Burned homeless woman’s death a homicide

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A 41-year-old woman who died weeks after suffering severe burns was the victim of a homicide, with Winnipeg police now trying to find out if others have suffered similar attacks.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 03/10/2022 (237 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

A 41-year-old woman who died weeks after suffering severe burns was the victim of a homicide, with Winnipeg police now trying to find out if others have suffered similar attacks.

Melissa Cook died in a city hospital Aug. 20, after likely suffering the burns between late June/early July, police said Monday.

The woman, who was homeless, may have lived with her injuries for days or even weeks before she notified a shelter about them and was taken to hospital. No one has been charged, as of Monday.

Melissa Cook (supplied)

“I would just ask that members of the public look at this with an empathetic lens. See the person behind this picture,” Winnipeg Police Service spokesman Const. Jay Murray said, while issuing a public appeal for information. “Her family is grieving. They want to have justice, and they want answers.”

Cook’s death is Winnipeg’s 41st homicide of 2022. A city record 44 homicides occurred in 2019.

Detectives do not know the location where Cook was injured, but there may have been witnesses to the incident, said Murray.

Police wouldn’t reveal where on her body she was burned.

“It’s certainly a unique type of injury that we don’t often see — somebody being burned — and then it be ruled a homicide,” said Murray.

Cook, from Sapotaweyak Cree Nation, northeast of Swan River, may have lived in encampments after arriving in the city in April. She also spent time at Siloam Mission and in the South Point Douglas neighbourhood.

Police plan to distribute posters in the areas Cook frequented.

After suffering the burns, it appears she was reluctant to seek help, said Murray.

“We know that in at least a few situations, she was coy and did not want to talk about the injuries when asked by shelter employees,” he said. “However, we believe the pain likely became unbearable around early July, and at that point, she asked for help.”

Before then, shelter staff tried to help her by getting her “better” shoes and walking equipment to help her deal with her injuries.

The WPS became involved Aug. 25, after being notified by the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner that Cook’s death had been ruled a homicide.

Police did not release any information about the incident until Monday.

The wait was due to “complexities” in the investigation, according to Murray.

Detectives have been working backward and speaking to shelter staff and people who had contact with Cook, as part of efforts to find out what happened and who is responsible.

Police are trying to find out if any other people have been attacked in a similar way.

There is no evidence of Cook being targeted because of her circumstances, said Murray.

Before releasing details of the incident and a photo of Cook, the WPS public information office talked to Indigenous members and resources within the police service and Cook’s family, to inform the public in a “cultural and trauma-informed perspective,” he said.

Tuesday is the National Day of Action for Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women, Girls and Gender Diverse People.

Angie Tuesday, WPS family support and resource advocate, attended the news conference to be a “visual source of support.”

Anyone with information about Cook or her death is asked to call the major crimes unit at 204-986-6219 or Crime Stoppers anonymously at 204-786-TIPS (8477).

The WPS took the unusual step of prefacing a news conference with what is known as a “trigger warning.”

“This media release contains details that may be disturbing to members of the public, particularly those families directly impacted by matters involving missing and murdered Indigenous women, girls, two-spirit and gender diverse people,” a news release states.

A toll-free 24-7 crisis line is available at 1-844-413-6649 for people who require emotional assistance.

Meantime, police are investigating two West End homicides, as the number of slayings this year approaches the highest on record, with three months remaining in 2022.

A 16-year-old boy was found dead outside a home on the 500 block of Balmoral Street around 8:20 a.m. Friday.

On Sunday, Creedence Justin Beardy, 27, died at Health Sciences Centre after he was found near Sherbrook Street and Cumberland Avenue.

Murray and Tuesday encouraged people not to look at homicide victims as a statistic.

“That’s 41 families here that have lost somebody in a violent manner, and that’s 41 families and sets of friends that are grieving,” said Murray.

“We can’t just think about our statistics because that takes away from who the person was and what their circumstances were, and it really is dehumanising,” added Tuesday.

Murray said there has been a “general” rise in violence in Winnipeg, but there are “a lot of variables in homicides that dictate where the count goes.”

Murray said the number of homicides could be higher if not for life-saving intervention.

WPS officers now carry equipment tourniquets and chest seals to treat victims at scenes, he noted.

chris.kitching@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @chriskitching

Chris Kitching
Reporter

As a general assignment reporter, Chris covers a little bit of everything for the Free Press.

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