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New information sparks renewed search efforts for woman missing in North Okanagan

Baylee Burian, an advocate for the missing and murdered women in the area, stands at the bottom of Yankee Flats Road during a rally to raise awareness of the missing women.
Image Credit: Kelsie Kilawna, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Kendra Toner remembers a cold morning in May of 2016 when she and a friend headed up to a remote area in the mountains outside of Canoe, B.C. 

The pair were grouse hunting when on a dead end road at the top of the mountain, they stumbled upon belongings that Toner says she “got really bad vibes from.” 

Wishing she hadn’t left her phone behind, Toner remembers looking at “a pile of clothing on the ground, lots of pink shirts, jeans. There were CD’s, makeup, etc.”

But Toner said what got her attention was a piece of mail with a woman’s name on it. The name was Ashley Simpson, a local woman who was recently in the news after being reported missing. 

Ashley Simpson went missing from the Yankee Flats area outside of Enderby, B.C. on April 27, 2016. 

Toner says they tried to look around and shout her name but didn’t get a response. They left the belongings there and as soon as the two were down from the mountain they called the RCMP to tell them what they had found.   

Weeks later when she returned to the area she says the belongings were still there. 

“[The items] had been what looked like run over many times, I didn’t notice a piece of mail,” says Toner. She says she never heard back from the RCMP. 

Now, Cindy Simpson, Ashley’s mother saw the comment about the backpack from Toner on a Facebook article about Ashley in a private group. Cindy says that she has forwarded the information to her lead investigator.

“That's the very first that I’ve heard of it when I very first read it,” says Cindy Simpson, Ashley’s mother.

Cindy Simpson says this kind of information is always hard to receive, especially so close to Ashley’s birthday, which is Nov. 15. 

She has forwarded the information to her lead investigator of the case, and hopes to see something come of it. She wants folks to know that any information must be sent to Crimestoppers as soon as possible. 

In an email statement to IndigiNews RCMP spokesperson, Cpl. Jesse O’Donaghey says that they cannot comment on an on-going and active investigation, however, “when a tip is received in relation to any investigation, the tip is evaluated by investigators to determine what/if any investigative follow-up will be required.” 

“All tips are assessed on a case to case basis and there may be occasions when the tip may not assist in advancing the investigation further, as the information provided by the tipster has previously been verified or discounted, through other means,” reads the statement.

O’Donaghey also shares that when anyone comes across evidence that can be used in an investigation it is important to, “not touch the item(s), and contact the police of jurisdiction to report,” reads the statement. 

‘Nobody has a right to take a life away’

Four missing women, both Indigenous and non-Indigenous, have gone missing from the same area just outside Enderby. B.C.: Deanna Wertz, Caitlin Potts, Ashley Simpson, and Nicole Bell. 

In addition to the missing women, the remains of Traci Genereaux were found on the property belonging to Curtis Sagmoen on Salmon River Road just outside of Enderby B.C. on Oct. 21 2017. Sagmoen has been accused of several incidents relating to violence against women, however, he has not been charged in Genereaux’s death. 

On Nov. 1, a group of Secwepemc matriarchs hosted a ceremony and rally at Sagmoen’s property below Yankee Flats, where both Deanna and Ashley went missing, to raise awareness and memorialize Traci Genereaux.

As Ashley Simpson’s birthday approaches, her family will hold a birthday party as they have done for her every year since her disappearance. 

Her family will often, “have a cake at home, then sing happy birthday to her, and then they will release balloons,” says Cindy Simpson. The same is done in April to commemorate the passing year since her disappearance. 

In the meantime a group of people are organizing search efforts in the area, according to a private Facebook post that has recently sparked a lot of conversation.

Cindy Simpson says that it’s important to reach out to the right people if you have any information. “We’re not supposed to accept any third hand information,” she says.

Any information leading to the whereabouts of one of the missing women is “not only closure for one family, it’s hope for the rest of us.” 

— This article was originally published in The Discourse on Nov. 14, 2020.

News from © iNFOnews, 2020

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