Nick Fontanelli, the fiancé of a 22-year-old woman whose dismembered body was found in a bag under a bridge southwest of Montreal last week, has been charged with murder.

Nick Fontanelli court sketch

Nick Fontanelli appeared briefly in court Tuesday afternoon, wearing a white jumpsuit and handcuffs. (Mike McLaughlin)

Fontanelli, 22, was arrested Monday. He appeared in Montreal court this afternoon and was formally charged with first-degree murder in the death of Samantha Higgins.

The mother of two young children, a four-year-old girl and an infant son, was last seen leaving a friend's home in the Montreal borough of LaSalle early in the morning of July 7.

According to a family friend who spoke with CBC News, Higgins called Fontanelli, her boyfriend of seven years, before she left for home.

In the wake of Higgins's disappearance, her distraught friends and family organized search teams and blanketed Montreal's southwest neighbourhood with missing-person flyers.

Samantha Higgins

Samantha Higgins was last seen leaving a friend's house July 7. (Facebook)

Fontanelli spoke to CBC News at the time of the search, tearfully telling a reporter that he had yet to inform their children about their mother's disappearance.

"I just want her to come home," he said.

"I miss her. I need her home. We all do. We all love her very much and we need her home. We're searching … we'll find her."

Higgins's mother Vanessa and stepfather Daniel Jones were in court today along with several other family members as Fontanelli was charged with murder and committing an indignity to a body. 

He said nothing during the brief court appearance. 

In 2013, Fontanelli pleaded guilty to conspiracy, theft, assault, possession of a firearm and use of firearm or imitation firearm. No further details of that incident, which took place in 2010, were immediately available.

He has not yet entered a plea in connection with the new charges.

Fontanelli is scheduled to be back in court on Aug. 17.

'I'm just in pain'

Higgins's remains were found under a bridge near Hinchinbrooke, Que., about 75 kilometres from her home last Thursday.

On Tuesday morning, Vanessa Higgins told CBC she was aware an arrest had been made but had not been given any further details.

"Nothing's making sense right now. I'm just in pain and it's all so hard," she said.

A funeral for Higgins will take place on Saturday.

Nick Fontanelli and Samantha Higgins

Nick Fontanelli and Samantha Higgins had been dating since high school. (FindingSamantha.com)