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UPDATE: A decade lost: Jennifer Catcheway's family reflects on the teen's 2008 disappearance
When Jennifer Catcheway last stood in her family’s home, she was a few days shy of turning 18.
She wrote a note to her parents, and left.
“Gone to see my cousin. Be back later. Love you. Put my ice cream in the fridge, I’ll have it when I get back,” it read.
Her parents expected her to return to their Portage la Prairie, Man. home on June 19, 2008. It was a Thursday, and Jennifer was turning 18.
She called that day to tell her mom she’d be there in the evening to celebrate, but never arrived.
Seven years later, she’s still gone, and Winnipeg RCMP considers her disappearance a homicide.
“We thought she was in Portage when she called home that day, that morning,” said Bernice Catcheway, Jennifer’s mom.
But the RCMP traced that call to Grand Rapids, Man., six hours from the family home.
“I was actually shocked that’s where the call came from,” Catcheway said.
She believes Jennifer was in Grand Rapids with her uncle and cousin, and RCMP confirmed she was in town, using photographs that place her at a party.
According to family members, Catcheway was seen for the last time getting into a truck on her birthday, and may have been dropped off or left on a highway.
When she didn’t turn up at her party, Catcheway wasn’t worried.
“I, myself though, ‘okay. Give her a few days. You know, whatever, she’s partying or celebrating,” she said.
“I figured, well, you know what, she’ll be back.”
A few days later, Catcheway got a strange call from the woman married to Jennifer’s uncle. Soon after, she went to the Winnipeg Police Service (WPS).
“They didn’t take me seriously,” she said.
“The constable that I reported to... said ‘how old is she?’ I said ‘18,’ and he said ‘well, give her a week or so. She’s probably on a drunk.’ That’s the first response I got.”
Jennifer’s uncle and cousin were arrested a few weeks after she vanished, and both were released without charges.
Catcheway says her family has been searching for Jennifer since she disappeared — they’re even offering a $10,000 reward to whoever finds her.
“She should be here. She just went on this ride with these people that she trusted. She trusted them — one was her cousin,” she said.
“She was our baby girl.”
Catcheway says Jennifer was known for valuing family. She grew up on Manitoba’s Skownan First Nation, and had three siblings.
She was responsible — always leaving notes — and, according to her mom, fiercely loyal.
Catcheway says the investigation into her daughter’s homicide was mishandled, especially in its early stages.
Weeks after Jennifer was reported missing, officers in Portage la Prairie and Grand Rapids hadn’t taken statements from multiple family members.
“We went over there 30 days later, to Grand Rapids, because we were searching here [in Portage la Prairie] for 30 days in 2008. We met with RCMP there because they wanted to know what we were doing,” Catcheway said.
“I said, ‘did you take a statement?’ And they said ‘no,’ and I said ‘did you talk to anybody?’ And they said ‘no.’ Thirty days later, nothing.”
Today, the Catcheway family stays in touch with Winnipeg RCMP regularly. As of October 2015, a new witness has come forward about Jennifer's disappearance and made a statement to the RCMP.
As for a national inquiry into Canada’s missing and murdered indigenous women and girls, her house is divided.
While her husband supports the possibility, Catcheway is not sure. “For myself, an inquiry is good because there are too many women going missing — too many missing and murdered women,” she said.
She worries about the time and money an inquiry would take. “Who’s going to get rich off this? Are the lawyers, the judges, whoever? What about the families, and in the end, what will the outcome be? More recommendations, maybe,” she said.
With her daughter already gone, Catcheway has one big question about it:
“What really is going to be solved?”