Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Despair sets in during search

No sign of mother whose two children were found dead in bathtub

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Police check possible hiding spots Thursday in the search for Lisa Gibson near her Coleridge Park Drive home.

WAYNE GLOWACKI / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Enlarge Image

Police check possible hiding spots Thursday in the search for Lisa Gibson near her Coleridge Park Drive home. Photo Store

Like many frustrated colleagues, he has spent much of the past two days participating in the search for a now-childless Winnipeg mother who has vanished.

"I think this is going to have a tragic end," the Winnipeg cop said glumly.

That appears to be the consensus among police and justice officials who fear Lisa Gibson, 32, may have ended her own life in the moments or hours after her two children were found drowned in a bathtub Wednesday morning.

The Free Press spoke Thursday to several investigators in the case who requested anonymity because they are not permitted to make public statements. A picture emerged of officers who are struggling with their emotions in the wake of the tragedy.

"Very sensitive right now," said one veteran officer. "We're thinking of the family right now."

Another described going home on Wednesday evening and being unable to eat more than a few bites of dinner as he stared at his wife and young daughter across the table.

"A lot of people seem to think we are robots. But nothing prepares you for seeing two dead children," he said. He wasn't in Gibson's home on Coleridge Park Drive in Westwood, but knows others who were and says that scene can never be erased.

'I think this is going to have a tragic end' -- Winnipeg police officer

"It's a younger force now. A great majority of guys out there have kids who are 5-ish, in that range," he said. "It hits you hard. These guys might be able to go on OK for the next two weeks, even two years. But at some point, they may deal with a similar call and it will flash back. It can ruin you."

Officers involved directly in the case will be offered counselling.

A paramedic told the Free Press first responders who were at the scene have been taken off duty for critical-incident counselling.

They had tried to revive both kids.

"They're taking it very rough," the paramedic said.

Police remain baffled as to why this happened, saying postpartum depression and/or other mental illness is the best working theory. Investigators have taken note of Gibson's Facebook page -- especially the fact a flood of happy pictures and posts about her children had come to an abrupt halt more than a month ago. There hadn't been a single post made since June 18, perhaps a sign she was in distress.

The officers say the 911 call -- a woman stating the home address and to "send police" before hanging up -- was just the beginning of a nightmare investigation that shows no sign of ending soon. Gibson's mother-in-law arrived at the home moments later because she regularly helped care for the children, Anna, 3, and Nicholas, three months.

After discovering Gibson had left the home on foot, wearing only a tank top and pyjama bottoms, an immediate search was launched. Many officers rushed to the nearby Assiniboine River.

"Phones were ringing, texts were coming in. I don't think she has the state of mind to make an elaborate getaway," one officer said.

"That was the first thought, that she headed to the river," said another. "You just feel so many emotions. Sad. Sombre. It's heart-wrenching."

Police notified officials at the airport, bus station and even border agents. But it was more out of formality than a belief Gibson would attempt to flee the jurisdiction.

While many officers flooded out across the city -- with the help of cadets, community-support units and other specialty units like K-9 and the police helicopter -- a handful of homicide detectives had the grim task of dealing with family.

The children's father, Brian Gibson, was notified at his workplace and rushed home. He was later questioned about his wife, along with her parents. Sources describe an extremely emotional and tense scene at the Public Safety Building.

Several police officers described the family as "devastated" and urged members of the media and public to let them grieve privately.

"They need some space, if that's possible, which I doubt," said one investigator.

Police tried to piece together as much of a profile as they could on Gibson: who she talked to, where she liked to visit, how she spent her days and what places might be important to her. These were all important factors in identifying potential search areas.

Police have received numerous tips about possible sightings of Gibson, including one woman who claims she saw her pushing an empty stroller down Portage Avenue shortly after her children were found dead. Police have not confirmed that.

"In a high-profile case, you'll always get these sort of tips," said another source.

Police have conducted numerous searches of neighbourhood yards while canvassing dozens of residents about whether they've seen anything unusual. The police helicopter has also assisted in providing an eye in the sky.

Members of the victim-services unit began speaking with close neighbours Thursday, offering counselling if needed.

Much of the search has been on the Assiniboine River, as police say the river's edge is close to the family home and the most likely way to disappear so quickly. The fact a body hasn't been found may be a sign there will be no quick ending.

"Usually, with water, you're found right where you went in pretty quickly, or they're not going to find you until down the road, a distance away," one officer said.

www.mikeoncrime.com

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition July 26, 2013 A3

History

Updated on Friday, July 26, 2013 at 6:22 AM CDT: replaces photos

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