nb-hilary-bonnell-rcmp

The body of Hilary Bonnell, 16, was found in November, more than two months after she disappeared. New Brunswick RCMP have charged her cousin Curtis Bonnell, 29, with first-degree murder in her death. ((RCMP))

The RCMP have laid a first-degree murder charge against a cousin of Hilary Bonnell, the 16-year-old girl who disappeared in September from the Esgenoopetitj First Nation in New Brunswick.

Curtis Bonnell, 29, was charged Tuesday in Miramichi provincial court, police said.

RCMP said they are confident no one else was involved in Hilary's death, but are continuing to investigate whether anyone else got involved after her death.

More than 200 police officers have helped in the three-month investigation, Insp. Roch Fortin told a new conference Wednesday at the investigation headquarters in Tracadie-Sheila, N.B.

Fortin declined to divulge any details for fear of jeopardizing the case. But he said the community shouldn't carry any burden for not finding Hilary's body more quickly. It wouldn't have changed the outcome, he said.

The girl's body was found in a heavily wooded area in Tracadie-Sheila in November.

The teenager disappeared Sept. 5 from the Esgenoopetitj First Nation, commonly known as Burnt Church, in northeastern New Brunswick. She had attended a party on the reserve with friends the night before and was last seen walking along Highway 11 at about 7:30 a.m. AT.

'A little bit of justice'

Hilary's mother, Pamela Fillier, expressed relief that a murder charge has been laid. "It's a little bit of justice for my little girl."

But the family's ordeal is far from over, she said, noting it will be difficult to face the holidays without her daughter. "Christmas is not Christmas — not without her," said Fillier. "She's the biggest expense at Christmas and I enjoyed spoiling her, every bit of it. I'd spoil her all over again."

On Monday, Curtis Bonnell appeared in Miramichi provincial court on four unrelated charges involving a 17-year-old female, including sexual assault, unlawful confinement and resisting arrest.

No link is alleged between Hilary Bonnell's death and the assault case, but the courtroom was packed with Bonnell family members and friends. Curtis Bonnell appeared via a video conference from the Moncton Detention Centre, where he is being held.

The 17-year-old in the sexual assault case was a friend of Hilary Bonnell's, said her mother, adding she came to court to speak out for all victims.

 Curtis Bonnell is to appear in Miramichi court on Dec. 21 at 2:30 p.m.