Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Dead teens tied to drug lair

Crack cocaine exchanged for sexual acts

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The family of a sexually exploited teenager slain two years ago says she was linked to the same sex-for-drugs ring as two other Winnipeg teens whose bodies were recently found.

Fonassa Lynn Bruyere, 17, was a joking teen with glimmering eyes whose tragically truncated life included a crowd of men who exploited her, relatives say.

They say two years after her death police still have not told them details about how Fonassa died, or the abuse she might have suffered beforehand.

Fonassa's body was found on Aug. 30, 2007, near Ritchie Street and Mollard Road in northwest Winnipeg. At the time, police confirmed her death was a homicide and that she was last seen on Aikins Street in the North End.

"I'd like to know who did this to her and why, and how she died," Maureen Bruyere said Sunday afternoon -- two years to the day her daughter's remains were found.

She said she last saw her daughter on Aug. 8, the night before Fonassa disappeared, after the two had a brief argument.

The victim's sister, Tracy Bruyere, 20, told the Free Press on Sunday that she and her sister would frequent a Burrows Avenue home where men would give teenaged girls crack cocaine. Some of the girls traded sex for drugs.

Two other young women recently found dead -- Cherisse Houle, 17, on July 1; and Hillary Wilson 18, on Aug. 20 -- had also provided police with statements about the Burrows Avenue home, sources told the Free Press last week.

RCMP called the circumstances of Houle's death suspicious and are awaiting toxicology results.

The Mounties confirmed Wilson's death is a homicide, although the cause of death has not been released.

Tracy Bruyere said police have never questioned her about her visits to the Burrows Avenue home. She said she was not aware if her sister had provided information to police or authorities about the residence.

In 2007, Fonassa's death prompted aboriginal leaders to demand a task force dedicated to looking at cases of missing and slain native women.

Last week, the task force became a reality. RCMP Asst. Commissioner Bill Robinson, Winnipeg police Chief Keith McCaskill and Justice Minister Dave Chomiak announced they would assign seven officers and two criminal analysts to investigate all missing and homicide cases involving high-risk females.

The task force will receive an unspecified amount of funding and officers will be transferred from existing units, officials said.

Tracy, who was older than Fonassa by one year, said she and her sister played lookout for each other and tried to provide security from the men who cruised Aikins Street.

Tracy said she last saw Fonassa get into the cab of a green two-door truck with tinted windows on Aug. 9 at about 6 a.m. near Aikins Street and Selkirk Avenue.

She noticed the Caucasian man inside the truck had short hair, a moustache and a big nose before he raced away.

She said she does not know if the vehicle had a Manitoba licence plate.

"She never came back," said Tracy, who admitted she was concerned after her sister did not return to Aikins within 20 to 30 minutes.

She said the unfamiliar truck circled Fonassa and her sister repeatedly before stopping and picking up the younger sibling.

Tracy said the two regularly travelled together, including to a Burrows Avenue home known for trading crack cocaine to sexually exploited young women.

She said the two went to the home together on four or five occasions around 2005, and they had another close friend who frequently went there.

She believes Fonassa may have gone to the home without her on other occasions.

There were five to seven older men at the home when she was there, she said.

Sometimes, the men would travel by foot to solicit women in the neighbourhood and offer drugs in exchange, she said.

At least one man -- not connected to the Burrows Avenue home -- who sexually exploited women had threatened Fonassa and her family, said her mother and sister.

Sagkeeng First Nation Chief Donovan Fontaine said Sunday he had a meeting earlier this year with Winnipeg Police Service investigators and Fonassa's grandmother, Janet Bruyere. Police told them they are seeking "persons of interest" in connection with the case, Fontaine said.

"These things are very slow," he said, adding he's confident officers are working diligently to crack the case.

Janet Bruyere said police told her they had questioned people in connection with Fonassa's death, but concluded those men should not be charged.

She said she wants officers to tell her more about her granddaughter's cause of death.

Fontaine said he applauds the provincial task force but would like to see it stepped up to a national level, and widened to include non-policing officials.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition August 31, 2009 A3

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