nb-hilary-bonnell-rcmp

Members of Hilary Bonnell's Esgenoopetitj First Nation community gathered at the local firehall Saturday to mourn her death. ((RCMP))

RCMP have confirmed that the body found on New Brunswick's Acadian Peninsula earlier this week is that of 16-year-old Hilary Bonnell, who went missing from the Esgenoopetitj First Nation two months ago.

Although autopsy results still aren't in, Insp. Roch Fortin said Saturday there is little doubt that it is Hilary.

"We only have one missing person in the Acadian Peninsula. The clothing and some of the evidence found at the scene, with all the evidence that we have at the scene and how we were led to the scene, we are 100 per cent sure that this is Hilary," he said.

"However, the DNA and testing will conclude beyond any reasonable doubt."

The autopsy was to be performed Saturday in Saint John on the body, which was found in the remote, wooded area of the former military firing range in Tracadie-Sheila. The location is now marked by a small, white cross.

Foul play is suspected and a suspect remains in custody.

Police are waiting for the autopsy results and further information about the circumstances surrounding Hilary's death before deciding what charges to lay, Fortin said.

Hilary was last seen on Sept. 5 walking along Highway 11 in Esgenoopetitj, commonly known as Burnt Church.

The RCMP searched properties in Burnt Church and another in the nearby community of Tabusintac last week as part of a criminal investigation. At the time, the Mounties did not link the searches to Hilary's disappearance, but Fortin has since confirmed they were related to the case.

Community mourns

About two dozen members of the community gathered at the local firehall to mourn Hilary on Saturday. The firehall had served as the operations centre for community-organized searches during the past two months.

Members of neighbouring aboriginal communities, including the Tobique First Nation, also stopped by to show their support.

A bonfire was lit behind the firehall as a sacred fire, a traditional spiritual ceremony that provides the opportunity to say special prayers. A youth counsellor was also on hand to help area teens with the grieving process.

Curtis Bartibogue, a band councillor and Hilary's cousin, was among the mourners. He said he and others had previously searched the region where Hilary was found.

But there was no chance they could have discovered the body by accident, Fortin said. Police only found the body after receiving specific information on its location. And two police vehicles broke down on the rough terrain on their way into the site Saturday, he said.

Fortin had planned to bring Hilary's family there on Saturday to help give them "proper closure," but investigators had to complete some work first.

"We have to bring an excavator to the scene, and we just want to make sure that ... everything that we require for evidence purposes is all gathered before we bring the family, and to bring the site to a peaceful site that is not too traumatic for the family," he said.

Fortin now hopes to take Hilary's family to the site on Sunday.