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In July 2015 it will be two years since Candice L'hommecourt heard from Shelly Dene, but the sisterly bond can still be heard in her voice.
“Having her there at the birth of my daughter is one of my favourite memories.”
Candice says her sister often put others’ needs before her own.
“To have her there with me the whole time, because I was a single mother, meant a lot.”
Those memories are what keeps Candice going.
“Just seeing her sleeping on the bed beside me with my newborn daughter. I picture that a lot in my mind and it’s just so comforting, you know?”
An Edmonton Police Service (EPS) press release says Dene was reported missing on Nov. 8, 2013.
That’s around the time, Candice says, Shelly’s cell phone was disconnected.
“She was so independent. We all just assumed she left my grandma’s place and went on that trip to... Yukon she was talking about all year.”
The last time anyone saw Shelly, a band member of Alberta’s Fort McKay First Nation with family ties and a stronger connection to the Mikisew Cree Nation, was mid-July 2013 in Edmonton, Alta.
Shelly’s grandmother asked her to watch her home because she was going on vacation.
Around that time, Candice contacted Shelly through text messages.
“It’s when I asked her if she was okay over text. She said ‘no.’ And that was the last thing she’s ever said to me.”
When her grandmother got home a few weeks later, Shelly had packed her stuff and left.
The family says initial contact with police wasn’t good.
“At first they didn’t take it seriously,” Candice said.
She understands there are certain steps the family needs to do, including check with friends and family, search hospitals and any public services that she might use, prior to police opening a file.
“I went beyond that... I had to do all my own research. Things I found out way before the cops even did. They would say, ‘OK, we got to do this,’ and I would go and do it before them.”
Before she vanished, Shelly battled drug and alcohol addiction.
“We grew up in a home where emotions were masked with alcohol,” Candice said.
“...Kids learn from what they see.”
Their dad was an abusive alcoholic. Their mother struggled to stay sober.
“And I know our mother tried so hard. I don’t want to make excuses but I want to say we were like from the forgotten children era because of residential schools,” Candice said.
“Because we grew up not being able to show emotions properly because our parents were products of the residential schools.”
Before Shelly moved to Edmonton, she was living in Kelowna, B.C.
She was three years sober and got her son back from social services; she had enrolled in college and she was happy.
Her father died in 2012, and she went home to bury him.
After the funeral, Shelly went back to B.C.
With no support, she fell into depression and went back to using drugs.
That’s when her son was apprehended again.
“There comes a point,” Candice said, referring to when someone feels burdened with problems and setbacks.
“She didn’t feel good enough to get her son back.”
The last contact Shelly’s family had with the EPS was Dec. 9, 2014, when investigators told Candice they’ve exhausted all tips.
She realizes authorities, including the EPS, work under limited resources but she can’t understand why the communication isn’t open.
“There is so many things that I could be doing on my own but they don’t disclose any type of information or what they worked on,” she said.
Candice would like to see a federal inquiry into Canada’s missing and murdered indigenous women, but more than that she’d like to see action that stops the problem.
“I feel they should start focusing on the solution,” she said.
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.