For families of missing women, unknown victim of alleged serial killer conjures fears of the worst: advocate
No remains found, few details about woman Winnipeg police believe was 1st victim of accused killer
Families searching for missing loved ones are fearing the worst after police announced one of the victims of an alleged serial killer in Winnipeg has not yet been identified.
"You always remain hopeful that your loved one is going to be found safe," said Hilda Anderson-Pyrz, chair of the National Family and Survivors Circle, a group created after the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls.
"To hear this type of news, I cannot begin to imagine what the families are going through ... not knowing if this individual who has not been identified yet is their loved one."
On Thursday, police said a man charged earlier this year in the death of a 24-year-old woman has now been charged with three more counts of first-degree murder.
Jeremy Skibicki's lawyer said his client planned to plead not guilty to the four charges in the deaths of Rebecca Contois, 39-year-old Morgan Harris, 26-year-old Marcedes Myran and a fourth unidentified woman.
Contois was a member of O-Chi-Chak-Ko-Sipi First Nation, also known as Crane River, located on the western shore of Lake Manitoba. Harris and Myran were members of Long Plain First Nation in south central Manitoba. All were living in Winnipeg when they were killed, police say.
Police have found Contois's remains, but none of the other women's bodies. However, they said they still had enough evidence to charge Skibicki in all four deaths.
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Few details have been released about the fourth woman. Police believe she was Indigenous and in her mid-20s, and that she was the first of the four victims, killed weeks before the others.
Investigators also released photos of a black-and-white Baby Phat brand jacket with a fur trim hood they believe the woman wore.
With scant details, identifying the woman may prove difficult — and if she's indeed a young Indigenous woman who had been reported missing, as Harris and Myran were, Anderson-Pyrz said the list of possible matches is long.
At a news conference on Thursday, Winnipeg Police Service Insp. Shawn Pike said the investigation to identify the unknown victim continues.
"Somewhere out there, there's a family and a community that are missing a loved one and truly deserve to know what happened," Pike said.
'Somebody has to know something'
Darryl Contois — who has spent decades helping in searches for missing people, including Harris earlier this year — said he's been going over his notes from previous searches to see if there's any link to the unidentified woman and the jacket she wore.
"I'm trying to piece together [any information about] that piece of clothing to see if anybody gave me a description of what that person was wearing and who that is," Contois said Friday at a sacred fire burning for the slain women on Winnipeg's Selkirk Avenue.
He said he's doing what he can to help bring closure to the woman's family, whoever they are — and he hopes other people will too.
"There's a lot of people in Winnipeg, you know. Somebody has to know something," he said.
"Even though she's gone, she's still somebody. Somebody loves her, somebody cares for her — so I hope we find out who she is."
WATCH | Police provide details about unidentified victim:
And if a day comes when the woman is identified, Anderson-Pyrz said she thinks about the family — out there somewhere, not yet knowing what happened to their loved one — and hopes the community rallies to support and care for them.
"I think of the heartbreak that they'll go through — the trauma that they'll experience," she said, emotion welling in her voice.
Anderson-Pyrz said the deaths highlight the urgent need for the 231 calls for justice that came out of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls to be implemented.
A national action plan to end violence against Indigenous women based on that inquiry's final report was released last year, but advocates have said little has been done and called for more accountability from the federal government.
Consistent government funding to address a lack of affordable housing, quality education, access to employment and training opportunities, and the ability to reclaim culture would all go a long way to help ensure the safety of Indigenous women, Anderson-Pyrz said.
With files from Alana Cole