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“She was always a happy little girl. You never see her ever without a smile.”
That’s how Vera Poole remembers her niece, Wendy Poole.
In their community of what was then known as the Ingenika Indian Band in Northern B.C., Vera says she used to be one of Wendy’s teachers.
“I remember this time I had to give her a time out,” said Vera, recalling a day when Wendy had caused some mischief in school.
“She’d just be smiling the whole time, like she was given a prize or something.”
Wendy eventually moved from her family and left her 2-year-old daughter in the care of her mother. She relocated to Vancouver; a world away from the wilderness she grew up in.
But that youthful wonder and curiosity lead to a dead end on the young woman’s path.
Six months after she moved, on the second floor of the housing co-op where she lived, local media reports say that Wendy was strangled to death and dumped in a nearby garbage chute.
She was pregnant with her second child.
Before police in Fort St. John came to her door, Poole’s mother, Jenny Poole, saw on the news that her daughter had been murdered.
She says she hasn’t heard from officers since and she wants details about the Vancouver police investigation conducted 800 kilometres out of her reach.
“I would like to know why they never, ever continued... even trying to get any hold of any of the family,” she said.
“I’d just like to find out if there’s any way that I could talk to police and see what they have done. They probably don’t even have a file anymore.”
Vancouver Police say they don’t.
Two years after Wendy was killed, a man was acquitted of second-degree murder charges. He died in 2008.
Though there has never been a conviction, Vancouver Police say they are no longer pursuing leads.
“Unfortunately, once the acquittal happens, it kind of ties our hands a little bit as to what we can do as a police agency, because unless we get some really compelling new evidence… we can’t re-try somebody for the same offense,” says Constable Brian Montague.
“And the fact that this person is dead, obviously you can’t bring a dead person to trial.”
Const. Montague says he recognizes the painful reality the Pooles are faced with when it comes to their search for answers from investigating officers.
“It doesn’t surprise me that once that core process ended, the contact between police and the victim’s family… not necessarily ended, but became very minimal, if at all.”
In the years following Wendy’s murder, the Pooles say a steady trail of information came from a man named Don Larson, a local advocate in Vancouver.
He took it upon himself to correspond with the family through their chief, sending newspaper clippings and information by mail, even though he never knew Wendy.
Don also lobbied to have a small plot of parkland near the city’s Downtown Eastside named after Wendy. It became the first of 186 parks in Vancouver to be named after an aboriginal woman, according to the Globe and Mail, and can still be found in that city nook today.
According to the Pooles, Wendy had found work in Vancouver at a fast food restaurant.
They say she was not a prostitute, regardless of circulating reports. They never heard anything about her being a drug user.
She was simply a girl trying to make it.
“So sad at such a young age,” said Helen.
“Trying to go somewhere to make some more of her life, to die that way.”
When asked about the possibility of a federal inquiry into Canada’s missing and murdered indigenous girls and women, Vera says she would support one.
“Especially what with everything people have gone through up here... there’s been logging around us. We had to move from one place to another... and still nothing has been resolved,” she said.
“And in the midst of that, our people gone missing. It’s not just one have been murdered, it's been quite a few that have fled out this place to find a better place, only to end up something like that. It’s very heartbreaking... but things like that we have to live with.”
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.