Nearly 4 years on, a grieving mother prepares to tell her story again

The MMIWG inquiry is holding hearings in Yellowknife this week, and Louisa Lafferty will be testifying in private.

About 30 families are expected to testify at the MMIWG hearings in Yellowknife this week

Louisa Lafferty visits her daughter;s memorial every week. It stands in Fort Good Hope, N.W.T., where Charlotte Lafferty was killed in March 2014. (Briar Stewart/CBC)

When Louisa Lafferty walks into a hearing room in Yellowknife this week to speak about the horrific murder of her 23-year-old daughter Charlotte, the only people listening will be a support worker and a commissioner from the national inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls.

She won't be speaking in the large hotel ballroom where the public hearings will be held because she is fearful that she could say something that might jeopardize her daughter's case and aid an appeal launched by the man convicted in her death.

Approximately 30 families are expected to testify about their cases.

"I feel very nervous," Lafferty says.  

Her voice trembles as she recalls the morning of March 22, 2014. Her husband woke her up to tell her that a woman's body had been found behind the senior's complex in Fort Good Hope, N.W.T.

She rushed toward her oldest daughter's room to tell her the news. But she says her stomach dropped when she opened the door because Charlotte's two-year-old twins were by themselves on her bed.
Charlotte Lafferty, 23, was a single mother of twin boys who was murdered after a night out in Fort Good Hope, N.W.T., in 2014. (Louisa Lafferty)

She learned that Charlotte had gone out the night before with friends, so Lafferty began making phone calls and drove around looking for her.

"I just went everywhere that I thought they might be drinking," she says.

"I knocked on I don't know how many houses looking for her."

The futile search ended a few hours later when an RCMP officer showed Lafferty a photo of the crime scene. In it, was a pair of shoes she had bought her daughter a few days before.

"Right when I seen those shoes, I knew it was her."

Charlotte's brutal murder shook the small Dene community and divided it.  Fort Good Hope is perched along the shores of the Mackenzie River in the Northwest Territories. With a population of just over 500, everyone knew the victim and the then 17-year-old who was charged with killing her.

At trial, court heard that after a night of drinking Lafferty had been beaten with a large stick, sexually assaulted, urinated on, and left to die in the bloodstained snow.
Keenan McNeely was 17 when Charlotte Lafferty was killed, but he was sentenced as an adult. He is appealing his conviction. (Walter Strong/CBC)

The horrific nature of her death lead to a conviction of first-degree murder, and Keenan McNeely who was just a few weeks shy of 18th birthday at the time, was sentenced as an adult to life in prison.

Shortly after Lafferty's murder, Roger Plouffe arrived in Fort Good Hope to help run its Roman Catholic mission. In recent years he has observed the community and helped counsel its residents.

"There is still that lingering angst," he says.

He believes the murder polarized Fort Good Hope and tore families, creating a tension and awkwardness that still persist.

Plouffe decided to move there from Edmonton because he says he finds the people so open and friendly, but Lafferty's murder was a brutal reminder of some of its darker struggles with violence and addiction.
Roger Plouffe helps to lead services in Fort Good Hope's historic Roman Catholic church and in a chapel, where residents meet in the winter. (Briar Stewart/CBC)

"Alcohol is always involved in these situations, most of them, so where is that coming from?

Fort Good Hope passed a temporary ban on alcohol after Lafferty's death, but it has since been rescinded. Quantities of liquor and beer are restricted in the community, but many acknowledge bootlegging is prevalent.

Lafferty admits she drank a lot in order to deal with her loss, and all the graphic and disturbing details that she heard at the trial.  She says she frequently thought about suicide, and that is when she decided she needed to see a counsellor.

"I wouldn't want any other mother to go through this," she says.

"The pain just takes over all of your body."

She's anxious that she won't be able to make it through all of the testimony at the inquiry, which is why she has written down what she wants to tell the commission. She plans to talk about the justice system and about what she sees as a lack of support in smaller communities.  But above all, she wants to talk about her daughter.
On Jan. 20, several dozen residents of Fort Good Hope gathered in front of Lafferty's memorial to say a prayer and release lanterns. (Briar Stewart/CBC)

She says Charlotte had wanted to be a teacher, but dropped out of school when she couldn't afford to put the twins in daycare.

At the spot where she was killed stands a memorial.  On Saturday, a few dozen members from the community huddled in front of it to say prayer and give Lafferty support before she headed to Yellowknife to testify.

At the end of the vigil, they all lit paper lanterns and released them into the bitterly cold night.

"When you gather like this and your family and friends come around, it uplifts you. You feel, not alone."

About the Author

Briar Stewart

Briar Stewart is a senior reporter with CBC News. For more than a decade, she has been covering stories for television, radio and online. She is based in Vancouver and can be reached at briar.stewart@cbc.ca or on Twitter @briarstewart