A 20-year-old man and a 17-year-old boy have been charged with attempted murder after Rinelle Harper was twice attacked and "left for dead" during a violent assault that took place on the banks of the Assiniboine River in Winnipeg, police say.
Police allege Justin Hudson and the teen, whose identity is protected by law, then went on to attack a woman in a similar way, a short time after Harper was attacked, leaving her unconscious.
Hudson and the teen have been charged with attempted murder, aggravated sexual assault, and sexual assault with a weapon.
Police thanked the public for the tips received after a plea was made to find the perpetrators of the assaults. The response "was tremendous" with calls coming in soon after the press release was issued, police said, adding the information helped lead to the arrests of the suspects and link the two attacks.
Hudson and the other suspect were arrested Tuesday.
Supt. Danny Smyth also thanked the Harper family for trusting police enough to take the unusual step of allowing a sex assault victim to be publicly identified.
Harper's uncle, Bruce Harper, said he is relieved about the arrests, but added the community must stay alert.
"I feel relieved knowing that these two predators are off the street. There are other predators who are still out there. It would be prudent for the community to always keep vigilant," he said.
Louise Spence, the girl's great aunt, said family and friends have stayed at Rinelle's bedside in the intensive care unit praying for her recovery.
"We thought we were going to lose her at first. It's amazing. It's a miracle. It's a miracle she survived," she said. "Through faith, we prayed for her. A lot of people came to pray for her."
Spence, who recently lost her own daughter, said seeing Rinelle in the hospital was another blow.
"It was hard for me to see her," she said. "When she was in ICU, it was hard. I don't want to lose another loved one."
Rinelle's relatives describe her as a soft-hearted teen who likes to go out with friends.
Police said the girl was out with friends in Winnipeg's South Broadway area on Friday when she became separated from the group.
Two males struck up a conversation with her, and the three of them went for a walk. Once under the Midtown Bridge, the pair allegedly "turned on her," Smyth said, adding Rinelle was attacked early Saturday, just after 12 a.m.
After she was "violently assaulted," Smyth said the girl ended up in the frigid river.
Soaking wet and wearing few clothes, she managed to crawl out of the river a little upstream from where the assault happened. She was then attacked a second time, beaten with a weapon, and "left for dead," police said.
Not long after, a 23-year-old woman was attacked by two males in the area of Portage Avenue and Sherbrook Street, in the city's West End.
The males struck up a conversation with the woman before attacking her with a weapon. She was forced into a back lane where she was sexually assaulted by both men, police said. They left her there unconscious, Smyth said.
Rinelle was found by a passerby on the Assiniboine Riverwalk at 7 a.m. Saturday. She was rushed to hospital in critical condition and is currently listed in stable condition.
Police said the 23-year-old woman was able to get to a nearby residence after being attacked, and contacted police.
CBC has learned the 17-year-old suspect posted pictures of himself on Facebook that were taken between the time Rinelle and the woman were attacked.
In the photo, he is wearing a black North Face jacket. Police had earlier said Rinelle was wearing a dark North Face jacket the night she was attacked.
Family members told CBC News that the girl is from the Garden Hill First Nation in northern Manitoba, but she has been living in Winnipeg with family while attending Southeast Collegiate, a high school for aboriginal students that is owned and operated by nine northern Manitoba First Nations.
On Wednesday, her school released the following statement:
Statement from Southeast Collegiate
Staff and students of Southeast Collegiate are trying to come to terms with this horrific assault on one of our own.
As many students who were looking forward to the long weekend, Rinelle was no different. After completing the week of scheduled midterms, she had left the collegiate Friday night with her parents for a much-deserved rest.
Administration of Southeast Collegiate were informed by the Winnipeg police and the family regarding the discovery of Rinelle Saturday morning.
Southeast Collegiate has spent the long weekend comforting her classmates, as well as providing ongoing support to Rinelle and her family. In-house counselling support has been made available for staff and students.
We are extremely thankful of the remarkable progress she has made since Saturday. We are wishing her a speedy recovery and hope she returns to school soon.
We are asking for privacy for our staff and students at this time, while we deal with this unfortunate event.
Police said they don’t have any information to suggest there is a link between the attacks on Rinelle and Tina Fontaine, 15, whose body was pulled from the Red River on Aug. 17.
“But we really had little, if any, contact with these men before this," Smyth said. "We will take a closer look now."
Fontaine's friend told CBC News in September that she was with the teen the last day she was seen alive. They were together at about 3 a.m. on Aug. 9, when a man approached them in the city's west end and offered to pay Fontaine money to perform a sex act.
The friend said Fontaine accepted the offer and told her she would be back in about 15 minutes. The friend followed Fontaine and the man for a block and a half, but it was too dark to see where they went.
Fontaine never returned and eight days later, her body was found in a bag in the river.
No arrests have been announced to date and the cause of Fontaine's death has never been released.