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Trudy Gopher, 19, was found dead on May 10, 1997, behind the Sunchild First Nation School after attending a wedding in the Alberta Cree community.
A medical examiner determined the cause of Gopher’s death was suicide, and though Alberta RCMP recently re-examined the case, no further investigation was found to be warranted.
Trudy’s mother, Grace Gopher, suspects she was killed and then hanged with her own jacket from a tree to make it look like a suicide.
Grace said she had picked out the purple and white jacket Trudy wore that night.
Although a coroner’s report only notes bruising around her neck, Grace Gopher believes Trudy had other injuries and feels police closed the case too quickly.
“Nothing was done over her death because they automatically ruled it as a suicide,” Grace said. “Whoever did that to my daughter is walking around free out there.”
The certificate of medical examiner in Trudy’s death stated that “she had been drinking all day and was headed to another party.” The toxicology report found an a 1.5 g/l ethanol level in Trudy’s blood.
Despite recent hardships, Grace does not believe her daughter was suicidal, pointing to the fact that Trudy gave Grace money to go buy groceries so she could cook a meal for Mother’s Day.
“She was so happy,” she said. “[She said,] ‘I’m going to come home and make you a meal.’ She came home in a body bag.”
The Alberta RCMP historical case unit re-examined Trudy’s case and determined no further investigation is warranted. Her case remains closed as a suicide. Investigators recently requested the medical examiner’s report on her death in order to have it on file, in anticipation of the federal inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women.
Alberta RCMP declined an interview but wrote in an email, "The RCMP welcomes the opportunity to respond directly to any inquiries made by the immediate family members of the cases you have identified. The discussion of any details of the police investigations into these matters is limited to the individual who has been the main point of contact for investigators in the case, usually the immediate family of the deceased, and will not be done with or through third parties."
Grace describes Trudy as beautiful and young, and someone who took care of herself.
In 2011, Trudy’s 15-year-old daughter, Justine Cochrane — who was a baby when Gopher died — was also found dead on Sunchild First Nation. She was beaten to death and sexually assaulted.
Cochrane’s body was found beside a gravel road in March 2011. At first, authorities believed she had frozen to death, but an inquest determined she was sexually assaulted and then beaten to death. A suspect in her death killed himself shortly after she was discovered.
Grace Gopher is haunted by the deaths of her two “girls” and said she moved away from Sunchild to get away from the tragedies. She said she hasn’t heard from police about either case for years.
“They don’t care about the natives anyway,” she said. “I’ve got to live with it, not knowing what happened to my daughter and my granddaughter.”
CBC News continues to investigate missing and murdered indigenous women and girls in Canada, looking at the unsolved cases and telling the stories of the families and communities.