British Columbia

Noelle O'Soup's family was fighting to remove her from group home when she disappeared: uncle

The family of Noelle O'Soup, a 14-year-old Indigenous girl whose remains were found in a Vancouver apartment, says B.C.'s Ministry of Children and Family Development and police neglected her before and after her death, failing to inform the family when she disappeared and when her remains were identified.

O'Soup's uncle said he learned of her disappearance, death through media reports

Noelle O'Soup is seen smiling for the camera. She has long brown hair.
Noelle O'Soup, 14, ran away from the group home she had been living in Port Coquitlam in May 2021. Her death in an apartment on Hastings Street is being investigated by the VPD's Major Crime Unit. (Submitted by Cody Munch)

WARNING: This story discusses violence against Indigenous women and girls and may affect those who have experienced it or know someone who has.

The family of Noelle O'Soup, a 14-year-old Indigenous girl whose remains were found in a Vancouver apartment in May, says B.C.'s Ministry of Children and Family Development (MCFD) and the Vancouver Police Department neglected the teen before and after her death, failing to properly inform them when she disappeared and when her remains were ultimately identified.

O'Soup and her three brothers, who belong to the Key First Nation in Saskatchewan and the Saulteau First Nations in B.C., had been living in group homes run by the ministry for over 10 years, since she was removed from her mother's care as a young child.

But her uncle, Cody Munch, had been regularly travelling from Fort St. John to Vancouver to build a relationship with the siblings and was in discussions with the MCFD to move O'Soup out of care and into his family home.

"That kid would have been so much better off with us," said Munch, speaking from Fort St. John.

"One of the things that I don't understand is what went on in that group home. We wanted to ask questions about everything that happened leading up to her death and all, and [MCFD] didn't want to talk about any of that."

O'Soup ran away from a group home in Port Coquitlam on May 12, 2021. On May 1, 2022, her remains were found in an apartment building at 405 Heatley Avenue, along with the remains of an unidentified woman and the apartment's tenant, a man in his early 40s.

While the deaths of O'Soup and the unidentified woman are being investigated by the VPD's Major Crime Unit, the man's death is not being treated as suspicious. And while the man's body was found in February, the other two were not discovered until early May. It's believed O'Soup and the unidentified women died prior to the male tenant. 

The coroner is still investigating a cause of death.

A Vancouver police officer is currently under investigation for neglect of duty for failing to find the two bodies during a search of the small apartment.

A group picture featuring four people. The boy on the left is wearing an Adidas windjacket. The boy second from the left is wearing a black jacket. The person second from the right, Cody Munch, is wearing a blue long-sleeved shirt. Lastly, Noelle on the far right is wearing a pink hoodie.
Cody Munch, second from the right, and Noelle O'Soup, far right, on one of the family visits Munch organized in Vancouver. Munch had been making the trip from Fort St. John to Vancouver to build a relationship with O'Soup and her brothers and hoped she could eventually come live with him and his wife. (Submitted by Cody Munch)

A statement from the MCFD said B.C.'s minister, Mitzi Dean, was not available for an interview.

"Due to confidentiality, the ministry cannot comment publicly on — or even confirm ministry involvement with — any individual child or youth or family," it read in part.

Munch said he is haunted by the circumstances surrounding his niece's death and by reports that neighbours contacted the VPD to report a foul smell coming from the apartment.

"What pushes a 14-year-old girl to East Hastings and Heatley Street, even to be even hanging around there?"

"A few people have come forward and told us that they were trying to call the VPD and nobody came. Nobody came ... did nothing."

Family members not informed of disappearance, death

Munch described O'Soup as a shy but happy girl who loved to take selfies and who formed strong bonds with the female relatives that she met. But he said that as she grew older, she increasingly struggled with being separated from her brothers and, between 2019 and 2020, became angry and withdrawn. During one meeting with her, he noticed cuts on her arms.

Munch said that when O'Soup ran away, he was not informed by VPD or the MCFD and first heard she was missing through media reports. He said the VPD informed O'Soup's mother, who suffers from addiction and struggles to maintain clear communication with the family.

Munch said he finally found a three-bedroom apartment, one he hoped O'Soup could move into with his family, just 10 days after she disappeared.

A two-storey brown building with the name 'HEATLEY BLOCK' above it in bold.
The apartment on Heatley street where Noelle O'Soup's body was found, along with the body of another woman. A Vancouver police officer is being investigated for failing to find the bodies during a search of the apartment when the tenant, a man in his early 40s, was found. (Mike Zimmer/CBC)

"We should have all been informed, you know, like we're all putting in this work to try to get these kids out of the system," he said, adding he would have come to Vancouver to begin a search had he known she was missing.

"They didn't even let her brothers know. They didn't say, 'hey, your sister's been missing for two months. Have you heard from her?' Nothing." 

Munch said the lack of communication continued when O'Soup's remains were finally identified. He learned of her death through news reports, while on the road from Vancouver back to Fort St. John after a visit with her brothers.

"The thing that really bothered me was the fact that they could have said something while I was down there so I could help those boys," said Munch, adding the MCFD officer he dealt with said they were unable to warn him of the news because of privacy.

"That's a stretch from May 1st to almost middle of June to finding out that my niece has passed away. And I have to find out over the news on the drive home." 

Police 'committed to finding answers'

Vancouver police said in a statement that officers met privately with O'Soup's family members when her identity was confirmed and that they will continue to provide them with updates on the investigation.

"Noelle's death has generated many questions in the community, and we are committed to finding answers," read the statement in part. Because the investigation remains open, the VPD would not comment on whether the man found dead in the same apartment is being investigated in connection to her death or any other crime.

Noelle O'Soup poses with a neutral expression for the camera. She appears to be at a picnic in a park.
Munch said O'Soup was a shy but happy girl who loved to take selfies. But she became increasingly angry and withdrawn as she moved between group homes and was separated from her brothers. (Submitted by Cody Munch)

The statement from the MCFD said that when a youth in care goes missing, the caregiver is required to report their absence to the ministry, which notifies the police. When a youth in care dies, the ministry initiates a child and family practice review, formerly referred to as a case review. It said practice reviews "may result in action plans to address practice issues that have been identified."

Munch said even now, he is struggling to access basic information about O'Soup's life in the group home and has not been given access to her file at the ministry. 

"What resources did you use to go find that girl? How many times did you guys go look? Did you guys ask questions? Did you follow up on the people that were trying to call you? It just makes no sense. That's negligence," he said, adding that if his niece hadn't been Indigenous, she would have been found "right away."

Munch said he believes that had O'Soup been closer to family and to her culture, she could have had a chance at breaking the cycle created by residential schools and the Sixties Scoop, which affected multiple generations of his family.

"Foster homes are residential schools 2.0. It's a ripple effect," he said.

"That kid could have been anything she wanted to be when she grew up."

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Michelle Ghoussoub

Reporter, CBC News

Michelle Ghoussoub is a television, radio and digital reporter with CBC News in Vancouver. Reach her at michelle.ghoussoub@cbc.ca or on Twitter @MichelleGhsoub.

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