London

Grozelle family's hope for answers 'reinvigorated' after meeting with Ontario's chief coroner

For the first time in more than 16 years, Nikki Grozelle feels like Ontario's chief coroner is listening to her family's concerns about the death of her brother.

Decision about possible further investigation into Joe Grozelle's death expected

Nikki and Ron Grozelle look at a copy of the letter they sent to Ontario's chief coroner, Dr. Dirk Huyer in November. It led to the meeting that happened between them and Kingston Police Chief Antje McNeely in London on Wednesday.

For the first time in more than 16 years, Nikki Grozelle feels like Ontario's chief coroner is listening to her family's concerns about the death of her brother.

After a meeting with the Grozelle family and the head of Kingston's police service on Wednesday, Dr. Dirk Huyer told CBC News that he received "very helpful information" in regards to the death of Joe Grozelle, a 21-year-old student of Kingston's Royal Military College, in 2003.

Huyer said he would spend the next few weeks going over that information and deciding whether or not to take additional investigation action. Though he didn't provide a specific timeline for when he'd have more information, the Grozelle family expects to hear back sometime in March.

Nikki Grozelle said Huyer committed to telling her family which agency would be taking carriage of the case — that would give people an agency to send their tips to — and whether or not the agency would be taking any further steps to investigate. Huyer told CBC News one of those steps could be more forensic testing, but that he hadn't "made any determination at this point."

Dr. Dirk Huyer said he would spend the next few weeks figuring out next steps regarding Joe Grozelle's death, including whether there would be further investigative action, after receiving "very helpful information" in a meeting with the Grozelle family. (CBC)

Huyer spoke with the family for two hours on Wednesday, with Kingston Police Chief Antje McNeely, at the regional coroner's office in north London. The meeting comes in response to a letter the Grozelles sent to Huyer in November, and Nikki said that it spoke volumes.

"That Dr. Huyer came all the way down to us this time, to accommodate meeting here in London, that was huge. The Kingston Police Chief also driving down was quite remarkable, in our view. Historically, the coroner's office would only respond via letters from their legal counsel."

Family cautiously optimistic

More than 16 years have passed since Joe's body was found floating in the Cataraqui River, which means there's new leadership in the agencies that led investigations. Among the Grozelle family's concerns are questions about chipped teeth and bruising on Joe's body, and missing clothing. They hope for a fresh set of eyes on the death and that further investigative action will be taken, and said they're cautiously optimistic.

"Over the last 16 years, every agency that comes to us makes us feel excited. Like 'oh, maybe this is it,'" said Nikki. "I'm still a bit guarded."

Joe, a cadet at the Royal Military College of Canada in Kingston, was missing for 21 days before his body was found floating in the Cataraqui River in 2003. (Liny Lamberink/CBC London)

Joe was reportedly last seen in his dorm room the evening of Oct. 21, 2003. He was missing for 21 days, before his body was found in the river near the military college's campus.

Kingston Police, Ontario Provincial Police, the Canadian Forces National Investigation Service, and Ontario's Office of the Chief Coroner investigated the case. In the days, months and years that followed, there were two autopsies, two coroner's inquests — the first was shut down because of "procedural fairness" said Nikki — and a military board of inquiry.

Joe's death was first deemed a suicide by drowning by the Canadian Forces, but in 2007 a coroner's jury later ruled the cause of death to be "unascertained, non-natural causes" and the manner of death as "undetermined."  

To the Grozelle family, those are answers, but they are not the truth.

"Joe was always one for the truth," said Ron Grozelle, Joe's dad. "I think we're trying to do the right thing by pushing this as far as we can to get the answers for him. Not only for him, but for other parents, other families that experience a similar situation."

Ron credited Huyer for being open, for being willing to change things, and for acknowledging that "not everything was done correctly in the past."

Nikki, meanwhile, felt empathy in the room that she hadn't felt before. 

"I'd say hope has been reinvigorated, I guess, in that somebody's at least even listening. I'm feeling positive, optimistic." 

About the Author

Liny Lamberink

Reporter/Editor

Liny Lamberink is a reporter in London, ON. She can be reached at liny.lamberink@cbc.ca

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