There was a little bit of healing, but no end to the mourning in a close-knit Manitoba community this week, after police charged a 15-year-old boy in the "senseless and horrific" murder of 11-year-old Teresa Robinson.
On Thursday, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police announced they had arrested the teenager without incident in Garden Hill First Nation, where Robinson's body was found. The boy is from the same community as Robinson and is the only suspect in her murder, but police wouldn't say more about him since he is underage and therefore can't be identified.
When searchers initially found her remains in the woods on May 11, 2015, they were in such rough shape that residents of the reserve northeast of Winnipeg thought she had been mauled by an animal, perhaps a bear. The damage was so bad that at first the RCMP could not positively identify her. But police didn't rule out homicide, and later confirmed with an autopsy that the girl had been murdered.
Robinson went missing on May 5, 2015, on her way home from a birthday party. It took three days for someone to notify police that she had disappeared.
Her murder was a "senseless and horrific crime" that shook the community, RCMP Supt. Paulette Freill said during a press conference Friday. Freill said she hoped the laying of the charge would help the family heal.
'The aftershock comes in, and the reaction to that sometimes is terrible.'
Robinson's death came one year, almost to the day, after the RCMP published their first-ever report into the deaths of nearly 1,200 missing and murdered Indigenous women across the country since 1980.
Garden Hill Councillor Russell Harper, who is closely related to Robinson, told VICE News the charge did not bring closure for him.
"According to our teachings from the elders, when the creator made the humans, he said all the parts of the human should be in the same resting place, not scattered." He said he wanted to keep searching to see if any of her remains are left.
Harper said "it brings a little bit of healing" to hear that the boy was charged in her death.
"We're still mourning and we're still trying to figure out what to do here," he said.
"In a community this size, it's almost like a big family," he said, when asked about the significance of the accused murderer being from the community. "Everybody knows everybody. And when it happens like that, there's still the lord's prayer, you must forgive your trespassers, those who trespass against us, and that seems to be in the air when we begin to talk about that. That's how it was taught to us."
"The aftershock comes in, and the reaction to that sometimes is terrible. That's maybe happening at times, so nothing is stable right now, unless something else comes up."
Hundreds of people searched for Robinson when she went missing. Volunteers travelled from as far away as the neighbouring province of Ontario to help find her.
Animals had disturbed her remains after her death, Staff Sgt. Jared Hall told reporters during a press conference on Friday. But he said there would be no charges of indignity to human remains.
"We don't like to stack [charges], to use layman's terms," he said. "We don't like to do that."
Hall said police had conducted nearly 400 interviews so far, and the investigation was ongoing.
In early February, the RCMP gathered DNA from men aged 15 to 66 in Garden Hill who volunteered samples. Hall would not say whether the 15-year-old charged with Robinson's murder provided his DNA to police.
'Some 60 percent of people in Manitoba jails are Indigenous and we can't ignore that context.'
The bid to collect DNA from about 2,000 men was criticized by human rights advocates.
Human rights lawyer Corey Shefman told CBC he didn't think the collection was truly voluntary.
"Particularly if you're an Indigenous person, if a police officer shows up at your door and says, 'We'd like you to voluntarily give us some of your DNA,' if you were to say no, the next thing to come out of their mouths is not going to be, 'OK, thanks, have a nice day.' It's going to be, 'Why don't you want to give us your DNA? Are you hiding something?'" He said.
"Some 60 percent of people in Manitoba jails are Indigenous and we can't ignore that context," he added.
Hall said collection of DNA samples was not a new technique for RCMP in Manitoba, but the large scope was new to them. He would not discuss evidence as it's still an open investigation.
"If I were a parent and something like this happened to me, I'd just want to know what happened," Hall said. "...What is important is, what I want to get across, is that our members care."
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