New Brunswick·CBC Investigates

Family searching for answers after Indigenous woman's death

Family members of a 26-year-old woman from Oromocto First Nation are calling on police to do a more thorough investigation into her death.

‘I need to know that she’s not just treated like her life didn’t matter,' mother of Jade Sabattis says

Jade Sabattis is remembered by her family as a free spirit who loved to help others. (CBC)

Family members of a 26-year-old woman from Oromocto First Nation are calling on police to do a more thorough investigation into her death.

Jade Sabattis was rushed to hospital from a home in the community on the morning of March 10. She died in hospital.

Police say foul play isn't suspected.

But her family believes Jade's death is suspicious.

Sheri Sabattis, the woman's mother, said her daughter's body was covered in bruises when she identified her at the Oromocto Hospital after her death.

She said those bruises weren't there when she saw her the night before — the last time she'd ever see her daughter alive.

"I need to know that she's not just treated like her life didn't matter," her mother, Sheri Sabattis, said.

"Because it did matter to a lot of people."

Jade's final hours

Sheri Sabattis is looking for answers about her daughter's death. (CBC)
Sabattis spoke to her daughter for the final time on the night before she died.

Jade was living with her mother and working seasonally in the fisheries industry. She planned to enrol at the University of New Brunswick in the fall.

"The last time we talked, which hurts me to say that, we just talked about life and death which is strange," Sabattis said.

"We said to each other that it would be very hard to move on without one another."

Based on her daughter's Facebook messages, Sabattis believes she went to a friend's house around 9 p.m.

Her friend told Sabattis that Jade drank a quart of alcohol and was in bad shape.

She left for a second location — the home of a man who recently served a sentence in prison for sexual assault — in the early morning hours of March 10.

Later that morning, Sabattis got a call from her sister, telling her an ambulance had taken Jade away from the home.

She rushed to the hospital, but her daughter was already gone when she arrived.

Since then, the family says they've had more questions than answers about Jade's final hours.

At her funeral, they dressed Jade's neck in a scarf and arms in a long-sleeved shirt to cover up the bruising.

"She would not have taken her life," said Allan Sabattis-Atwin, Jade's brother.

"She did not OD. Something else happened and we're not going to give up until we get the truth."

Police defend investigation

Jade Sabattis planned to go back to school at the University of New Brunswick this fall, but wouldn't get to achieve that dream. (CBC)
Const. Hans Ouellette said police have been "constantly in contact" with Jade's family to keep them up to date with the investigation.

"If they have concerns, we'd really like them to contact us and share their concerns with us," Ouellette said.

"It's all part of the investigation that we're currently going through."

But Jade's family says they haven't been able to get answers to many of their questions, including how Jade died and why the police don't believe it's suspicious. Her death is still under investigation by the coroner.

Jade's family questions why police didn't appear to put up police tape around the home where her body was found and why investigators allegedly waited more than two weeks to test a rape kit collected after her death.

New Brunswick RCMP also didn't issue a press release to tell the public about Jade's death, something it has done in other cases of sudden death, even when foul play isn't suspected.

'There are many similar cases all over Canada'

Allan Sabattis-Atwin will remember his sister for her love of helping others. (CBC)
"As sad as it is to admit this, I think that Indigenous lives don't matter as much to some people," Sabattis-Atwin said.

"People will say 'Well, they deserved it, they put themselves in that situation, they did this, they did that.' The statistics all across Canada show that this case, like Jade's, there are many similar cases all over Canada."

CBC News has investigated at least 34 cases across Canada where police ruled out foul play in the death or disappearance of Indigenous women, findings the women's families dispute.

Ouellette said Jade's family should contact police if they "have concerns about the way the investigation is going."

"We take all investigations of sudden death or any investigation that we're involved in very seriously," he said.

Vigil planned

Jade Sabattis and her brother, Allan Sabattis-Atwin, were 'inseparable' growing up. (CBC)
Jade's family remembers her as a free spirit who loved her family. They called her Ladybug.

As a young girl, she followed her mother to university classes.  She dreamed of going back to school and studying education so she could help other people.

"I remember one time she got a chunk of money and she went to Fredericton to the homeless shelter and she handed out $20 bills," her mother said.

The family hopes to raise enough money to hire a lawyer to find answers about Jade's death.

They plan to hold a healing and memorial walk at the Oromocto First Nation Health Centre on Saturday at noon. The event will end with a vigil in Jade's memory.

"It's hard enough to stand over her body and look at her beautiful face and know that we're not going to see it anymore," her brother said.

"But it's even harder to know that she has bruises that we don't have answers to."

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