'I never realized it would be me': Father in shock after missing daughter found dead in recycling depot
Mary Madeline Yellowback found Friday evening, homicide unit investigating
In a composed, quiet tone, a father conveyed his shock that his daughter, who he thought had gone missing, was found dead in a load of recycling in Winnipeg.
"I never realized it would be me … that would lose a daughter through this tragic event of being destroyed, her life being cut short," Rex Ross said.
Mary Madeline Yellowback, 33, from Gods River, Man., was found dead in a recycling depot in an industrial area in Winnipeg's northwest corner Friday evening, police confirmed on Tuesday.
Winnipeg police do not yet know the cause of her death, nor how she was transported to the recycling depot in the Omand's Creek Industrial area. Officers are treating the investigation as a suspicious death, until the homicide unit determines how she died.
Her family says she was a happy-go-lucky woman who enjoyed working in home care. She was a married mother of six children, aged between three and 13.
Ross told a news conference Tuesday that he received a phone call early Saturday morning informing him that his daughter was the subject of a police investigation.
Search was planned
Hours later, they found out their answer.
"I was hoping that next morning I was going to look for my daughter here on the streets, but it was never meant to be," he said, as his wife sat beside him with her head bowed.
Yellowback, 33, was visiting Winnipeg for medical care, her relatives say.
Police believe she was picked up somewhere else in the city and was taken to the recycling depot.
Yellowback was last seen Thursday night at the hotel where she was staying.
Ross said he never expected his daughter to suddenly disappear without a trace.
He remembers joining the search for his niece Sunshine Wood, who went missing in 2004 outside a hotel in downtown Winnipeg. She is one of the cases of missing and murdered indigenous women and girls in Manitoba that remains unsolved.
Ross is thankful his daughter was even found.
"We're so fortunate that she was dumped in a recycling bin," said the soft-spoken father.
Father's gratefulness heartbreaking
Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs Grand Chief Arlen Dumas said the father's words broke his heart.
"It's extremely tragic to hear a father [say] that he's grateful of where his daughter's remains were found and at least that's a glimmer of hope for him — that he didn't have to go out searching, an unending search for his loved one."
Ross said he could envision himself like other Indigenous parents left without a child and without answers.
"To this day, there's a lot of parents that miss their daughters," he said. "They don't know where their daughters are."
Yellowback, who was nicknamed "Tom" while playing on a boys' hockey team during her teenage years, was a proud mother with many friends, those close to her told CBC News.
Officers believe she was downtown on Thursday evening to Friday morning, and are asking anyone who might have seen her to come forward, Const. Tammy Skrabek said.
Police responded to a call about the deceased woman around 7:05 p.m. CT Friday, after the body of a middle-aged woman was found alongside recycling materials.
On Saturday, Const. Jay Murray said at a news conference that workers were sorting through the recycling when her body was discovered.
He added that people have a moral obligation to come forward if they know anything that could help police's investigation.
'No value for our Indigenous sister'
A liaison who works with families of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls said it's crucial the community stand together in the days ahead to support Yellowback's family.
Hilda Anderson-Pyrz, missing and murdered Indigenous woman and girls liaison for Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak, said this will allow their healing journey to begin.
Anderson-Pyrz expressed outrage over Yellowback's death.
"I find that very heartbreaking. Our Indigenous women and girls, they're loved, they're valued, they're respected, and for someone to discard one of our women like that is really concerning and really disgusting that they had no value for our Indigenous sister."
Michèle Audette, a commissioner in the national inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls, attended the media conference in support of the family. She was in Winnipeg to oversee inquiry hearings.
"Every week we have to have that moment of silence because we heard through the news that somebody went missing, somebody found dead, somebody disappeared," she said. "Today here I am as a mother, grandmother and also as an advocate because I strongly believe that we deserve better."
A spokesperson for the Cascades Recovery recycling centre said the company had a counsellor there Monday to spend time with employees.
"I can tell you that our employees were horrified and deeply saddened by that discovery.… Our thoughts are with the victim and the family," Hugo D'amours wrote in an email.
The recycling facility reopened Monday, he said. It was closed from Friday to Sunday so police could investigate.
"Mary was married to Clifford Yellowback, and had six children, ages 13, 9, 6, 4 and 3. Mary also had one child who tragically lost her life in a car accident in 2009 at the age of 4.
Mary has four brothers and three sisters.
Mary enjoyed sports and had earned the nickname "Tom" as she played on the local Manto Sipi Cree Nation boys team in her teenage years. She was active in hockey for nearly 20 years.
Mary was employed in her community as a home care worker. She enjoyed helping the elders enjoy a better quality of life. Mary was helpful and kind to everyone she encountered. Her family would describe her as "happy go lucky" type and Mary enjoyed having many friends back home.
Tragically Mary was a cousin to the late Sunshine Wood, who was last seen near the St. Regis Hotel in Winnipeg. Her father Rex Ross was the late Sunshine Wood's uncle. The family is hopeful that anyone who has any information to contact the Winnipeg police."
With files from Erin Brohman
Watch CBC's report on the suspicious death of Mary Yellowback: