neil-hope-300

Degrassi actor Neil Hope played Derek (Wheels) Wheeler on the long-running youth series. (Epitome Pictures Inc./Canadian Press)

Fans of actor Neil Hope, who played troubled teen Wheels on Degrassi Junior High, are still wondering just how his death at age 35 could have gone unreported for years, even to his family and friends.

The full story may never be revealed, as police say they will not comment on the circumstances behind Hope's death in November 2007, how he came to be buried four months later and why his family did not learn about those events until last month. Online reports of his death began appearing Thursday morning and were later confirmed by family members and colleagues.

Hope's ex-fiancee, Christina Boulard, said the family was told the former child actor died alone in a Hamilton rooming house of natural causes.

Boulard said she's furious because she can't understand why it took more than four years for police to contact Hope's family. While it was "kind of normal" for Hope to go even a year without contacting friends and family, worries arose about a year after his death when ominous rumours began circulating, Boulard said.

'To me it's disgusting and I'm angry. He deserved better and so did his family' —Christina Boulard

"When two and three years went by (without hearing from him), his family realized that something was not right, so they finally got in contact with numerous police departments, numerous coroners but ... apparently names didn't add up and birth dates didn't match," she said. When asked Friday about Hope's case, Hamilton Police Service Sgt. Terri-Lynn Collings said the force doesn't comment on "sudden death investigations where there's no suspicion of any foul play."

Collings wouldn't confirm whether Hamilton police was involved in trying to identify Hope or contact his family.

"When we discover or come across a body, or it's reported to police that there's been a death, we have to first make a determination as to whether or not the death is suspicious ... and then from there, if we don't know who the individual is, there's an attempt to identify and go through the process of notifying next of kin," Collings said when asked to explain the typical process undertaken in a case like Hope's.

"In some cases we're unable to locate next of kin and in other cases we do.... How long that takes is on a case-by-case situation, every death is a unique death and we treat each one individually."

Unclaimed body

Ontario's Office of the Chief Coroner has a checklist of sources that can be contacted in an attempt to identify next of kin, including hospitals, family physicians and pharmacies, the Office of the Public Guardian and Trustee, and community organizations such as shelters, mental health facilities and groups with church affiliations.

"If no one comes forward to claim the body and claim responsibility for a respectful disposition, then the chief coroner signs a warrant to bury and that gives the authority to the municipality to respectfully inter that unclaimed person in a cemetery," said chief coroner's office spokeswoman Cheryl Mahyr.

Boulard said it was in January that the family finally received the bad news from Hamilton police.

Memorial planned

"Apparently Neil had no next of kin listed anywhere, which I find very difficult to believe," she said. "To me it's disgusting and I'm angry. He deserved better and so did his family."   

She is planning a private memorial in June for Hope's old Degrassi colleagues and close friends to pay their respects. While she appreciates the outpouring of support in the wake of the announcement of Hope's death, the service will not be public.   

"I don't need autograph hunters and press ... we just want them to be able to say goodbye in peace."