Lured by an online predator? The strange disappearance of Mekayla Bali
The internet can be an amazing thing. It’s opened up people to new career paths, friendships and even romantic partners. But the internet has a dark side, and today’s case involves a girl who may have been lured by someone online. Let’s talk about Mekayla Bali, who went on a strange excursion around her hometown before vanishing without a trace.
Mekayla Margaret Kim Niebergall was born on July 2, 1999 in Regina, Saskatchewan in Canada. A few years later, she was joined by younger brother Joshua and, about a year after that, a younger sister named Eliyora.
Mekayla’s mom is Paula Bali, who went by Paula Niebergall at the time. Her father is believed to be a man named Rick Breit, who was not involved in her life.
By 2016, a teenage Mekayla lived in Yorkton, Saskatchewan, a relatively small town of about 16,000 people. According to Paula Bali, her daughter was a good kid who didn’t like to go out or party much, but would rather stay at home and have quiet nights by herself. Mekayla loved playing the violin and was a fan of The Hunger Games series and the popular video game League of Legends.
Mekayla was portrayed by her loved ones as kind and caring, one day desiring a career working with kids or animals. Not long before she went missing, she got an accordion and learned to play happy birthday, playing it for her aunt Rhonda on her birthday.
But like many teenagers in the 2010’s, Mekayla liked talking to people she met online and had become friends with some of them. She had friends at school too, of course, but they only vaguely knew about her internet activities.
In 2015, Mekayla and her mom legally had their last name changed to Bali.** I could never find the reasoning for this change.
** link leads to PDF download
Just after school got out on April 11, 2016, 16-year-old Mekayla texted her friend Oksana Yakiwchuk and asked for a ride to the bank. I assume she said no because Mekayla then called her bank and ended up transferring money.
The next morning, April 12, she texted Oksana and once again asked for a ride to the bank. Once again, Oksana declined, saying the banks weren’t even opened yet.
Mekayla’s grandmother, Margaret Niebergall, drove her to school that morning as she always did. Mekayla arrived at school between 8:10 and 8:20, but she wouldn’t stay for long.
Between 8:25 and 8:30, Mekayla left the school. A few minutes later, she entered a pawn shop where she tried to pawn two rings but was unsuccessful.
A few minutes after this, she was seen outside a bank, waiting for it to open. She was talking on her phone during this time, but her phone records would later show that no calls were made at this time. Police believed she made these calls using an app. Once inside the bank, she withdrew $55.
Between 9 and 9:15, Mekayla arrived at a Tim Horton’s/Wendy’s combination, where she bought a coffeeand spent most of her time there on her phone. She left around 9:30, still on her phone, and returned about twenty minutes later.
During this second Tim Horton’s trip, Mekayla approached a woman she didn’t know and asked for help booking a hotel room. The woman wasn’t sure if Mekayla needed money or just needed someone old enough to book the room for her, but she said no. Around 10 am, Mekayla texted two of her friends saying ‘I need help.’ About twenty minutes later, she sent another text that said ‘Don’t worry, I figured it out.’
Shelby Hnatuk, one of Mekayla’s friends who got the text, had left her phone at home that day and didn’t see the messages until after school. At the time, she didn’t think anything of it, just assuming her friendneeded help with homework or a ride somewhere.
But back to that morning. Around 10:40, Mekayla left Tim Horton’s again. At about 11:55, she re-entered her school, where she told two of her classmates she was going on vacation to Regina. She was also carrying two phones at this time. Mekayla only stayed at the school for about five minutes; her friends expected to see her at lunch, like they usually did, but she wasn’t there.
Between 12:15 and 1 pm, Mekayla was at the Trail Stop Restaurant eating lunch. She then went to the STC Bus Depot, which was in the same building. She asked a worker when the next bus to Regina was leaving, but when she was told it wouldn’t depart until 5 pm, she decided not to buy a ticket. There are no records of her buying a bus ticket or getting on a bus that day. She left the depot around 1:45 pm, and there has been no trace of her since.
When Margaret Niebergall went to pick up her granddaughter that afternoon, she wasn’t there. She went inside the school to see what was going on, where she learned from some of Mekayla’s teachers and classmates that she hadn’t even been at school that day. She drove to talk to Paula Bali, who was at her job at the Ministry of Social Services. Paula’s mother never visited her at work, and when Paula learned her daughter had skipped school, something she rarely did, she knew something was wrong.
She tried texting Mekayla, but there was no response. They went to the music class Mekayla was supposed to attend after school, but she wasn’t there either. Later that evening, Mekayla was reported missing. Early the next morning, her phone was seemingly turned off.
At first, police believed Mekayla might still be in Saskatchewan, possibly having somehow made it to Regina after all. They also thought she might have gone to Saskatoon, about 330 kilometers (250 miles) northwest of Yorkton. She didn’t have a passport, and investigators didn’t think she would leave the country.
Five days after she went missing, police contacted Rick Breit, Mekayla’s presumed biological father. He started looking for her on his own and said he wanted his daughter to know that he was “sorry for all the lost time.”
By July, the search had been expanded to Alberta and Manitoba. Around this time, Mekayla’s friend Shelby noticed that a Snapchat message she’d sent Mekayla on the day she went missing had finally been opened. She got a little hopeful, but by this time Mekayla’s passwords had all been handed over to the police, so it’s possible it was one of them. Shelby would send another Snapchat message to Mekayla on their graduation day, but that one was never opened.
