Why no one sought help finding a teen girl who went missing in the Thompson River - InfoNews

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Why no one sought help finding a teen girl who went missing in the Thompson River

Kamloops Search and Rescue members stationed at McArthur Island June 29, 2017, to try to find a teenage girl who disappeared in the Thompson River to escape police custody.
July 25, 2017 - 6:30 PM

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KAMLOOPS - It was roughly 2 a.m. June 29 when a Kamloops police officer attempted to arrest a teenage girl in connection to a suspected bicycle theft on the North Shore.

The officer found her hiding under a private dock then attempted to arrest her but she took off – into the flood-swollen Thompson River.

Later that morning, several signs indicated something serious had happened. Several police officers remained on scene, a home was behind police tape and Kamloops Search and Rescue was tasked with a search but it wasn't until 12 hours later that police explained to the public what happened.

At no point over the next three days before the girl was found did police release any information that could have helped the public identify the young girl. They offered no description, no further explanation of the event, what they were doing to try to find her or how the public could help.

That’s unusual for police, particularly Kamloops RCMP, which deals with as many as 1,000 missing people in a year. They regularly seek help from the public to locate missing people, particularly missing kids. As strange as it sounds, it’s not unusual for those bulletins to not contain photos or offer only vague descriptors.

Two things made this case different. The arresting officer, the only one who set eyes on her, made few if any notable observations that would allow the public to assist. The case was also further complicated by the mere presence of a police oversight agency which engaged a communications protocol that overruled or frustrated the release of any public information — even to find a missing teen.

Neither the RCMP nor the Independent Investigations Office said anything else while the 16-year-old girl they were looking for climbed out of the river downstream and over the next three days, hitch-hiked two separate rides to Prince George.

Kamloops RCMP spokesperson Cpl. Jodi Shelkie says the brief encounter in the dark wasn’t enough for the arresting officer to get a useful description of her.

All the officer gathered was she was “on the shorter side” and may have had long hair.

The officer made no observations about her ethnicity, height, weight, build, hair colour, clothing, shoes, identifying features or anything else that could assist authorities or the public in finding her.

But even if that most basic of information the officer obtained could have helped the public find her in the first hours of her disappearance or while she stood on the side of a busy highway, the case was already mired in bureaucratic protocols.

The girl wasn’t yet handcuffed when she entered the river but she was technically under arrest and that meant Kamloops RCMP had to notify the Independent Investigations Office of B.C. that serious harm or death may have come from a police-involved incident.

“When something happens and (the Independent Investigations Office) exerts jurisdiction, we can no longer speak to it,” Shelkie says.

That’s usually the case, but since no one knew if she was alive or dead, the investigations office never exerted jurisdiction.

The independent investigators began a preliminary assessment to see if the case would fall within their mandate of death or serious harm, says Independent Investigations Office spokesperson Aidan Buckley. Those steps are taken so that nothing is missed if a case eventually falls within its jurisdiction.

In a case like this where jurisdiction isn’t established, he says they typically go back and forth with RCMP to determine which information should be released and when.

"Any information they’re releasing they’ll usually go through us first, which could delay the release of information," Buckley says.

Only two public explanations were given. The first, 12 hours after she went missing, gave no description. The second came five days later when police confirmed she was found.

All indications are police had no idea who she was or whether she was alive or dead.

That doesn’t mean police were idle. Shelkie says they considered every teenager who was missing in Kamloops or was known to go off the radar.

“We investigated all of them and also teens who weren’t missing but are regularly gone from their residence. We called around to residences, group homes, there are some teens that habitually live next to the river… We spoke to foster parents, to biological parents who have teenage daughters… (to ask) if they knew where their child was, if they were gone at the time and then came back, if they came back… wet or anything like that.”

They couldn’t have known it unless the arresting officer made the connection, but the girl in the river was there among the missing person files, reported missing June 26 from Kamloops. As part of their sweep, they contacted the girl’s family, including her biological mother in Prince George.

“They didn’t tell me anything, they just said they needed DNA in case they found her,” says the girl’s mother, who is anonymous to protect the identity of her daughter.

She says they didn’t tell her there was a chance her daughter was lost in the Thompson River, but she had already guessed it.

“I knew immediately,” she told iNFOnews.ca. “As soon as I was sent your article, I knew it was her.”

She says her daughter, whose legal guardian lives elsewhere in B.C., was going through a rough time in Kamloops and just wanted to see her mother.

“I had posters in town and on cars and a friend of mine had driven the highway a couple of times looking for her but I was working and I wasn’t in any shape to go anywhere,” she says.

She says she was driving through Prince George and was shocked to see her daughter standing on the side of the road.

“I popped a U-ey and pulled over (when I saw her). She just cried and said ‘Mum, I fucked up.’”

She didn’t offer many details but she said she hitch-hiked 600 kms up Highway 5 from Kamloops to Prince George.

Her mother allowed her a shower and some food before taking her to the police station finally solving the mystery of the girl in the river.


To contact a reporter for this story, email Ashley Legassic or call 250-319-7494 or email the editor. You can also submit photos, videos or news tips to the newsroom and be entered to win a monthly prize draw.

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