Kamloops RCMP have issued the first new information in more than a week on the Dec. 5 murder of CJ Fowler — a video surveillance photo taken while she was at Royal Inland Hospital.
Const. Bernie Ward said the image was released in an effort to jog memories of people who may have seen the 16-year-old that day or after her hospital visit.
“What was she looking like? What was she wearing? What would somebody have seen if they saw her heading up the street?”
CJ Fowler’s body was found off the end of Grandview Terrace at 11:30 a.m. on Dec. 5. She was wearing blue jeans, a bubblegum-pink tank top, a black and grey plaid jacket covered by a larger medium green jacket. She was five feet, three inches tall and weighed about 100 pounds. She had brown eyes and a slim build with straight black hair that fell below her shoulders.
The Terrace teenager travelled to Kamloops with a male friend and had a return ticket. A relative said she was complaining of chest pains before she left Terrace. That may explain why she visited RIH, though police would not elaborate on that part of the investigation.
No other information has been released since last week, when police reported that the investigation was going favourably, although they have received only a couple of tips. They also released, at that point, the time interval when the teen would have been walking up Columbia Street to Grandview Crescent — between 2:50 a.m. and 6 a.m.
Police offered reassurances on Wednesday that, despite the paucity of information released to date, the investigation remains the detachment’s No. 1 priority and that they are leaving no stones unturned.
“When I look at this case, I ask, when did it happen and what can we do? If it’s in our jurisdiction, we’re going to throw everything we can at it,” Ward said. “Right now, we basically have our whole senior crime team working on it.”
That means there are up to 15 officers working on the case at any given time, he added.
The case has parallels with the deaths detailed in the report released Monday by Justice Wally Oppal on missing or murdered women in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside. Many of the women addressed in Oppal’s report were, like CJ, aboriginal and from rural communities.
“Violence against aboriginal women is absolutely acute and something needs to be done about it,” Oppal told The Daily News on Wednesday. “It happens anywhere — there are no geographical boundaries.”
Oppal said a national inquiry into missing or murdered aboriginal women — as CJ Fowler’s family and aboriginal leaders have urged — might well be necessary, but he’s not in a position to make that recommendation.
RCMP Insp. Yves Lacasse said via email that police are doing their utmost to protect the integrity of the investigation. He said they made a commitment to CJ Fowler’s family to keep at it.
“I can understand the sensitivity around the case of a young aboriginal girl murdered in our city, but to draw a parallel with investigations that took place many years ago in the Lower Mainland is unfair, regardless of the timing of Justice Oppal’s report,” Lacasse wrote.
Ward didn’t directly address possible parallels between Oppal’s recommendations and the murder investigation in Kamloops, but stressed that there is no bias toward the case resulting from the victim’s rural and First Nation background.
“A lot of what we are aware of is directly going to build evidence in a trial,” he said. “We don’t care where you come from. It happened here in Kamloops, and if it took place in Kamloops, we’re bound and determined to find the perpetrator. This person lost her life in our community.”
CJ Fowler was female, he added. In that sense, such killings follow an all-too-familiar pattern.
“This is a crime perpetuated by males on females predominantly. I don’t care what your race is. The whole problem centres on how men treat females.”
Anyone with any information is asked to call the detachment at 250-828-3000 or Crimestoppers.
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Oppal encouraged by response
The head of the missing women inquiry said Wednesday that he is encouraged by response to his report and welcomes non-partisan collaboration in implementing his recommendations.
Wally Oppal was commenting on an offer from NDP Opposition Leader Adrian Dix to Premier Christy Clark to work together “to make real changes for some of B.C.’s most disadvantaged and vulnerable people.”
Dix made the offer in a letter to Clark that was released on Wednesday.
“It is not a political issue; it is an issue that transcends politics,” Oppal said.
His report cites a blatant failure of police investigations in not solving the Pickton case sooner but it also says the victims — many of them were marginalized sex-trade workers — were forsaken by society as a whole. Some of his recommendations are intended to ensure the women are not forgotten.
“In some ways, it’s unfair to blame police for all of this,” he said in an interview. “Police are not in a position where they can solve social problems.”
In view of that, Oppal was asked what a community should do to ensure that the killing of a young aboriginal woman is not forgotten.
“I think, first of all, what you have to do is rely on the police investigation,” said the former attorney general. “Hopefully, the police will arrest the offender so there is justice for the family.”