2 families, 3 missing and murdered Indigenous women; inquiry reveals how tragedy follows tragedy

​Family members of a 16-year-old Indigenous girl who was found frozen to death behind an auto body shop in Winnipeg say they do not want her death to be in vain.

Families of Jennifer McPherson, Jennifer Johnston, Myrna Letandre testify at 1st day of hearings in Winnipeg

Family of Indigenous girl found frozen to death testifies at inquiry

5 years ago
Duration 2:11
Relatives of Nicole Daniels were the first to testify as the national inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women opened four days of hearings in the Manitoba capital Monday.

Jennifer McPherson was named after her mom's sister.

When Jennifer was a little girl, her auntie, Jennifer Johnston, was killed in the room where she was sleeping.

In 2013, McPherson was also murdered.

Gerri Pangman holds a photo of her sister Jennifer McPherson at the MMIWG national inquiry in Winnipeg Monday. (Jillian Taylor/CBC)
"I always remember my auntie, looking over the bed and seeing her all bloody on the floor," said McPherson's sister Gerri Pangman, while testifying at the missing and murdered women and girls national inquiry in Winnipeg Monday.

Pangman was also sleeping in the same room. She said she saw the man who killed her auntie standing in the door and then he was gone.

"I looked back and my sister Jennifer was screaming," she recalled.

Both Jennifers' stories were shared together at the inquiry on Monday. A third woman's story was also told at the same time: Myrna Letandre was killed by the same man who murdered McPherson.

Lorna Sinclair, sister of Myrna Letandre, testifies Monday. (Jillian Taylor/CBC)
"They've decided they want to share together because their stories, lives, the way they've been impacted is too interconnected to separate into two hearings," said commission counsel Christa Big Canoe.

McPherson was killed in 2013 on Vancouver Island by her partner Traigo Andretti. It was her death that gave Letandre's family the news they had been waiting for since she went missing in 2006. Her remains were found weeks after McPherson's. 

Andretti was found guilty in both cases and was later found dead in a Saskatchewan psychiatric facility in 2016.

Myrna Letandre, 36, went missing in October 2006. Her remains were found in 2013 buried in the foundation of a rooming house in Winnipeg's Point Douglas neighbourhood. (Family photo)
"I just want to be here and be [a] support for the McPherson family because I know that a lot could have been done," said Lorna Sinclair, Letandre's sister.

Sinclair testified that she holds a lot of anger toward the Winnipeg Police Service. She said officers visited her for the first time two years after her sister went missing. 

"They didn't listen to me," she said in the public hearing. "I told them it was wrong, [that] my sister wouldn't go off somewhere and not contact any of us."

A sister's guilt

Betty Rourke cried the entire time she read her statement about her sister Jennifer Johnston.

Betty Rourke speaks about the deaths of her sister Jennifer and daughter Jennifer, with her husband Mike (left) holds the microphone. (Jillian Taylor/CBC)
She told commissioner Michelle Audette she felt guilt for asking her sister to go out with her to the bar the night she was killed. Rourke was friends with the man responsible.

"I woke to the sound of my children screaming," said Rourke. "I think Jennifer [McPherson] clutched my back and she yelled, 'no mommy, don't go up there, he will hurt you too.'"

Rourke testified that her daughter Jennifer was the most traumatized out of her four children, who were all in the home when their aunt was killed.

"I often wondered why it wasn't me," Rourke testified. "I was much closer for the man to kill, he just had to open the door, but instead he killed my little sister."

Rourke said that the man who killed her sister had previously assaulted another woman. She told the commission she would like to see stiffer sentences for assaults and murders.

"If they had kept him locked up where he belonged, my sister would still be alive."

The three families will resume testimony Tuesday afternoon to offer more recommendations and speak further about the impacts of their loss.

The family of Nicole Daniels, a 16-year-old who was found frozen to death, was the first to testify in the week long Winnipeg hearing.

Nicole Daniels was 16 when she died of hypothermia in 2009. (Facebook)
The commission said 75 families and survivors have registered to share their stories.

"Pretty positive, they seemed to listen to what we had to say, which is what we wanted," said Joan Winning, who is Daniel's aunt. "We wanted more exposure into what happened [with] police."

Nicole's aunt, Joan Winning, says the teen's clothes were undone, and that — along with other factors — leaves the family convinced that she was murdered. (CBC News)
Daniels was found face down in the snow in April 2009, the morning after, her family says, she had gone out with a middle-aged man she had met on a telephone chat line.

An autopsy showed she had a high level of alcohol in her system and died from hypothermia. Police ruled her death not suspicious.

Winning, testified that the teen's clothes were undone, and that — along with other factors — leaves the family convinced that she was murdered.

Nicole's cousin, Isabel Daniels, told the hearing society sees Indigenous women as disposable and that has to change.

"This man picked her up, took her from her home, took her out and then took her in the back of an autobody shop, where there was no lights, where there was no one to help her, and disposed of her like she was garbage," said Daniels. 

'We finally feel that people heard our story'

5 years ago
Duration 8:29
Isabel Daniels, whose cousin Nicole Daniels was found frozen to death in 2009 - shares her family's story and their experience testifying before the MMIWG Inquiry

The family continues to call on Winnipeg police to reopen the teen's case.

Monday's hearing was the first of five days scheduled for Winnipeg, following earlier hearings in Smithers, B.C., and Whitehorse.

The inquiry has faced complaints from some families about poor communication and delays. One commissioner and some staff members have resigned.

Kevin Hart, a regional vice-chief with the Assembly of First Nations, alluded to the controversy in his opening remarks.

"We know it hasn't been an easy job for you ... and I ask you from the bottom of my heart: please help the families and the survivors and the two-spirited because they need you more than ever right now." 


Jillian Taylor

CBC Reporter

Jillian Taylor has been with CBC Manitoba since 2012 and has been working as a journalist for nearly 15 years. She was born and raised in Manitoba and is a member of the Fisher River Cree Nation. In 2014, she was awarded the Commonwealth Broadcasting Association's travel bursary, which took her to Australia to work with Indigenous journalists. Find her on Twitter: @JillianLTaylor

with files from the Canadian Press