Martha Milliea worried about strange men on the street preying on her daughter Mona.

She didn't worry about the man inside the foster home where 13-year-old Mona Sock lived.

Mona had been staying at her sister Harmony's home on Elsipogtog First Nation, located about 90 kilometres north of Moncton, N.B., for several years.

Child protection workers who were supervising Mona didn't do a background check on Harmony's husband, Lonnie Francis.

Had they done a background check, they would have discovered Francis had a conviction for sexual assault.

They might have looked for another home for Mona. Mona might have been saved from abuse by Francis.

But they didn't.

On the afternoon of Sept. 26, 2007, a month shy of her 14th birthday, Mona disappeared. She would become one of at least 53 children known to child protection workers to die from unnatural causes in New Brunswick since 1997.  

Her death was reviewed by the province's child death review committee and sparked a deeper dive into the state of First Nations child welfare in the province.

Frantic search

Milliea was at work at the community gas station when a social worker came looking for Mona. The social worker wanted to ask the girl if Francis was abusing her, even though the social worker already knew the answer.

"She told me that Lonnie Francis was molesting [Mona] all this time," Milliea says.

The sexual abuse had just been reported to police that day. The social worker told Milliea to call an officer if she spotted her daughter.  

At about 8 p.m., when the gas bar was quiet, Milliea went outside and called Mona's name. She thought she might be hiding.

"You can come and live with me, babe," her mother yelled. "Just come out."

There was no response.

Milliea went straight home when her shift ended at 11 p.m.  She figured social workers might ask her to pick up Mona once they found her. Milliea's boyfriend continued to search outside on the reserve by the Richibucto River while Milliea made coffee and waited by the phone.

Martha Milliea

It's been almost 10 years since Martha Milliea's daughter disappeared, sparking a frantic search. (CBC)

Finally, it rang. It was Mona's sister, Harmony.

"They found her," she said.  

All this time, Mona had been behind the arena.

Milliea asked if she should pick her daughter up.  She heard crying on the other end of the line.

Mona was gone, Harmony said. She'd taken her own life.

Pictures and regrets

Pictures of Mona's face dot the walls of her older sister Renee Milliea's small home. There are school pictures and awards, glowing by candlelight.  

Renee's son was born after Mona died, but he blows kisses to the pictures every night before bed.

Renee and her mother spread more photos on the table, crying as they flip through them: Mona proudly holding her nieces, whom she loved to babysit. Mona at school, where she was an eighth grader.

She wanted to be something, they say.

Mona Sock

Mona Sock was 13 when she died. She loved karate and taking care of her nieces and nephews. (CBC)

The women play a memorial slideshow set to the tune of Martina McBride's Concrete Angel.

"It's hard to see the pain / Behind the mask / Bearing the burden / Of a secret storm."

Mona's mother and sister say she never showed any warning signs of mental illness.

"I didn't expect that it would happen like this," Renee says.

Renee was in the delivery room when her little sister Mona was born at quarter to five the morning of Oct. 25, 1993. Renee, who was already an adult, was instantly in love with her new sister.

When Mona was a baby, she and her mother floated between Renee's home and Mona's father's home, breaking Renee's heart every time they left. The back and forth went on for years before Renee finally put her foot down.

"I said, 'Never again I'm going to take care of my mom's kids.'"

"That was the worst thing I said."

She wishes Mona came to live with her instead.

Prior conviction 

In 2009, two years after Mona's death, Francis was convicted of two counts of sexually assaulting her.

Court records show he'd also been convicted in 1999, years before Mona moved in, of sexual assault against a different person. 

According to parole board records, Francis engaged in sexual activity with Mona on at least two occasions over a two-week period.

He was sentenced to two and a half years in prison.

Mona Sock 1994 - 20072:03

"You told the board that your relationships with your wife had become very distant, you were unemployed, and sought comfort from your victim at the time of your offence," the board decision says.

"You know that your actions were wrong but nevertheless rationalized and justified them at that time."

According to the board, Mona had indicated to some people that if the abuse were revealed, she wouldn't want to live.

Mona Sock as a baby

Mona Sock was born at a quarter to five in the morning on Oct. 25, 1993. (CBC)

She hanged herself from a tree behind the recreation centre the day Francis was reported to police.

After the 13-year-old's suicide, the child death review committee publicly recommended better guidelines for background checks for foster parents.

It didn't tell the public that Mona had been allowed to live in a foster home with a convicted sex offender.

Bernard Richard, the former New Brunswick child and youth advocate, says "the rules were clear in the case of Mona Sock and there should have been a criminal background check."

A memorial for Mona

Behind Elsipogtog's graffiti-marked arena, beyond the snow-covered baseball diamond, a piece of yellow police tape still flickers in the wind.

It's been almost 10 years since police marked off the spot in the woods where Mona took her own life. Nearly a decade since Mona's family and friends placed a single white cross, draped in a scarf, to mark where she took her last breath.

The memorial has survived a decade's worth of winter storms and new seasons.

On the first anniversary of her death, family and friends gathered there to remember her. They released balloons that were all red, her favourite colour.

Mona is buried a few blocks away in a parish cemetery. The heart-shaped gravestone is framed by an angel.

Her stone is engraved with her last school picture.

Mona would be 23 now.

The Lost Children

Part 1The Lost Children: The secret life of death by neglect

Jackie Brewer, the 2-year-old who was ignored to death

How New Brunswick's child death review system works

Part 2The Lost Children: 'A child that dies shouldn't be anonymous'

Haunted by Juli-Anna: An 'agonizingly painful' preventable death

Part 3The Lost Children: Change on horizon for First Nations child welfare

Mona Sock, a life stolen by abuse

Part 4The Lost Children: Government weighs privacy over transparency in child deaths

Baby Russell: A few minutes of life, then a knife in the heart

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