Michael's disappearance spawned one of the largest police investigations in Canadian history and to date, over 11,000 tips have been received by police. The case was a major story for many years, and was reported across Canada and the United States. Despite the large number of tips and a $100,000 reward, police still do not have any solid leads in the case.
On March 24, 1991, Michael and his family went to Blanshard Elementary School for his mother Crystal's flag football practice. That day Michael was dressed in a blue hooded jacket, a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles T-shirt, rugby pants, and blue sneakers . They arrived at the school around 12:30 p.m., and Michael asked Crystal if he could go play on the playground, which was visible from the field where the football practice was taking place. Despite having a gut feeling that "something wasn't quite right" Crystal allowed him to walk over to the nearby playground by himself, telling him that once he got there, he had to "stay there and wait for daddy to come". However, when Michael's father Bruce arrived at the playground, Michael was gone. Approximately fifty people began looking for Michael and calling out to him, and Michael's parents immediately notified the police.
At the time, the investigation surrounding Michael's disappearance was the largest in Canadian history, and still remains one of the largest today.
Because Michael vanished so quickly from a public place, the police were quick to classify his case as an abduction rather than a missing child case, and all of the detectives in the Victoria Police Department were called in to begin the investigation. Hundreds of tips began coming in every hour from across British Columbia and North America, and at the time they were all written on carbon paper and had to be sorted manually. Police believe that if they had the technology that is available today, such as video surveillance, DNA techniques, and a computer system to sort tips, they may have been able to solve the case.
The Victoria Police Department poured all of their resources into Michael's case, with detectives looking through leads, investigating known sex offenders, and interviewing anyone who had been in the area around the time of the abduction. They were unable to uncover much information, other than a witness report that "a man in his late 40's or early 50's" had been near the playground, and that a brown van had also been spotted nearby. A month after Michael vanished, the police staged a re-creation of his disappearance at Blanshard Elementary, which included using a brown van, but were unable to produce any new leads.
In 2006, reports of a young man who looked like Michael, and who had been living in the interior of British Columbia since 1991 breathed new life into the case. For several weeks, news stations carried the story that the Michael Dunahee case had been re-opened after several strong leads, perhaps bringing a conclusion to what happened to him. Nothing came out of the leads, and the young man in the interior of B.C. was determined not to be Michael after DNA testing was done.
In early 2009 U.S. police found a "missing person" poster of Dunahee at the Milwaukee home of Vernon Seitz. Seitz, 62, confessed to his psychiatrist that he had killed a child in 1959, at the age of 12, and knew of another child killing. Seitz was later found dead by Milwaukee police, apparently of natural causes.
In 2011, with the 20th anniversary of Michael's disappearance approaching, police were notified of a man living in Chase, B.C. who looked like Michael Dunahee. DNA testing later determined that he was not Michael.
In 2013, another possible break first surfaced when a man with the username Canuckels posted on the message boards of canucks.com, the official website of the Vancouver hockey team, that the cops were coming for a DNA test. They had requested a blood sample from a Surrey, B.C. man who they believed could potentially be the missing boy. On September 9, 2013, the Victoria Police Department stated that DNA testing had determined that the Surrey man was not Michael Dunahee.
Michael's case remains open, with officers still committed to continuing the investigation. Both the police and Michael's family remain hopeful that one day a tip will come in that will provide them with an answer about Michael's whereabouts.
2016 marked the 25th anniversary of Michael's disappearance, and to this day tips continue to come in from the public, especially around the anniversary of his disappearance each year.
Michael's disappearance changed the quiet city of Victoria, with many of its residents recalling March 24, 1991 as a "loss of innocence" for the city and the people who lived there. The fact that a child had been abducted in their community came as a shock to many residents, and fear of child abduction quickly rose among parents, kids, and schools in the months following the disappearance.
Michael's mother Crystal has since become an advocate for missing children's issues in British Columbia, and has served as the president of Child Find British Columbia. In 2002, Crystal lent her voice to support the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) in calls to introduce an Amber Alert system in BC, stating that she believes her son would have been found had such a program existed in 1991. The system has since been implemented in most regions of Canada.
The community of Esquimalt, part of the Greater Victoria metropolitan area, holds an annual charity event called the Michael Dunahee "Keep the Hope Alive" Fund Run to raise money for Child Find. This event is organized by Michael's sister Caitlin, and 2016 marked the 24th annual run.