Ever since her brother Luke Cooper disappeared and was presumed drowned last July, one thought has circled Sheila Cooper’s mind time and time again: “Oh my god I need Luke right now.”
For Sheila, Luke was always a “cool brother” who she relied on when she needed help.
“Once, I asked Luke to take some garbage away for me and he brought all of his workers down and cleaned up my whole yard; raked it up and too away my garbage, and came in the house and said ‘is there anything else you need?’” Sheila recalled while becoming choked up.
Now, with summer around the corner, Sheila and the Cooper family are getting ready for the painful task of looking for Luke’s body again.
Sheila, who resides in North West River, is using a unique way of selling a house she owns in Lewisport to raise more money for the search. She is selling 3000 “entries” for $100 each in order to make $300,000. She plans to keep $280,000 to recoup the money she previously spent on buying the house. The other $20,000, according to Sheila, will be used for the search.
All 3000 entrants must write a letter stating why they want the house. From those letters, Sheila will choose who she gives the house to. Sheila says she got this idea from a woman who did the same in Alberta.
“I contacted two lawyers, one here in Newfoundland and one in Alberta (to make sure it’s legal). If I can do letters and sell the house…I get some of my money back and $20,000 to continue our search efforts,” said Sheila.
According to the RCMP, Luke Cooper and another woman went canoeing in the waters between North West River and Sheshatshiu in the early morning hours of July 15, 2018. After the canoe capsized, the woman was able to make it to shore, but Luke hasn’t been seen since.
Last summer, Sheila estimates the family spent $37,000 on search efforts. The money was raised primarily through donations.
Some of the money was used to bring in specialists in underwater recovery. A team from Deer Lake used their sonar equipment to try and find Luke. The Cooper family even brought in a cadaver dog trained to sniff for people in bodies of water.
Residents of North West River also tried searching all summer, using their own boats to search the waters. One man even used his own small plane to get a view from the air.
The fact that Luke hasn’t been found, despite all the search efforts, has led Sheila Cooper and others to speculate whether his body may be somewhere else entirely.
In the fall of 2018, Sheila says she received information from some berry pickers in North West River that they stumbled upon an area of ground that looked recently disturbed. Even though it was this lead was a longshot, Sheila and another family member joined the berry pickers with a shovel to check out this lead.
“In a way, you hope that he’s there so you can have his body, but you’re still relieved to know it’s not him,” said Sheila.
“It’s emotional, and it’s draining, and it’s really hard to deal with.”
To this day, Sheila and her family are frustrated and perplexed by a time gap from when Luke was believed to have fallen out of the canoe, and when police were notified. According to an RCMP press release back in July, Luke and the other woman went out in canoe “around 5:00 a.m. (on July 15) when it capsized.” In the same press release the RCMP say they weren’t notified of the incident until 6:30 am, an hour and a half later.
“We don’t really know exactly what went down (that morning),” said Sheila. “I don’t know if we’ll ever know exactly what went down… but we’ll keep looking for answers.”
According to Sheila, the family has even discussed hiring a private investigator to find out what happened in the moments leading up to Luke’s disappearance. But right now, Sheila says the family’s top priority is finding Luke.
“What’s most important right now, more important than even finding out what happened to him, is to bring his body home,” said Sheila.
For now, Sheila and her family is waiting for the ice to thaw, and the weather to be right to pick up where everyone left off last summer in the search for Luke Cooper
“We especially want to check the shorelines, now that he could have washed ashore somewhere,” said Sheila.
“We definitely want closure. We’re still going to keep looking. We’ll look until all of our options are gone.”
A spokesperson for the RCMP said they were unable to provide a statement or interview in time for deadline.