Family and friends of transgender woman missing since July launch new search, blast police response
'She needs validation for her life and she is just as important as anyone else in our society,' organizer says
Family and friends of Alloura Wells embarked on a new search Saturday in an effort to find the transgender Toronto woman who has been missing for more than three months
Dozens braved the cold weather at noon to scour Bloor Street East between the city's St. James Town neighbourhood and the Church and Wellesley corridor where Wells was known to spend most of her time.
"We have different parties going out in different areas to see what we can find, give out some flyers, talk to people hopefully and just get out there and see what we can do to bring Alloura back and find answers," said friend Monica Forrester.
She says Toronto police overlooked Wells' disappearance, but the 27-year-old wasn't reported missing to police until last weekend.
Police overlooked disappearance: father
Wells, who also goes by the names Alloura Wheeler and Alloura Hennessy, was always on Facebook. But when her page went dormant in late July, friends say it set off red flags.
Forrester, a program co-ordinator at Maggie's: the Toronto Sex Workers Action Project, told CBC Toronto earlier this week that rumours started to spread throughout the sex worker community that she had died from a drug overdose.
Wells and her family had recently fallen on hard times. After she lost her mother four years ago, Wells' father, Michael, explained she started using drugs, was homeless and had run-ins with the law.
He said they last spoke in March and assumed she was in jail. But after Wells' sister, Michelle Wheeler, reached out to him last Sunday saying she wasn't behind bars, in the city morgue or at a rehab centre, he notified Toronto Police Service.
He said the officer at 51 Division "blew it off" and felt his oldest daughter's disappearance wasn't taken seriously.
"He gave me the non-emergency number and said, 'Oh, you can call that and you can make a report through them,'" he said.
"It's kind of ridiculous. He could have started [the report]."
'She is just as important as anyone'
Maggie's, a non-profit centre that offers support services to help local sex workers, organized Saturday's search.
Forrester believes police overlooked Wells' case because she is transgender, homeless and possibly a sex worker.
"We're going to take it upon ourselves to get answers," she said in tears.
"She needs validation for her life and she is just as important as anyone else in our society."
As a transgender woman of colour, Forrester says she has dealt with all forms of violence and won't stop looking for Wells.
"She was not just a community member. She was a friend," she said.
Wells frequented the Wednesday afternoon drop-in program at Maggie's where Forrester got to know her.
She describes Wells as a vibrant and caring person who was beloved by others.
"This community misses her and loves her and we want her back," she said.
LGBTQ advocate Brian De Matos helped comb the Rosedale Ravine Lands Park where Wells often slept.
He works with Queer Ontario and Rainbow Health Network and says many transgender people and those with substance abuse issues reside in the area.
"Street culture brings people together, and when you're sleeping on the street you're often doing it with a few others," he told CBC Toronto.
De Matos is hopeful to speak to others in the area who knew her to get clues on where she might be.
"We have to watch our own. We have to take care of ourselves because there's no one else to do it," he said noting this goes hand-in-hand with being part of a marginalized community.
Toronto police said in an email to CBC Toronto on Saturday that the investigation into Wells' disappearance is ongoing.
But Forrester insists they could be doing more.
"We need the police to be more supportive in these communities and help us and support us and be there for us," she said.
With files from CBC's Adrian Cheung and Lorenda Reddekopp