Missing & Murdered: The Unsolved Cases of Indigenous Women and Girls
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When Elsie Buntra illustrates her daughter’s life, she paints a picture of a woman with a taste that always looked expensive, even though she didn’t have a lot of money.

“She used to have a way with scarves,” said Elsie.

“She used to just be dressed up really nice, doesn’t matter even if she’s going to stay home.”

Elsie says her eldest of eight children, whom she calls Papo, wore her heart on her sleeve.

She recalls the kind woman her first baby grew to be; a mother who never turned anybody away from her door.

“She didn’t have much, but she always shared,” says Elsie.

About 400 people were living on the Fort Nelson First Nation at the time of Loretta’s murder.

When the family first reported her missing, Elsie says she did not have the support from the band council or police she needed to start looking for her daughter.

She says they insisted there had been sightings of Loretta in Williams Lake, a small city 13 hours away by car, so there was no point in starting a search.

Community members formed a search party themselves in response.

They uncovered Loretta from under a haystack on September 1, 1997; a circumstance that sparked rumours that have radiated through the reserve to this day.

“Nobody just disappears and ends up in a field,” said Elsie.

“She can’t go down there and dig a hole and put this hay on top of herself.”

Though she praises the open communication she had with the lead investigator stationed in Fort Nelson at the time, Elsie insists that police should re-do their rounds of questioning with people in the community. She says this is a vital step in order to uncover secrets and acquire new leads to solve the case that’s nearly 20-years cold.

“Now, I think [community members] will maybe be more honest, because time has passed,” she said, explaining that much of the fear that was present years ago has since diminished.

In 2004, the Fort Nelson First Nation community put forward $100,000 for information that might lead to the capture of Loretta's murderer. The Vancouver Sun reports that this was the largest reward offered in an aboriginal missing or murdered woman's case.

Photos of Loretta, used to advertise the reward, were posted all around the community, but Elsie says she couldn't bear to see them.

"It’s just like dying a slow death to see her picture," she said. "It didn’t make me feel good when I saw a $100,000 reward... when I know that we had buried her."

Instead, Elsie decided to put the money toward a Health and Wellness Centre instead to pull the community together.

"That’s the first thing I thought about," she said. "A centre... where we can have counselling, and then we have a big arbor there too where you can have powwows... Where we can feed the spirits... That’s what I always wanted, and that’s what I knew she wanted, too."

Elsie has experienced more than her share of loss in her life.

Her husband died in December, her youngest of eight children was recently hit by a car, and Loretta’s son Pete — Elsie’s grandson whom she raised as her own child — died by suicide last year.

As Elsie recounts these tales, her voice does not waver.

“A lot of times, people say that [I’m strong], but I’m not. Not really. I cry a lot whenever I think about her,” she says of Loretta.

“I don’t even think sometimes she’s gone, because I never saw anything. They buried an empty box, so sometimes I still look around for her, thinking that she’ll pop up somewhere.”