500 gather at 'highway of tears' symposium
A First Nations leader in B.C. wondered on Thursday if a series of killings and disappearances along a notorious stretch of B.C. highway ought to be considered hate crimes.
About 500 people gathered at an emotional public meeting in Prince George to discuss the fates of nine young women, most of them young and aboriginal, who have vanished or turned up dead on Highway 16 since 1990.
The 800-kilometre stretch of road from Prince George to Prince Rupert has become known as the "highway of tears."
The symposium, organized by the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs, included families of the women, RCMP officials, B.C.'s solicitor general, social workers and First Nations leaders.
Police say there's no evidence to suggest the cases are linked, so they don't believe there's a serial killer at work.
But some First Nations leaders think the fact that many of the victims are aboriginal should play a larger part in the investigation.
"If First Nations women are being singled out, does this constitute a hate crime within our society?" said Dan George of the Carrier-Sekani Tribal Council.
Some of the families of the victims have called for a special police team that would swing into action when people are reported missing.
Aielah Saric, 14, was the most recent victim found dead along the highway. Her body was found near Prince George on Feb. 10, a week after she went missing.
Her mother, Audrey Auger, says police didn't do enough to find her.
"There was no Amber Alert for my baby girl," she said. "That's the one thing I was wondering. How come there wasn't an alert, an Amber Alert for my baby?"
Matilda Wilson's 16-year-old daughter, Ramona Wilson, disappeared while hitchhiking near Smithers in 1994. Her body was found a year later.
"I've been trying to make people aware that there's still a killer out there, or killers. It just brings back how much it hurts," said Wilson, who vows to keep up the pressure on police until her daughter's killer is found.
An emergency response team is in the works that would rely not only on the police but also on a network of contacts in the smaller communities along the highway.