For a few
minutes this weekend, the families and friends of Vancouver's missing
women and the police officers who are searching for them gathered in the
rain at Portside Park.
Hodge, Vancouver Sun / QUESTIONS: Friends of Vancouver's missing
women gather around a bench in Portside Park that is being
dedicated in their memory.
Officially, they were there to dedicate a bench in honor of the women.
But it was also a chance for the families to once more call attention to
the troubling cases, and for the police to reaffirm their commitment to
Less than a year ago, the disappearance of 31 women from Vancouver's
Downtown Eastside was making headlines internationally. The city and
provincial government offered a $100,000 reward, and the U.S. television
show America's Most Wanted aired a story about the women, many of whom
were involved in drugs or the sex trade.
Of late, though, the cases have slipped from the spotlight.
A team of five detectives and two civilian members from the Vancouver
city police continue to work the files. They have found two of the women
alive, and confirmed that two others died -- one from a drug overdose, and
another from heart problems.
But 27 of the women are still missing, and it was clear on Saturday
that police are as frustrated as the families.
Detective Constable Lori Shenher, the lead investigator on the case,
attended the dedication on the shores of Burrard Inlet. But like a number
of the 25 people standing under umbrellas around the bench, she was too
emotional to speak.
"It's such a strange ceremony because there is no closure,"
Shenher said later. "And I think that's what I find most frustrating,
personally, is that there is no closure for these people."
Lynn Frey, who travelled from Campbell River for the ceremony, said she
will never be at peace until she knows what happened to her daughter
Marnie, who was last seen in 1997. But Frey takes comfort, she said,
knowing that she has done everything possible to find her daughter.
"I've gone every step I could take. I've walked every beat,"
Frey said. "So that's why I came today. ... There's really nothing
more I can do."
Sandra Gagnon, whose sister Janet Henry was last seen in 1997, took
solace from the fact there is now a permanent reminder of the missing
women. "It shows these women are not forgotten and will never be
forgotten," she said.
And Pat deVries, who read out the names of the 31 women, said the
memorial bench ensures the women are celebrated and recognized, and that
there now is a place where families can go to remember them.
"You can't just sweep them under the rug," deVries, whose
daughter Sarah disappeared in 1998, said in an interview. "These
women's lives matter; they're not expendable."
Shenher said investigators continue to work the case and, despite the
frustrations, remain optimistic. But, at this point, they have nothing new
to offer the families.
"All I can tell them is where they aren't," she said.
"As far as where they are, we haven't got there yet."
Still, there has been some progress, and Patricia Coombes expressed
gratitude to the police Saturday for giving her a measure of peace. Her
daughter, Linda, died of a drug overdose in 1994, and was buried without a
name. But last year, detectives investigating the missing women's cases
used DNA testing to confirm her identity, and Coombes finally learned what
had happened to her daughter.