2 families, 3 missing and murdered Indigenous women; inquiry reveals how tragedy follows tragedy
Families of Jennifer McPherson, Jennifer Johnston, Myrna Letandre testify at 1st day of hearings in Winnipeg
Jennifer McPherson was named after her mom's sister.
When Jennifer was a little girl, her auntie, Jennifer Johnston, was killed in the room where she was sleeping.
In 2013, McPherson was also murdered.
Pangman was also sleeping in the same room. She said she saw the man who killed her auntie standing in the door and then he was gone.
"I looked back and my sister Jennifer was screaming," she recalled.
Both Jennifers' stories were shared together at the inquiry on Monday. A third woman's story was also told at the same time: Myrna Letandre was killed by the same man who murdered McPherson.
McPherson was killed in 2013 on Vancouver Island by her partner Traigo Andretti. It was her death that gave Letandre's family the news they had been waiting for since she went missing in 2006. Her remains were found weeks after McPherson's.
Andretti was found guilty in both cases and was later found dead in a Saskatchewan psychiatric facility in 2016.
Sinclair testified that she holds a lot of anger toward the Winnipeg Police Service. She said officers visited her for the first time two years after her sister went missing.
"They didn't listen to me," she said in the public hearing. "I told them it was wrong, [that] my sister wouldn't go off somewhere and not contact any of us."
A sister's guilt
Betty Rourke cried the entire time she read her statement about her sister Jennifer Johnston.
"I woke to the sound of my children screaming," said Rourke. "I think Jennifer [McPherson] clutched my back and she yelled, 'no mommy, don't go up there, he will hurt you too.'"
Rourke testified that her daughter Jennifer was the most traumatized out of her four children, who were all in the home when their aunt was killed.
"I often wondered why it wasn't me," Rourke testified. "I was much closer for the man to kill, he just had to open the door, but instead he killed my little sister."
Rourke said that the man who killed her sister had previously assaulted another woman. She told the commission she would like to see stiffer sentences for assaults and murders.
"If they had kept him locked up where he belonged, my sister would still be alive."
The three families will resume testimony Tuesday afternoon to offer more recommendations and speak further about the impacts of their loss.
The family of Nicole Daniels, a 16-year-old who was found frozen to death, was the first to testify in the week long Winnipeg hearing.
"Pretty positive, they seemed to listen to what we had to say, which is what we wanted," said Joan Winning, who is Daniel's aunt. "We wanted more exposure into what happened [with] police."
An autopsy showed she had a high level of alcohol in her system and died from hypothermia. Police ruled her death not suspicious.
Winning, testified that the teen's clothes were undone, and that — along with other factors — leaves the family convinced that she was murdered.
Nicole's cousin, Isabel Daniels, told the hearing society sees Indigenous women as disposable and that has to change.
The family continues to call on Winnipeg police to reopen the teen's case.
Monday's hearing was the first of five days scheduled for Winnipeg, following earlier hearings in Smithers, B.C., and Whitehorse.
The inquiry has faced complaints from some families about poor communication and delays. One commissioner and some staff members have resigned.
Kevin Hart, a regional vice-chief with the Assembly of First Nations, alluded to the controversy in his opening remarks.
"We know it hasn't been an easy job for you ... and I ask you from the bottom of my heart: please help the families and the survivors and the two-spirited because they need you more than ever right now."
with files from the Canadian Press