'Every time we close our eyes she's there': Autumn Prince's body found by sister, mother blocks from home

A Winnipeg mother, who went searching for her missing daughter and found her body in the snow just blocks from home, can't understand how no one saw or helped her — even after she died.

Prince last seen leaving a party on Ross Avenue Sunday, family found her Tuesday

When Autumn Prince's body was found in the snow, she was only wearing tights and a tank top. (Submitted by Gardina Prince)

A Winnipeg mother who went searching for her missing daughter and found her body in the snow just blocks from home can't understand how no one saw or helped her, even after she died.

Autumn Prince, 18, was found curled in the fetal position Tuesday morning — three days after she'd last been seen — in a yard on Ross Avenue in central Winnipeg.

Her body, dressed in just a purple tank top, black tights and no shoes, was between the chain link fence and a house. The yard was a short walk from her home on Bannatyne Avenue. 

"I can't see how people all day Monday did not see my daughter there. Someone could have helped my daughter, someone could have just looked out their window. Someone could have done that for my kid, and they didn't," Prince's mother, Gardina, said through tears.

Prince's body was found in a narrow passage between this house and the fence to the left of it. (Erin Brohman/CBC)

"It took us 10 minutes to find her. It took me and her sister and her boyfriend to find her, and it's traumatized us.

"Every time we close our eyes she's there, that last image of her, the way we found her is there."

Gardina saw Prince on Saturday night when the young woman came home briefly to bathe, eat, then head out again with friends, as she often did. 

It's going to haunt me for the rest of my life. That image is always going to be there [and] it's hard not to blame myself.- Gardina Prince

"She said, 'Good night. I love you.' And then Sunday happened," said Gardina, who was changing her baby when Prince's boyfriend banged on the apartment door that evening between 8 p.m. and 9 p.m., covered in blood and intoxicated.

He said he'd been jumped at a house party he and Prince were at on Ross Avenue earlier that evening.

"And I'm like, 'Well where's Autumn?' And he's like, 'I don't know. She left,'" Gardina said. "He said he was chasing her to bring her home but she never came home. She didn't follow him.

"We're known in my family to be very stubborn at times."

Gardina Prince, 39, doesn't know why no one saw her daughter in the two days she was missing before she found her in the snow. (Dave Gaudet/CBC)

Gardina called and messaged everyone she could think of in her daughter's circle of friends. No one had seen or heard from Prince.

There was still no word about her when Monday rolled around. 

Prince was extremely popular and active on social media but all of her accounts had gone silent, said Gardina, who wanted to go out searching but couldn't leave her two toddlers unattended.

She posted a Facebook notice on Monday about her missing daughter, then called police that same evening to report her missing.

"If Autumn's still partying she'll come home," Gardina told herself and her family. "I said, 'She probably went to go smoke a joint with someone, or went to go smoke some weed.' I figured she was going to come home. She never came home."

Autumn Prince went to a party near Isabel Street and Ross Avenue on Sunday night. Her body was found beside a house on Ross near Sherbrook Street, not far from her home on Bannatyne Avenue. (Google Maps)

Knowing her daughter wouldn't have likely gone far, Gardina called the police several times Monday night, asking them to check the Main Street Project, hospitals, back lanes and behind dumpsters.

"She barely ever went off Ross Avenue, so it was very, very weird for her not to be around," Gardina said.

When Tuesday came and Prince still wasn't found, Gardina and her 17-year-old daughter bundled up and set out on foot with Prince's boyfriend just after 9 a.m.

They planned to put up posters and search every street, alleyway, dumpster and bush in the area.  

"We stopped at the place where the house party was, and they didn't let us in," Gardina said.

Gardina Prince, left, and her daughters Vanessa, 17, and Autumn, 18. (Submitted by Gardina Prince)

They walked toward Rossbrook House, on the corner of Ross and Sherbrook Street, which is a youth drop-in centre where teens can spend the night. Along the way, they found Prince's body beside a house just seven houses from the centre.

It was 9:20 a.m.

"My 17-year-old spotted her, and she started screaming hysterically," Gardina said, adding about Prince, "I knew she was gone. You could tell right away.

"I jumped the fence to be with her. She was really cold when I touched her. I just told her, 'I love you, and I wished you came home.'"

Flowers, candles and stuffed animals mark the area where Prince's family found her body. (Walther Bernal/CBC)

Prince struggled with addictions, said Gardina, who hopes that didn't stop someone from checking on her if they saw her.

Gardina had struggles of her own a decade ago and for many years, her cousin raised Prince on Brokenhead Ojibway Nation. Two years ago, after Gardina had gotten clean, Prince decided to go live with her in Winnipeg.

Gardina said her daughter enjoyed cooking for the family and had become close with her two younger brothers who adored her.

Prince's life and spirit were celebrated at a vigil Wednesday night near where she was found. Dozens gathered to lay flowers and stuffed animals at a makeshift shrine bearing her photos.

A vigil for Prince was held Wednesday night at the yard where she was found. (CBC)

"Autumn was a very nice person. That kid was nice … didn't seem to judge people. Autumn made friends easily," Gardina said.

She plans to eventually start a neighbourhood watch group, like the Bear Clan, in the area. A relative started a GoFundMe campaign to raise money for Prince's funeral, and Gardina's mother and partner are helping her care for the younger children.

For now, everyone's waiting on the results of an autopsy for closure about Prince's cause of death.

"It's going haunt me for the rest of my life. That image is always going to be there, [and] it's hard not to blame myself," Gardina said.

"I always think, 'Oh, I should've gone out Monday looking for her.' But she could've been there Sunday, who knows when she went there.

"It's just a sad way for her to lose her life. She didn't even get a chance to live a life."