Thunder Bay

Nothing criminal about Tammy Keeash's 'tragic' death, say police in Thunder Bay, Ont.

Tammy Keeash, 17, died by drowning and foul play is not suspected in the death, according to city police in Thunder Bay, Ont.

Keeash, 17, was from North Caribou Lake First Nation

Thunder Bay police reported on Friday that Tammy Keeash died by drowning, after the completion of a post mortem. Police say there is no evidence of foul play in her death. (Thunder Bay Police)

A 17-year-old girl from North Caribou Lake First Nation, whose body was found in Thunder Bay's Neebing-McIntyre Floodway died by drowning, according to city police, after the completion of a post mortem.

There is "no evidence to indicate criminality" in the "tragic" death of Tammy Keeash, Thunder Bay police said in a news release issued on Friday.

The teen's body was found on Sunday, May 7 in the water near Chapples Park just before 9 p.m., police said.

The conclusion runs contrary to a news release issued on Wednesday by Nishnawbe Aski Nation that referred to Keeash's death as a potential homicide.

"We have strongly encouraged police not to rule out any possible causes for her death until a thorough investigation is completed," Deputy Grand Chief Anna Betty Achneepineskum said in a statement on Thursday.

No one from Nishnawbe Aski Nation was immediately available to comment on Friday's news release from the police.

"It's never been deemed a homicide so I don't know where they received that information from, it wasn't from the police," Det. Sgt. Ryan Hughes told CBC News. "We were investigating it as a death and whatever avenue it took us on, through the investigative process, was the avenue we would take."

The way that Thunder Bay police investigate deaths of Indigenous people is also the subject of an on-going systemic review by Ontario's police watchdog after the death of Stacy Debungee, who was also found in a river.

Keeash is the sixth First Nations teen to be found dead in a river in Thunder Bay since 2000. Questions were raised about the quality of Thunder Bay police investigations and the 'no foul play' determination during an inquest into the other five drownings.

Another concern raised by the inquest was about public notice regarding missing persons reports to police.

Police were contacted by Keeash's guardian on Sunday afternoon requesting that officers check on her at a specified address; when police were not able to contact her, she was officially reported missing about an hour later, according to police.

Hughes said there was no media notification of Keeash's disappearance because of the short time between when she was reported missing and when she was found dead.

"She was reported missing at 2:30 and she was discovered at around 9 p.m. that night," Hughes said. "So for a media release...it varies on different situations, during that time there wasn't one that was issued."

A subsequent investigation, that police referred to as "extensive," determined that Keeash was last seen on Saturday, May 6 around 10:30 p.m. near the floodway's shore. She was in the care of Tikinagan Child and Family Services when she died.

Keeash is the fourth teen from a remote First Nation in northern Ontario to die while in the custody of a child welfare agency since October, 2016. Her death continues to be investigated by the coroner.

With files from Jody Porter

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