WINNIPEG — The family of a young indigenous woman missing since last summer is devastated by the discovery of her body in a farm field near Winnipeg, but relieved to get some closure, said a Manitoba grand chief.
Winnipeg police said Saturday the body of 21-year-old Christine Wood was found Thursday in Springfield, Man., by a farmer inspecting his crops. An autopsy the next day confirmed her identity.
"To George and Melinda (Wood), Christine's parents, I can't begin to know your pain, but I will ensure that Christine is returned home to you as soon as possible," Winnipeg police Chief Danny Smyth told reporters at a news conference.
Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak Grand Chief Sheila North Wilson said Wood's parents were grateful for the support from police and the community, adding they were making plans to bring their daughter's body home "to people who love her and not in an empty field by herself."
"(Melinda Wood) naturally, of course, has very mixed emotions," North Wilson said. "She is very happy that she has been found and very sad that she is gone, because I think they've always had a slim, slim, faint hope that she was alive somewhere."
Wood was last seen Aug. 19, 2016, in Winnipeg when she was leaving a hotel near the airport. The Oxford House First Nation resident was in the city with her parents visiting family.
In April, police declared her death a homicide and arrested a suspect, 30-year-old Brett Overby. At the time, police alleged there was enough forensic evidence at Overby's home to charge him with second-degree murder.
After Wood's disappearance, her parents held many searches and pleaded for anyone with information to come forward.
"It's been a long, gruelling few months for them — never-ending searches, never-ending pain," North Wilson said. "They've prayed every single day — probably all day sometimes. To have an answer to their prayer is all any of us were hoping for, even though it is not the perfect answer we wanted."
Sgt. John O'Donovan, with the Winnipeg police homicide unit, said police have not laid any more charges against Overby since finding Wood's body.
He said investigators believe Wood's body was in the field since mid-August 2016 and there was a deliberate attempt to conceal her remains. He added police know how Wood got there, but would not provide more information.
"It's something we're going have to keep for court, but we do know the cause of death and we do know that Christine didn't die naturally," O'Donovan said.
He said police were not looking for more suspects, but added that they were not ruling anything out.
"We continue our investigation even though an arrest has been made and now, thankfully, that Christine has been recovered," he said. "But we will continue to investigate right up until court."
The discovery of Wood's remains happened as the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls wrapped up its first public hearings in Whitehorse.
North Wilson said Wood's case is a clear sign that the inquiry needs to continue, no matter how difficult it is for those testifying.
"I think it has to keep going because obviously this phenomenon in Canada, this national tragedy, keeps happening and we have to find a way to stop the murder and taking away our indigenous women and girls from this country," she said.
—By Daniela Germano in Toronto
The Canadian Press