There was a bit more optimism in the room than usual during an annual meeting that includes family members of young women who went missing or were murdered along the Highway of Tears.
The optimism comes after police announced on Sept. 25 that Bobby Jack Fowler was responsible for at least one of those murders and that he remains a suspect in other deaths.
The break, after so many years, came as a result of improvements in DNA technology.
Mary Teegee with Carrier Sekani Family Services said advances in technology combined with the tips that have been coming in to police is what is fuelling the families’ optimism.
“The idea of today’s meeting is to remember the victims,” Insp. Gary Shinkaruk with EPANA, said. “Although we try to feel the true pain and utter despair they feel everyday, it’s good to get together.”
He added they try to update families as they can, but for some of them it has been decades with no idea what happened to their loved one.
Over the nine years the annual meeting among the missing and murdered women’s loved ones has been taking place, it has evolved to include various support groups. On Wednesday, about 40 people were gathered together, 20 of whom were family members. Others represented organizations like Victim’s Services, the RCMP, Carrier Sekani Family Services and senior investigators with EPANA.
Brenda Wilson, whose sister, Ramona, was 15 when she was murdered along the Highway of Tears, said it is heartening to see these organizations come together and collaborate in an effort to find answers.
“It brings hope to us. We’re not doing this alone anymore,” she said.
She said she knows the cases continue to be investigated, not just on a daily basis, but every second.
Eighteen years ago, when her sister went missing, she said her mom and her felt alone.
Nicole Hoar was 25 when she went missing on June 21, 2002.
“At this point I think they’ve made a lot of progress,” her dad, Jack, said, adding their were 1,500 tips for police to investigate after his daughter went missing. “They’ve gone through the chaff.”
However he said there is still a lot of information required. He said he believes there is someone out there who knows something. Perhaps that person was afraid to come forward at the time of his daughter’s disappearance.
“Now they might be more comfortable,” he said.
Teegee said people uncomfortable talking to the police about what they know are welcome to call her office.
“Any information is valuable. If someone is not comfortable, definitely contact our office, and we will follow up with that,” she said.
Hoar was last seen hitchhiking west of Prince George, heading to Smithers.
Educating young women about the dangers of hitchhiking is an example of one of the things the family members discuss during their meeting.
In fact, the families forwarded 33 recommendations to the government in a bid to build a safer environment for young women.
Teegee said, as of yet, not all of those recommendations have been realized.
Meanwhile, the investigation into Bobby Jack Fowler’s life continues.
Shinkaruk said about 300 tips came in following their announcement. Tips on the other murders and disappearances continue to come in.
“Even if you think it’s trivial, or it’s something you think we already know, please call,” he said.