KITCHNER, ONT. – A year after their son and brother vanished, an Ethiopian Jewish family in Kitchener, Ont., continues to hope he will come home, even as they admit that a happy ending to their nightmare is becoming ever more remote.
On Nov. 23, Yoseph Birhanu-Baynesagn was at home with his sister, Yalem, while his parents were working their usual night shifts. Without anyone knowing, he walked out of the house around 11 p.m. and, but for one phone call to a friend in Toronto, hasn’t been seen or heard from since.
“I really don’t know what to think,” Yalem Birhanu-Baynesagn said in an interview with The CJN. “I want to remain hopeful, but if I’m being honest, I have to admit it’s not looking great.
“We haven’t heard anything yet, but I honestly believe something is going to come up.”
What the family and their supporters know about Yoseph Birhanu-Baynesagn’s disappearance is limited. He left home, without taking his cell phone and other electronic devices, but did take his passports and some cash. The next morning, he called a family friend in Toronto, saying he was at Union Station and wanted to spend Shabbat with them.
They waited for him until well into the evening, but he never arrived.
Yoseph Birhanu-Baynesagn’s family was notified that evening, but Waterloo Regional Police weren’t called in until a few days later, because the family hoped he would simply reappear, as he’d done in the past.
“In the past, he’d gone away for a couple of days without telling anyone, but he’s never done anything like this,” Yalem Birhanu-Baynesagn said. “Now everything is up in the air.”
Underlying the Birhanu-Baynesagn family’s worry is the fact that Yoseph was taking medication for a health issue and he didn’t take it with him when he vanished.
Yalem Birhanu-Baynesagn described her brother as a quiet and sensitive man. “He’s generally pretty quiet. He worries a lot and is a little terrified sometimes, but he wasn’t depressed that we know of,” she said.
A private investigator hired by the family was able to find the telephone that Yoseph Birhanu-Baynesagn used to call his friend, in what was then called the Air Canada Centre. She also found a security camera that was focused on the area of that payphone, but the recording was erased after 30 days.
Canadian-Israeli journalist Judie Oron, whose adopted Ethiopian daughter is Yoseph Birhanu-Baynesagn’s aunt, has known him since he was a child. In July, she was asked by the family to help with the search.
“Losing that recording was really very tragic from our point of view,” she said.
“We are very worried,” she continued. “The fact Yoseph left without his medication has us all very concerned for his well-being. We’re really hoping that it’s not too late to start looking for him.”
In a social media posting in April, Waterloo Regional Police said that the search for Yoseph Birhanu-Baynesagn is ongoing. Anyone with information is asked to contact Waterloo police Sgt. Brad Dermo at 519-653-7700 ext 8664.