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Verna Shabaquay, who mostly went by the last name Simard, was a 50-year-old mother of five who loved crossword puzzles and worked multiple jobs.
She died in front of Vancouver’s Regent Hotel on the evening of Sept. 16, 2011. She had fallen from the hotel’s sixth floor.
The circumstances of her death are eerily similar to those of Ashley Machiskinic, who died in the same way almost exactly a year earlier.
Vancouver police initially treated Verna's case as suspicious, but later concluded the investigation after determining the case did not involve foul play.
“It was a joke investigation,” said Jesse Ranville, 25, her youngest son. “They didn’t really look too hard into it; they said it was an accident and swept it under the rug.”
Ranville remembered his mother as beautiful, kind and loving, though he knew she was struggling with addictions.
“She never showed me her bad side; I knew it was there,” he said.
“I knew she was struggling, but she never showed me. It was always the loving mother that she was.”
A B.C. coroner’s report stated that Verna fell to her death and the incident was reported to 911 by “multiple witnesses on the street.” The report stated that she had a moderate to heavy level of alcohol intoxication and that “was seen as contributory to her death.”
The report also stated that investigations determined she was involved with a man who was “reportedly violent and physically abusive to her.” That man was in her apartment at the hotel on the day she died.
The man related to police that “she was swinging her legs on the outside of the building while she leaned her body backwards into the room,” according to the report. He said she lost her grip on the window sill and fell.
Another resident of the building said he heard a male shouting, “Don’t do that!” at the same time, and a short time later saw a man run to the stairwell.
The report stated that witness descriptions varied greatly, with some saying they had heard a loud argument between a man and woman prior to the fall, and others saying they had heard nothing.
“Some said Verna screamed while others heard only the impact,” the report stated.
Her death was classified as “undetermined” due to “significant inconsistencies in the witness reports around her death, the history of abuse in her relationship.”
The report noted that Vancouver police have concluded their investigation but “will reopen the case if any new evidence is obtained.”
A Vancouver Police Department spokesperson declined an interview but told CBC News in an email that the case was passed over to the coroner.
“There were no indications after the autopsy or after interviewing a number of witnesses that foul play was involved,” wrote the spokesperson, who added that Simard’s death was investigated by homicide detectives.
Ranville said he was recently asked to speak at a pre-inquiry roundtable on missing and murdered Indigenous women, and the emotions just welled up and he had to sit down.
“I just cried. My cousin asked me to speak and I couldn’t and all the emotions, all the frustrations that were unresolved, just came out I was just shaking,” said Ranville, who had thought he was fine with everything that happened to his mother.
When asked if he has a message for Vancouver police, he said, “Just do your job…. Give the families closure.”
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.