Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Difficult landfill search begins

Police look for victim's remains

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As a cold, strong wind blew, a team of nine Winnipeg police officers combed through debris at the Brady Road Landfill in hopes of finding the remains of slaying victim Tanya Nepinak.

The search began Wednesday morning and is expected to last three to five days.

By afternoon, the wind was blowing and the forecast for the next few days called for a mix of rain and snow that will make the task more difficult.

"This is a landfill -- conditions are less than ideal," Winnipeg Police Service spokesman Const. Jason Michalyshen said during a news briefing metres away from the search area.

Police believe Nepinak was slain by an alleged serial killer in September 2011, her body wrapped in plastic and placed in a West End Dumpster.

Shawn Lamb was charged in connection with the death of Nepinak and two other women. After Lamb's arrest in June, police believed they knew where in the landfill Nepinak's remains might be found.

But by September, police realized there were too many possible sites within the landfill, making a meaningful search impossible.

However, a scaled-down search has started, based on the recommendations of native elders who sensed they know where she might be found following a ceremony at the landfill late in the summer.

The search is concentrated on a tiny patch within the 790-hectare site -- an area about eight metres wide by eight metres long by eight metres deep, a short distance away from where the native ceremony was held.

A backhoe digs up debris and placed it nearby. Six officers from the forensic identification unit work 10 hours a day, sifting through the debris with rakes.

A safety officer watches over the team, monitoring the area for hazards, including dangerous levels of methane.

The searchers wear respirators and blue biochemical suits.

Two senior police officers who designed the project, Insp. Liz Pilcher and Staff Sgt. Will Symons, also supervise the search.

A windbreak was created using hay bales, but that's the only protection provided to the searchers from the weather.

"They're going through the material from top to bottom," Michalyshen said. "It's a very tedious process."

Symons said there are various hazardous materials in the landfill that could pose a danger -- sharp objects and animal carcasses, which could result in infection or injury.

The strong winds also blow the exposed debris around, posing another risk to the search team.

Michalyshen said if the searchers find anything they believe to be human remains, a medical examiner will be consulted.

"Our commitment is to complete this search," Michalyshen said.

The Nepinak family was not at the site Wednesday, but Michalyshen said they are welcome to attend, and they will be contacted immediately if the searchers find anything.

Police know the chances of finding the remains are minimal.

However, Michalyshen said police are also using the search as an opportunity to gain expertise in the event another one needs to be carried out.

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Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition October 4, 2012 B1

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