It was the phone call they'd been waiting for since 2011.
RCMP have made an arrest in the cold-case killing of a Manitoba teen, bringing long-awaited relief to the grieving family who wondered whether justice would ever be done.
The body of Heather Mallett, 14, was found in June 2011 on a trail in Wabowden, about 650 kilometres north of Winnipeg. Her older sister made the gruesome discovery about 24 hours after Heather had gone missing.
'She was my little sister. I'm going to miss her, I love her'
RCMP quickly confirmed her death was a homicide but provided no other details. On Thursday, RCMP said a 19-year-old man had been arrested and charged with first-degree murder, indicating the killing was allegedly premeditated.
The man was a youth at the time of the alleged offence and can't be identified under the Youth Criminal Justice Act.
He is being held in custody without bail and is scheduled to make his next court appearance Thursday in Thompson.
"It's been a long three years. We've been hoping for this day to come," said Mary Ann Kristjanson, Heather's grandmother and guardian. She told the Free Press Thursday RCMP have been in constant communication with the family and advised them Wednesday of the long-awaited arrest.
"It's bittersweet," said Kristjanson, who said they are not looking forward to reliving the tragedy through the legal process. "We're trying to put her to rest."
Kristjanson confirmed the accused killer is known to the family and was long considered a suspect.
RCMP have released no other details about the circumstances of the crime.
Community members from Wabowden turned out en masse to look for Mallett. She was discovered near a trail in the community that wound between Wabowden's centre and a trailer park.
"She was my little sister. I'm going to miss her, I love her," Kaynina Mallett, Heather's 18-year-old sister, told the Free Press at the time. "It was just like something was calling me, like something led me to her."
Kristjanson said her granddaughter grappled with health issues such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). After the girl was born prematurely, Kristjanson raised and loved her. Heather's mother died in 2007, Kristjanson said.
"(Heather) was friendly. She had a few problems, like her health and that, but she coped," she said following the slaying. "She was a very special child."
Kristjanson said the girl had left the house late on a weekday afternoon. The grandmother started searching immediately when she didn't return home that night.
"I started phoning around and driving around looking for her," she said. "I stayed up all night."