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Thelma Favel says she holds each and every moment spent with Tina Fontaine as a treasured memory.
“There isn't anything that stands out more than the next,” said Favel, her great-aunt.
“I don't have any favourite memories. They're all favourite of mine, everything about her.”
For more than a decade, Tina lived with her great-aunt and uncle, Thelma and Joseph Favel, first on the Sagkeeng First Nation and later in Powerview-Pine Falls, Man.
Favel cared for Tina after Tina’s father, Eugene Fontaine, was diagnosed with cancer. In 2011, he was beaten to death.
“Any good word there is out there in this world, that would describe Tina.” Favel said. “To me, Tina was the perfect little girl.”
According to Favel, Tina loved school and did well there. She loved children and would often play games with them. She loved to jump on a trampoline. Favel said Tina was a person with a big heart.
“But after she went to the city that's when ... that's the Tina I don't even know.”
Favel said the start of 2014 was when Tina’s life began to fall apart. She said that's when Tina started to visit her biological mother, Valentina (Tina) Duck, in Winnipeg. The two had reunited following the death of Tina's father.
Knowing Duck had a history of working in the sex trade and struggled with alcoholism, Favel placed a call to her case workers to make sure it was safe for Tina to visit with her mother.
Favel got the green light and let Tina and her sister, Sarah, visit her mother. It was a good visit, said Favel.
But when it was time for Tina to write a victim impact statement about the death of her father, Favel said Tina started to slowly drift away.
Favel said Tina also overheard a conversation she was having about how badly beaten her father was when he was found, and the kind of marks he had on his body.
For a while, Tina started turning herself around again and did well in school.
“For passing, she asked if she could go visit her mother again at the end of June,” Favel recalled.
“I let her go.”
Favel said she did not do checks on Valentina this time. She gave Tina $50 and a calling card in case she wanted to come home sooner. It was the last time Favel would see Tina alive.
“This is where I really blame myself,” said Favel.
“I didn't find out 'til later she'd lost custody of her kids and she was back on the streets," said Favel about Valentina.
When Tina didn't return home, Favel voluntarily had Tina put in the care of Manitoba Child and Family Services. She said it failed to protect Tina.
According to police reports, Tina was last seen in downtown Winnipeg on Friday, Aug. 8, 2014.
On Aug. 17, Tina’s body was pulled from the Red River near the Alexander Docks. Her body was wrapped in a bag.
Favel said police would not release information about how Tina died because it was an ongoing investigation.
“I even called the medical examiner and she was told not to release any kind of information to me,” she said.
Favel said police contacted her to tell her that two officers ran into Tina the night before she was last seen.
“Her name should have come up as a red flag, that she was a missing girl, and they just let her go,” she said.
She later learned that Tina was briefly admitted into hospital and was in the custody of a CFS worker before she vanished.
“I just have no faith in the justice system right now,” she said.
The Winnipeg Police Service charged Raymond Cormier, 53, in December 2015 with second-degree murder.
The evidence against Cormier was largely circumstantial and there was no forensic evidence connecting Cormier and Tina together.
On Feb. 22, 2018, a jury acquitted Cormier. Nearly 100 people — including police officers who worked on the case, politicians, reporters and Indigenous leaders — had packed into the courtroom to hear the verdict.
A month after the trial ended, Crown prosecutors decided they would not appeal the case.
On Feb. 23, 2018, the day after the trial ended, more than 1,000 people gathered to march in honour of Tina and to support her family.
Favel said she's clear about one thing.
“I just miss her so much. There's not a day that goes by that I don't think of my baby,” she said, weeping.
“That's what she was to me. My baby.”
CBC News continues to investigate missing and murdered indigenous women and girls in Canada, looking at the unsolved cases and telling the stories of the families and communities.