Also in July of 2016, police were looking for an unknown man who was at the Trail Stop Restaurant at the same time as Mekayla. A description of the man and an artist’s sketch of his unique arm tattoo were circulated around, with the hopes he could be identified and questioned. A man did eventually come forward, saying he believed he was this man. He was interviewed by police but, as it turned out, he’d just held the door for Mekayla at the restaurant and knew nothing about her disappearance.
But he wasn’t their only lead. The Valentine’s Day before she went missing, Mekayla had flowers delivered to her at school by a sender she kept anonymous. She didn’t even tell her friends who this mystery gift giver was. Police were able to track this person down, but they were ruled out as not being involved. They also looked into a few people she’d been talking to online, but these also lead to dead ends.
In October of 2016, Mekayla was reportedly sighted in Vancouver, so Paula Bali traveled there and hung posters. More alleged sightings later that month put her in Burnaby, B.C. (about a twenty minute drive from Vancouver), as well as Seattle and Portland. It’s not clear how Mekayla got across the border without a passport, whether she crossed illegally or somehow obtained a passport under a fake name. But it was around this time that that National Center for Missing and Exploited Children got involved. NCMEC is an organization I’ve talked about on this channel quite a bit. They normally only handles American cases, but I assume they got involved here due to the reported sighings of Mekayla in the U.S.
In 2017, a lake and woods near Mekayla’s old high school were searched, but these searches turned up no new evidence. In 2018, the $25,000 reward for information in Mekayla’s case was increased to $50,000 by an anonymous donor. In an unusual move, the donor would later ask for the money back, once again reducing the amount to $25,000.
In August 2019, a man in Edmonton said he was pretty sure he’d talked to Mekayla outside a bar there the previous March. He said he didn’t realize who she was at the time, but eventually connected the dots and contacted police. However, they were unable to confirm the sighting. A January 2020 tip suggested she might be in Penticton, but this once again led to nothing.
Over the years, there have been several fundraisers for Mekayla, as well as a website started by her family. Since Mekayla’s disappearance, her mom has taken unpaid time off and spent an estimated $45,000 looking for her daughter. She’s looked in every major city in Saskatchewan numerous times, and police have investigated over 600 tips. But over five years later, there’s still no sign of Mekayla.
So what happened to Mekayla Bali? There are a few theories and some other speculation I want to go over.
The first theory is that Mekayla ran away. This is what her classmates thought when she first went missing. Several online sleuths commented on how planned and calculated her movements seemed on the 12th, like she had something specific in mind she was set on doing. She could have simply wanted to go off the radar and start a new life. If this was the case, she could be living out her life somewhere — or, unfortunately, she could have met with foul play at some point.
There has also been speculation on Mekayla's subreddit that seems to support this theory. Most of these details come from people who claim to be former classmates of Mekayla’s, as well as some who say they found these details on social media. According to these people, Mekayla wasn’t exactly who she was portrayed to be in the media: That she was a lot more depressed than she seemed, skipped school a lot and did drugs. Others claimed her mom was a religious zealot and wouldn’t let her dad be involved in her life because he refused to go to church. There has been speculation that Mekayla ran away to get away from her mom and her less than ideal home life.
Again, I want to emphasize: This is all speculation. I can’t confirm whether an of it is true or false, and it’s never my intention to accuse anyone of anything. I wanted to share it so you could get as full of a picture as possible of what’s going on here.
And Paula Bali doesn’t believe her daughter simply ran away. According to her, there was nothing missing from their house that Mekayla would have taken if she was leaving, including an emergency cash fund. Mekayla also had a violin recital coming up she presumably wouldn’t have wanted to miss.
The next theory is that Mekayla was a victim of human trafficking. She could have been lured by someone with the promise of a job, only to later be sold. Several online speculators suggested she may have been promised something like a modeling job.
The last theory is similar: That Mekayla was lured by someone she met online, likely a predator. One Websleuths user said her case seemed like a pretty typical grooming situation. Mekayla could have arranged to meet up with this mystery person somewhere, possibly Regina (where she seemed to be headed). But once they met in person, she probably would have realized this person was not who they said they were. From here, she could have been kidnapped and is still being held somewhere…or killed and her body hasn’t been found yet.
Mekayla Bali was 16 years old when she was last seen in Yorkton, Saskatchewan on April 12, 2016. Mekayla is a white female, 5 feet 2 inches tall and 114 pounds at the time of her disappearance, with blonde hair and blue eyes. She is known to frequently change her appearance, at least with regards to her hair. She was last seen wearing teal glasses, a maroon or plum jacket, teal scarf, dark blue skinny jeans with sparkle or white design on the back pockets and brown ankle boots. Despite normally carrying a purse to school, she was last seen carrying a dark plaid backpack.
Mekayla has a scar on her left hand, two on her forehead and several on one of her upper thighs. She has a birth mark on the right side of her jaw and a mole on the right side of her chin. If alive today, she would be 22 years old.
This case reminds me a little bit of the murder of Kacie Woody, who was lured and killed by a predator she met online. I just hope things don’t turn out the same way with Mekayla.
If you have any information about the disappearance of Mekayla Bali:
Yorkton Municipal RCMP
National Center for Missing and Exploited Children
1-800-THE LOST (843-5678)