Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Phoenix infrequently seen while on First Nation

Had shaved head; sworn at by mother

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Moving from Winnipeg to a close-knit First Nation didn't make little Phoenix Sinclair any more visible or less vulnerable.

There was just one confirmed sighting of the little girl in Fisher River Cree Nation before she was murdered in the summer of 2005, the inquiry into the little girl's death heard Thursday.

Once she was spotted in the back of a car with a shaved head. Another time, a little girl was seen walking down the road to the reserve behind Karl "Wes" McKay and Samantha Kematch, who was swearing at the child to hurry up.

No one in Fisher River noticed Phoenix was missing after her June 2005 death at the hands of her mother, Kematch, and stepfather, McKay.

They had moved to the reserve that spring from Winnipeg where Child and Family Services had been involved with Phoenix off and on from the time of her birth in 2000. Winnipeg CFS last closed the file on her in March 2005 after no one from the agency had seen her in months or checked to learn her stepfather had a violent CFS record of domestic abuse.

Phoenix's death wasn't discovered until 2006 when her remains were found buried at the Fisher River dump. In 2008, McKay and Kematch were found guilty of her murder. In 2011, the province announced an inquiry to find out how Phoenix fell through Manitoba's child-welfare safety net.

She practically disappeared after she moved to the reserve where McKay had many relatives, the inquiry heard.

McKay's second cousins, Darlene Garson from Fisher River and Florence Bear from Peguis, testified they saw five-year-old Phoenix with a shaved head on a hot summer day in 2005.

She was sitting with her mother and baby half-sister in the back seat of a car outside a store in nearby Dallas, Man.

"I looked in the window and asked 'Whose boy is this?' " Bear recalled asking McKay.

"He said 'That's not a boy, that's Samantha's little girl... She's too ugly to be mine and there's no resemblance.' "

Garson said another time she saw Kematch yelling at a little girl walking behind Kematch and McKay as they pushed a stroller with their baby down Provincial Road 224, the main road into the reserve.

"Samantha was swearing... 'f-ing hurry up and walk,' " Garson said.

"Did what you saw make you concerned?" asked commission counsel Kathleen McCandless.

"I can't recall," said Garson. She remembered going to the home of McKay and Kematch on the reserve to visit them later. She noticed Phoenix wasn't there and asked McKay the whereabouts of his stepdaughter.

"He told me 'I sent her off with her granny,' " said Garson.

"How did they act when you got that information?" asked McCandless.

"They started laughing."

Garson also recalled McKay borrowing a spade he said he needed to dig a trench in his yard, and it became part of the RCMP investigation once Phoenix's remains were discovered buried on the dump at the reserve.

McKay's neighbour, Keith Murdock, said he never met Phoenix when she was alive but may have seen McKay loading her remains into his car late one night in July 2005.

Murdock told the inquiry it was a clear summer night when he couldn't sleep and got up to have a cigarette. He saw McKay's car back up to the lit-up front steps of the house. McKay went in the house, carried out two garbage bags and put them in the car.

"He entered the home again and he came back out again carrying something in his arms -- like a person carrying a rug or a person carrying a child." McKay got in the car and drove north towards the reserve, said Murdock.

He said he didn't know McKay well but saw Phoenix's stepfather occasionally driving the school bus that picked up Murdock's own kids.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition February 8, 2013 A10

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