Nfld. & Labrador

Cortney Lake's father puts up tombstone 'for a grave yet to be dug'

Two years after she disappeared, Cortney Lake's family doesn't have a body to bury, but her father has created a space to mourn their loss.

Headstone serves as a memorial in Lake's hometown of St. Lawrence

Sean Lake put up this headstone in St. Lawrence for his daughter, Cortney Lake, missing since June 7, 2017. (Glenda Power/Facebook)

A large circle of black granite now stands in a St. Lawrence cemetery, on a hill among other tombstones that serve as memorials for the buried remains of loved ones, now gone.

But this one is different.

It's arbitrary — there's no one beneath it. 

Nobody knows where Cortney Lake's final resting place is, and the search efforts have grown cold.

"I looked towards the clouds today and for a moment saw your face," reads the first line of an engraved poem on the tombstone.

Save for photographs, her family hasn't seen her face since June 7, 2017. Lake's father recently erected this monument to her in their hometown on Newfoundland's Burin Peninsula, where she spent her childhood years.

"A beautiful stone for a grave yet to be dug," said Lake's aunt, Glenda Power.

This poem is engraved on the back of the headstone, dedicated to Cortney Lake. (Glenda Power/Facebook)

Her father hasn't spoken to the media since his daughter disappeared.

Police believe Lake was murdered by her ex-boyfriend, Philip Smith, who later killed himself and left behind no clues. Police searches have turned up nothing, and more than 100 searches organized by the family around the Avalon Peninsula found little trace of the 24-year-old mother of one.

The grief has struck each family member in different ways, Power said.

"Every day when I drive to work, I'm looking on the side of the road and looking through the woods and thinking, 'Did we do enough? Did we search enough? Did we go everywhere we should have went to look?' And that still haunts me."

A photograph of Cortney Lake distributed by the Royal Newfoundland Constabulary on Friday, two days after she was last seen in St. John's. (RNC)

Some family members aren't ready to stand next to a grave without her remains beneath it, but others are happy to have a place to get together and concentrate their feelings toward.

"It was the right decision by Sean and many members of our family now feel that at least we have a place to go and lay flowers. A place we can go and there's a focal point for the grief."

Glenda Power wears a ribbon with a brooch showing the face of her niece, Cortney Lake. (Paula Gale/CBC)

Since Smith's death, police have said he was their only suspect. The family has always felt there's more information out there.

"We still hold the belief that someone out there knows something about the location of Cortney's remains," Power said.

"And I would just ask that person to look at the picture of Cortney's headstone and think about the grief that is held by this family, her loved ones, her friends, and do the right thing. It's never too late to do the right thing."

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador