Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

'Pulling out all of the stops'

Police reach out to public to find Tina Fontaine's killer

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An angel sits on the Alexander Docks Wednesday morning after Tuesday night's vigil to remember Tina Fontaine and Faron Hall, whose bodies were pulled from the Red River.

JOE BRYKSA / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Enlarge Image

An angel sits on the Alexander Docks Wednesday morning after Tuesday night's vigil to remember Tina Fontaine and Faron Hall, whose bodies were pulled from the Red River. Photo Store

It takes an especially depraved individual to not only murder a vulnerable 15-year-old girl, but then carefully wrap her petite body in a bag and weigh it down before putting it in a river.

And it will take a very dedicated police service -- armed with skill, creativity and perhaps some good fortune -- to unlock the mystery of what happened to Tina Fontaine.

But anyone thinking this case isn't the highest priority for Winnipeg homicide investigators unit is fooling themselves. Need proof? Just look at the rare burst of emotion displayed at a news conference earlier this week from homicide Sgt. John O'Donovan.

"She's a child. This is a child that's been murdered. Society would be horrified if we found a litter of kittens or pups in the river in this condition. This is a child. Society should be horrified," a clearly angered O'Donovan said.

Make no mistake: The hunt for a killer has become an around-the-clock effort involving all hands on deck.

"He (O'Donovan) set the tone," Const. Jason Michalyshen told the Free Press on Wednesday. "We're pulling out all of the stops with respect to this investigation."

Some of their work is playing out publicly. On Wednesday, investigators branched out in the areas of Furby Street, Langside Street and Ellice Avenue and began speaking with neighbours in a door-to-door blitz. It is this area, friends of Fontaine say, the troubled teen frequented most often.

'She's a child. This is a child that's been murdered. Society would be horrified if we found a litter of kittens or pups in the river in this condition. This is a child. Society should be horrified'

-- homicide Sgt. John O'Donovan, speaking about Tina Fontaine (right)

One of those residents, Steve Ferreira, told the Free Press he filled police in on a troubling scene he spotted last week. A native girl, likely in her mid-teens, was walking by his Furby Street home in tears. A beige car was following her. Ferreira said he repeatedly asked the girl what was wrong, offered to let her use his phone, but she kept walking. And crying.

He's seen pictures of Fontaine. And he told police Wednesday the girl he saw looked a lot like her, although he admits he can't be sure.

"She looked like she'd seen a ghost," he said. Ferreira also yelled at the driver of the car -- a native man with a goatee -- to leave her alone. But he continued to follow her, even after Ferreira returned inside.

Winnipeg police have also been more active on social media than ever before, sending out numerous Twitter postings about the case. They've included photos of Fontaine, calls for public help, word of a public vigil, updates on the investigation and even a "heartfelt thanks to the community for all the information being shared with officers."

Police say they've been receiving "five to 10" tips on a daily basis, which are being chased down. They clearly recognize the need to spread information as quickly as possible and perhaps reach an audience normally isolated from them -- especially among the younger generation, who are more active in this medium.

"We can't ask for anything more. We want the public participating in this," Michalyshen said Wednesday. "We're getting a lot of calls from people who are very emotional, who didn't know Tina but want to help."

There is, of course, an incredible amount of work going on that is not being made public. Investigators are working their sources, their confidential informants, to see if anyone has heard anything. Every bit of information, no matter how remote, would be catalogued and pursued.

"We know the impact this is having on our entire city. It's having the same impact on our members," said Michalyshen.

Police apparently have a cause of death but aren't releasing it, citing it as valuable "hold-back" evidence only the killer would know. But it no doubt will assist them in telling them more about the type of sadistic person they are seeking.

Police have confirmed Fontaine was dead before her body was placed in the Red River. She was last seen Aug. 8 after running away from her CFS placement and reported missing the following day. She wasn't found until Aug. 17. The autopsy may have provided further details about when death occurred.

These types of investigations can be very complex for a variety of reasons. There are no apparent witnesses, at least none who has come forward. There is potentially damaged forensic evidence caused by prolonged exposure to the water. There is the always difficult task of getting those who might have answers on the street to speak with a police service many don't trust.

You just have to look at how many unsolved cases of murdered or missing aboriginal women there are as proof. In May, the RCMP issued a statistical breakdown of 1,181 Canadian cases since 1980. The report said aboriginal women make up 4.3 per cent of the Canadian population, but account for 16 per cent of female homicides and 11.3 per cent of missing women.

One Winnipeg case has some similarities to the Fontaine slaying -- a fact that is no doubt being looked at by investigators.

Felicia Solomon was just 16 when she vanished in March 2003. Several of her body parts were found in the Red River in June 2003. No arrests have ever been made. She was involved in a high-risk lifestyle, including association with gang members and working in the sex trade.

Like the Solomon slaying, there appears to be a sadistic killer, or killers, at work in Fontaine's case. The way in which her body was discarded in an attempt to cover their tracks does not seem to indicate a spur-of-the-moment type of act, but rather something more planned and premeditated.

And that would then lead to another question: Is it possible this person has struck before? The prospect of a serial killer in our midst is no longer an absurd notion.

Shawn Lamb, a career criminal and chronic drifter, was charged with killing three young Winnipeg women between September 2011 and January 2012. He ultimately pleaded guilty to killing the two women whose bodies were found discarded in trash containers, wrapped in plastic. The third charge was stayed because the body of that victim, Tanya Nepinak, could not be located despite an exhaustive, and expensive, police search of the Brady Landfill.

The way police investigated Lamb is telling and should serve as a template for what is now being done in the Fontaine case -- and debunk the myth perpetuated by some police didn't care as much in these types of homicide cases.

Investigators tried everything possible in going after Lamb, even agreeing to pay him money into his jailhouse canteen fund in exchange for promised information.

This controversial tactic came under attack from Lamb's defence lawyer, who cited it as the reason the Crown was forced to stay murder charges and accept a plea to two counts of manslaughter.

www.mikeoncrime.com

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition August 21, 2014 A4

History

Updated on Thursday, August 21, 2014 at 6:38 AM CDT: Replaces photo

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