Recovery of remains provides relief for family of Edmonton woman who vanished Christmas Eve
'I just knew in my heart that she was going to be found'
The sister of an Edmonton woman whose remains were found on the outskirts of the city Wednesday said the family has found relief in the grim discovery.
Billie Wynell Johnson, a 30-year-old Cree woman, vanished on Christmas Eve.
"It was probably the most relief that I've felt in my entire life," said Johnson's sister, Kiara Omeasoo.
She said the search for her sister felt like a nightmare.
"I lost a lot of sleep. I pushed so hard and made sure that wasn't left in the dark," Omeasoo said. "I'm thankful for the outcome of everything but it took a long time."
Kenneth Courtorielle was arrested in February and charged with second-degree murder in Johnson's disappearance and police say there is now a charge of indignity to a body pending against Courtorielle.
Johnson was in a relationship with Courtorielle, one marked by violence, her family said.
Omeasoo learned from police Thursday that her sister's remains had been found.
"My whole family was coming together and having ceremonies for her and praying for her, and I strongly believe that is why she was found."
Omeasoo said she had recurring dreams of Johnson after her disappearance in which her sister appeared sad and pleaded to be found.
Two weeks ago, Omeasoo said, the dream changed with her sister appearing happy and speaking of a return home.
"I just knew in my heart that she was going to be found," she said.
Family staged its own search
The family had been leading its own investigation, hiring a private investigator, plastering the city with posters. They called for tips on social media and fed what information they gathered to police.
The family also staged their own searches. With help from the Bear Clan Patrol, an Indigenous community watch group, they directed volunteers in scouring forests, ditches and farmers' fields on the outskirts of Edmonton.
"There were hundreds of people, people that we didn't even know, coming from all over ... and I want to thank them."
Omeasoo wonders if more searches led by officers, not volunteers, could have brought her sister home sooner. She said investigators rarely picked up the phone to update the family, not even when her remains were found.
"I honestly believe that if my sister wasn't Indigenous that she would have been found back in January," she said.
"I was very angry with the police all these months and weeks … but I just bit my tongue."
A farewell feast
The last time Omeasoo spoke with her sister was Christmas Eve. Johnson was supposed to come over for a family dinner, a tradition they had shared for years.
The family does not when the remains will be released by police but have started planning a memorial.
Omeasoo will send her sister home with a feast of roast turkey, pea soup and bannock.
It's the Christmas dinner she had prepared, but never got to serve Johnson on the night she vanished four months ago.
"I can't wait to feed her and send her on her way. "
In a statement to CBC News Friday, Edmonton police spokesperson Cheryl Voordenhout said detectives were "incredibly committed" to the case and the family was updated at every step.
"The investigative team worked tirelessly throughout the investigation to gather enough evidence to lay the charge of second-degree murder, despite not having recovered a body at that time.
"Detectives were personally committed to locating Billie's remains."
Police said details about where Johnson's remains were found will only be released after their search of the scene is concluded and the family is given time to privately visit the site.
Johnson leaves behind a daughter and son, ages four and 11.