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This article was published 19/2/2015 (1999 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
There is no bigger police story in Winnipeg.
Even six months after it happened.
That's how long it's been since the body of a missing 15-year-old indigenous girl was pulled from the Red River, wrapped in a makeshift bag.
So Wednesday morning, I requested an interview with Winnipeg Police Service Supt. Danny Smyth or lead investigator Sgt. John O'Donovan about the status of the Tina Fontaine murder investigation.
I wasn't expecting police to talk about the high-profile, high-priority case, even though last month, Smyth had granted an interview to the Globe and Mail.
"It's been very challenging for our members," Smyth was quoted as saying. "They're still following up on fresh leads. Certainly, at times, it's a bit of a roller-coaster -- an emotional roller-coaster -- for our investigators."
By mid-afternoon, the answer I had been expecting from police arrived via email from their media-relations office.
"We will not be accommodating your request for an interview at this time.
"There is no new information or updates at this time."
Nothing new to tell me, anyway.
But they have told the woman Tina called "Momma" some intriguing details about the state of the investigation.
But that's not why Thelma Favel phoned me last month and left a message to call her after I returned from vacation.
She called to share her pain over a piece of hate mail she originally thought was a heartfelt card from someone who wanted to express his or her sympathy over the loss of the girl Thelma and her husband Joe had raised as their own when Tina's father and mother couldn't.
"It was very hurtful," Thelma said of the racist message inside the card. "I wanted to cry when I first read it... I thought it was going to be another beautiful card because the card is nice. It's a beautiful card they sent it in."
What hurt Thelma most was the writer's characterizing Tina as "not a nice person."
"She was a beautiful girl," Thelma said. "She was a beautiful person. Inside and out."
The hate card was the only one of its disgusting kind; the only one among so many other supportive cards from people across the city, the province and even across the country, many of whom are praying for justice for Tina, her Momma said.
Which prompted me to ask what Thelma had heard from police about the state of the investigation six months on.
"Nothing yet," Thelma responded.
Nothing, that is, about how close police might be to catching the killer, or killers.
But then Thelma remembered a call she received from lead investigator O'Donovan that suggests the lengths police are going in hopes of solving the case.
"He told me all of Tina's clothing and the things that she was wrapped up in have been sent to Austria."
"He said because that's where they have a high-tech forensic lab."
Later, I searched the web for a clue about why police would choose somewhere in Austria for specialized forensic work.
A Reuters article quickly popped up from November of last year that read as if it might be the answer.
It referred to the Innsbruck Medical University for DNA identification and how it initially "won international fame by reconstructing DNA profiles of victims of a 2004 tsunami in South Asia, whose bodies had been rotting in extreme heat and humidity."
Winnipeg police haven't disclosed how Tina was slain or how long they believe her tiny body was in the water, but judging by when she was reported last seen alive, it could have been in the river for more than a week.
The Austrian forensic lab claims to have helped solve 8,000 criminal cases, the article states.
"We have to extract DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid) equivalent to only a few cells from a sample, no matter how big it is or what its biological condition is," molecular biologist Walther Parson told Reuters.
"We don't use magic machinery... The ways we use the instruments in our institute are particularly well executed and optimized," he said. "We can deal calmly and in a level-headed way with cases, even when there is huge media attention."
Sounds as if Winnipeg police could have read the same story.
I asked Thelma if she thinks police might already have a suspect in mind.
Someone who might be linked to any DNA that's found; even from something as minute as a flake of dandruff.
"I don't know," Thelma responded.
But then she shared something else O'Donovan told her when he called last month.
" 'You wouldn't believe the tips that we're getting from gang members,' " Thelma said the detective told her.
" 'Even the hardest gang leaders are phoning in with tips. These are people that would rather see us (police) dead than to help us. When it comes to a child, they sort of put their hatred aside and try to help.' "
O'Donovan told her something else.
Thelma said he said police would be holding a news briefing on the case in March.
In the meantime, we don't need a briefing to know how police feel about the Tina Fontaine case.
There's no case they want to solve more.
And obviously they're not alone.
Updated on Thursday, February 19, 2015 at 6:46 AM CST: Replaces photo
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