The family of one of the 14-year-old girls found dead outside after a frigid night on a northern Manitoba First Nation says she was struggling to cope with the loss of her mother, Ashlee Shingoose, who disappeared in Winnipeg nearly a year ago.
Island Lake RCMP were called around 8 a.m. on Wednesday after the teens were found outside a home in St. Theresa Point First Nation. One of the girls found dead was Dayna Shingoose.
“We didn’t know anything about it until that morning, when we heard that Dayna was frozen,” her grandfather Albert Shingoose told CBC.
Police previously said they believe the two girls were outside for a period of time on a night when the temperature dropped to –23 C. They were taken to the nursing station, where they were pronounced dead.
Albert said Dayna left their home around 8 p.m. the night before the two girls were found. The teen wanted to hang out with friends, he said.
“Her grandmother told her it was too cold for her to go out, and we were trying to hold her back, but she didn’t want to stay home.”
Albert had just recently returned to the community after spending a month searching for Dayna’s mother Ashlee in Winnipeg. He said his granddaughter, who lived with him and her grandmother Theresa, had been taking it hard and was depressed over her mom’s disappearance.
“She was waiting, waiting for her mom. And I kept on telling her, I’ll try and find her, I’ll find your mom…'” he said.
“She was a good girl. She always tried to help people out all the time. She was always there for her friends.”
Dayna’s uncle, Darnell Harper, is a police constable for the First Nation. He told CBC that he was the one who found the girls on Wednesday morning.
“When we got there, I already knew Dayna was deceased because she was frozen,” he said.
“I kind of felt like I lost a daughter because I looked after her when she was born.”
Harper said even though Dayna was depressed with the loss of her mother, he tried to keep her away from trouble by telling her about the drugs he saw being trafficked into the community.
“To me, it’s getting out of hand,” he said. “I would always show her the good way.”
Worsening influx of illegal drugs
The community of St. Theresa Point is being hit hard by her death as they await autopsy results.
St. Theresa Point First Nation Chief Elvin Flett said the other girl who was found with Dayna, Emily Mason, still had a pulse when they were discovered lying on the snow in between two houses.
“They tried to revive her, but they were unsuccessful,” he told CBC.
Flett believes the girls took drugs before they froze.
“They definitely did not die of hypothermia because there’s a couple of houses nearby,” he said.
“How could anybody just lie down and sleep? … Something they ingested caused them to pass out.”
He used to hear about people on the First Nation using gasoline, mouthwash and hairspray to get high, but said crystal meth began wreaking havoc on his community when it started coming in about five to six years ago.
“It’s gotten so big that we can’t handle it anymore, it’s become virtually a crisis,” said Flett.
“This is what we face everyday.”
Uncontrolled drug trafficking
Underfunded policing and security programs by the province are hurting his community, he said. The Pallister government cut their funding by 50 per cent around 2016.
The First Nation cannot control the influx of illegal drugs coming into the community because the province has told them they are not allowed to search people arriving there after people complained.
“The government is allowing drug trafficking to happen so easily, and we can’t do anything about it,” Flett said.
The First Nation is working extensively to provide the girls’ families with the support they need, he said, but more funding is needed from the province for policing.
“We need to have the provincial government work with us and provide us with finances to deal with these things.”
CBC has reached out to the province for comment.
Harper said his niece’s death has taken a toll on their family and he’s trying to be strong for them, including Dayna’s 11-year-old brother. “I’m there watching over them.”
Albert said Dayna’s brother is taking her death very hard, but the family is trying to comfort him through it.
He expects Dayna’s autopsy to be completed next week. The families of both girls will hold services in Winnipeg before their bodies are taken back to St. Theresa Point, he said.
Albert and his wife Theresa will continue their search for Dayna’s mother in Winnipeg, but until then he said they are finding strength in family.
“We talk together, we cry together, we laugh together as a family,” he said.
“Sometimes it hurts and we cry. It’s a healing journey.”