaver says if not for this other person, David would have taken his own life.

Claude explained that he never directly spoke to this person and can’t guarantee that no charges will be brought against the person who supposedly helped David. When consulted by Claude, David’s mum says that the only crucial thing is discovering David and that they are thankful for the person who helped David. She says that his orientation had never been discussed and that it is not an issue. She also clarifies that nobody in the family belongs to Jehovah’s Witnesses.

Claude broadcasts two messages by his mum at the end of the program. In the first message, she says that the Youth Protection had shut the file for her son. She had reached a lawyer who assured her that no penalties would be brought against the person who assisted her son. Also, the police told her they wouldn’t prevent David from coming home. In the second message, she says she is ready to meet David either alone or with Claude if David accepts. She says that David realizes he can believe her and all she wants is for David to be pleased and that he can trust Claude if that’s the only way he guesses he can return. She says that David can count on her and his father to always be there for him and no matter what they both love him.

This 2011 update was broadcast/reported only by TVA.

Follow up

In June 2012, Lachance organized a party for her son’s 18th birthday, as she guessed that he’d get in touch once he’s an adult. Unfortunately, there was still no connection from David.

Meurtres et Disparitions Irrésolus du Québec (Unresolved Murders and Disappearances of Quebec) have been arranging for David’s image to be circulated on Gilmer Transport Trucks since December 2018.

Photo of David as a kid; Rendition of David as an adult.

His mum has launched a safety program for high school students to avoid runaways and combat bullying.

In 2019, 10 years after his disappearance, David’s mum published an open letter to him about how she longs for him. It’s pretty lengthy so I won’t translate it but if you speak French, you can read it here.

Personal details

David is 1.7m (5’7″) and weighs 75 kg. He has brown hair and brown eyes and was last noticed wearing a red Polaris winter jacket, blue jeans, and a dark fleece hat. If alive, he would probably be taller now, since he was just 14 at the time of his disappearance.

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