Tina Fontaine's last days still haunt her friend, 1 year later

It's been a year since Tina Fontaine's body was pulled from the Red River, but the nights leading up to her disappearance still haunt the 15-year-old's friend.

Teen who was with Fontaine days before she disappeared has tried to keep other girls safe

This friend of Tina Fontaine, who CBC News is identifying only as 'Katrina,' says she was one of the last people to see the 15-year-old alive. (CBC)

It's been a year since Tina Fontaine's body was pulled from the Red River in Winnipeg, but the nights leading up to her disappearance still haunt the 15-year-old's friend.

We're calling the girl Katrina. We can't reveal her true identity because the now 19-year-old is one of the last people to see the teen alive.

"It really upset me and I did want to kill myself. I didn't see a point after because I just felt like I didn't do enough," Katrina told CBC News on Friday.

Katrina met Fontaine for the first time sometime after 10 p.m. on Thursday, Aug. 7, 2014.

Fontaine was sitting outside a convenience store at the corner of Langside Street and Ellice Avenue. She was there alone, and Katrina noticed she had a busted lip.

Tina Fontaine is shown in this Facebook profile picture from January 2014. Winnipeg police believe the 15-year-old was killed, but no arrests have been announced to date. (Facebook)
"I just seen her sitting there and started talking to her, and then I went into the store, came back, and we hung out for a bit," she said.

The teens had a lot in common and bonded instantly. Fontaine told Katrina she was in the care of Child and Family Services and had run away — something Katrina knew a lot about, as she had spent years in CFS care and was also a chronic runaway.

Over the course of the next three days, Katrina tried several times to help get Fontaine off the street.

"Stuff happened to me before, too, and like a lot of the other kids helped me, or they tried to — sometimes I said no, but they tried. I don't know, we [CFS kids] just like helping each other, I guess," she said.

Police were 'doing their jobs'

Around 2:30 a.m. on  Aug. 8, 2014, Katrina convinced Fontaine to go to an emergency shelter on Mayfair Avenue run by MacDonald Youth Services, but Tina didn't want to stay. They grabbed a bite to eat, used the restroom and took off.

About an hour later, Fontaine jumped into a truck with a couple of guys. Katrina flagged down a passing cruiser car. She said Winnipeg police told Fontaine to get out of the vehicle and they let her go.

The officers have since come under public scrutiny for not taking Fontaine into CFS care. However, Katrina doesn't blame police for what happened to her friend, saying when they pull over a vehicle with a working girl in it, they always let her go.

"The police didn't do it; they were just doing their jobs," she said.

"They let every girl go…. If they see someone getting into a truck, or if someone just got picked up, like, a few seconds ago, what they do is they just let the girl walk away. They just tell her to walk."

Katrina lost track of Fontaine after her run-in with police, but the pair met up again around 8 p.m. Fontaine told Katrina she had gotten really drunk and passed out in a back lane off Ellice Avenue earlier that day and was taken to hospital.

Begged Fontaine to stay

CFS was called and Fontaine was placed at the Best Western Charterhouse Hotel, but she took off to hang out with friends.

Their meeting was brief because Fontaine wasn't alone. Katrina said she was with a guy she introduced as her boyfriend, but didn't give his name.

According to Katrina, Fontaine said she was going to hang out with him for a bit and would meet up with her later. They reconnected just before 11 p.m. and hung out for a few more hours.

Winnipeg police pull up a tarp after recovering a body from the Red River near the Alexander Docks on Aug. 17, 2014. (CBC)
Katrina said the last time she saw Fontaine, the teen was walking away with a man who had offered to pay her to perform a sex act. Katrina didn't want Fontaine to go, and she begged her friend to stay and hang out instead.

"She wasn't even standing on the corner. Like, she was just sitting down, hanging out with me, and we were just listening to music and she wasn't doing that stuff," Katrina said.

"I didn't really want her to go, but he just walked up to us and asked and yeah, I don't know. I just felt really bad about it."

Fontaine was reported missing on Aug. 9, 2014. Her body was recovered from the Red River eight days later.

Police are treating her death as a homicide, but no charges have been laid to date.

'It really hurt a lot'

A year later, Katrina is still haunted by that moment and wishes she could have done more to stop Fontaine from going.

"It wasn't enough because she's not here," she said. "Like, I should have still tried harder."

Since Fontaine's death, Katrina has tried to help other girls she's met on the street by writing down the licence plates of vehicles they got into, in case anything were to happen.

When asked why she felt the need to protect people she didn't know, Katrina replied, "Just to make sure nothing happened. I don't know, they needed help, like they're out there alone, like nobody else is watching them, so someone should do it."

Katrina said she felt a lot of guilt in the months after Fontaine's death and was called names in school. She's struggled to move on, but she eventually did.

"It really hurt a a lot. I remember it like it was yesterday. It was really hard for me to believe. I remember thinking, like, I gotta just get over it because life doesn't stop for anybody, but then I'd hide how I felt and it hurt even more because it hurt a lot to lose somebody. Even though I barely knew her … there was a connection already."

This summer, Katrina graduated from high school and will be starting university in the fall. Her goal is to one day be a doctor so she can continue to help people.


Caroline Barghout

Investigative Reporter, CBC Manitoba I-Team

Caroline began her career co-hosting an internet radio talk show in Toronto and then worked at various stations in Oshawa, Sudbury and Toronto before landing in Winnipeg in 2007. Since joining CBC Manitoba as a reporter in 2013, she has won an award for her work on crowded jails and her investigation into Tina Fontaine's death led to changes in the child welfare system. Email: