OKOTOKS — The father of an Ontario teen missing since the beginning of September says he doesn’t believe tips to police that his daughter was spotted in southern Alberta.
Okotoks RCMP got word from Toronto police last month that Mariam Makhniashvili may have been in the community just south of Calgary in late October, said Sgt. Ian Shardlow.
He said investigators passed on a tip that the 18-year-old woman possibly tried to sell dream catchers and other crafts to businesses in Okotoks and could still be in the area.
But her father said from his Toronto home that he didn’t believe the tips were true.
“Unfortunately, I think it is almost impossible,” said Vakhtang Makhniashvili. “If she were able to sell something on the street, she would be able to call us or email us, and why wouldn’t she?”
Mariam was last seen arriving at school with her younger brother on Sept. 14. Toronto police say thousands of interviews have failed to generate any solid leads about what happened to her.
Her backpack was discovered a few kilometres east of the school. Some of its contents were strewn about as if someone had gone through it and discarded some items.
Shardlow said there is no video surveillance to back up the possibility that she was in Alberta. Two business owners confirmed a woman resembling her picture had tried to sell them crafts, he said, but they added they couldn’t be certain it was the same person.
Shardlow said the vendors said the girl they met wasn’t injured and didn’t appear to be under duress.
“We’re basically looking to corroborate whether or not this in fact was Mariam,” he said. “There’s nothing concrete to indicate that in fact it was. It’s just an investigational loop that needs to be closed.”
Toronto police also emphasized there is little to link the missing teenager to Alberta.
“There is no evidence to support that she was actually there on that date,” said Const. Tony Vella.
Police in Alberta “are on alert and they are going to keep an eye out and if they do receive information they are going to contact us and we will follow up on further information,” he said.
“It still remains a mystery on her whereabouts.”
Mariam, who was 17 when she disappeared, had only been at the school for four days at the time and most students told police they had never spoken to her.
She had moved to Canada just three months earlier from the Republic of Georgia.
Police have said they found nothing on the family computer to indicate she met someone online. Her parents said in late October that no one in the Georgian capital Tbilisi, including the girl’s two closest friends, had heard from her in six weeks.
The case has been profiled on the website of “America’s Most Wanted.”
The girl’s parents have said it’s unlikely she ran away since she left home with no money, no passport and no extra clothes.
Her father still believes his daughter was kidnapped. Her family regularly checks her email and Facebook accounts and has seen no activity to suggest she’s free.
But he added that no tip should be discounted. He suggested that even if Miriam were held against her will, she might occasionally be taken to public places.
“If somebody sees her, we have more chance to resolve this case. Public awareness at this stage is the only way to make progress in this kind of search.”
The girl’s mother, Lela Tabidze, told Toronto television station CP24 that she was trying not to get her hopes up.
“Because we don’t know anything, it means that anything is possible. And we can expect anything, should be ready for everything.”
She added that she’s constantly sending her daughter her love from afar.
“We want her back. And we miss her so much. It’s almost impossible to describe how we miss (her).”