2 years after a young mother died near the Highway of Tears, her family vows to find answers
RCMP say the case remains ‘active and ongoing’ but they can’t release details
Jessica Patrick-Balczer was 18 when she gave her one-year-old daughter a long hug goodbye and told her grandmother she'd return soon for her baby.
Nobody in her family heard from her again.
The Lake Babine First Nations teen was last seen Aug. 31, 2018 at a motel on Highway 16 in Smithers, B.C., a few days before she was officially reported missing.
Twelve days later, family members found the young mother's body. They vowed she would not become another cold case victim like so many before her who disappeared along the Highway of Tears, the stretch of highway from Prince George to Prince Rupert where dozens of women — largely Indigenous — have been murdered or gone missing since the 1970s.
Many of the more than 200 people at a vigil after her death wore red, in honour of missing and murdered Indigenous women.
But two years later they feel they're no closer to the truth about her death and, despite repeated demands for RCMP action, some feel they are doing the police work themselves.
As with all investigations into suspicious deaths, the RCMP can't say much.
"[The case] remains active and ongoing, however there is no new information or updates at this time," wrote Cpl. Madonna Saunderson after consulting with North District Major Crime investigators.
'Never lost touch with family'
Jacquie Bowes remembers her younger cousin was always smiling.
"She was always bubbly and goofy and never lost touch with her family," said Bowes.
But Bowes believes her cousin had struggles, growing up in foster care as her parents struggled with intergenerational trauma and substance abuse issues.
"She's been in survival mode her whole entire life. She never let other people in on her misery. She was always trying to uplift others," said Bowes.
"Her daughter was the diamond in her eyes. She wanted to give her daughter the life that she didn't have."
Bowes says Patrick-Balczer gave her child "the longest hug before she left, like she always does," and promised to be back.
It was obvious something was wrong when she did not return, leaving her child with the grandmother, and failing to make contact for days, Bowes said.
"A lot of people just thought she was out partying, but that wasn't the case. Not Jessica. She always stayed in touch with her daughter. She always found Wi-Fi," said Bowes.
Patrick-Balczer was last seen at the Mountain View Motel on Aug. 31.
Bowes said there was a big party there, and police were called to deal with a fight.
RCMP confirmed Patrick-Balczer was reported missing Sept. 3.
Her extended family organized search parties when they saw no obvious action from police.
On Sept. 6, RCMP put out a news release about the missing woman.
RCMP told CBC that multiple searches were conducted and warrants were obtained to try to identify anyone involved in her disappearance.
On Sept. 15, Bowes' mother, frantic to find her missing relative, was drawn to a local ski hill northwest of Smithers.
"Something led her there," said Bowes.
At the top of Hudson Bay Mountain, family scanned for circling birds and peered over the slippery embankment, where they spotted a body.
Patrick-Balczer was found about 15 metres below, not far from a discarded washing machine. Her long hair was fanned over her face. She still wore the white tank top and ballerina flats she was wearing the day she hugged her child goodbye.
"Her tank top was pushed up just below her breasts, like she was placed there," said Bowes.
RCMP confirmed days later the body was that of Jessica Patrick-Balczer.
The news sent ripples of pain and anger through the Smithers community.
A year later many gathered at the lookout near where she was found to place a cross.
'Nothing was done'
RCMP have repeatedly said to the family and in press releases that the case is a priority.
Bowes says she has helped liaise between the family and police, offering investigators clues and a suspect who knew her cousin.
"Two years, still nothing. They say they had these leads. Charges were going to happen. Arrests were going to happen. Nothing was done. I feel like they are giving us the run-around."