One year after girl’s death, her community holds vigil and seeks answers

Community holds vigil, seeks answers

Family and supporters of a young girl found dead near a Kenora, Ont., hospital last year held a vigil Monday to renew a demand for an inquest into her death.

Azraya Ackabee-Kokopenace, 14, from Grassy Narrows First Nation was brought by provincial police to the hospital last April.

She reportedly decided to leave the hospital on April 15, and was found dead two days later.

The cause of her death has not been released and her family has said that has left too much uncertainty.

Her family and friends called for a coroner’s inquest into her death during a vigil at a local church Monday, where they were joined by the local member of the Ontario legislature Sarah Campbell.

Alex Hundert of Grassy Narrows Youth Organization says the fact that Ackabee-Kokopenace died while nominally under the protection of three institutions that should help at-risk youth — police, child services, and the hospital — shows a “systemic failure.”

It was “a level of negligence” that “should have warranted an immediate inquest,” he said in an interview Sunday.

Police have ruled out foul play in the teen’s death. Her family have said police haven’t made it clear why they brought the girl to the hospital.

Ackabee-Kokopenace’s older brother Calvin, 17, reportedly died from complications related to mercury poisoning in 2014. She was taken into the custody of child services less than a year later.

Her father Marlin has said he believed his daughter to be suicidal following her brother’s death.

Grassy Narrows has dealt with mercury poisoning since a paper mill in Dryden, Ont., dumped 9,000 kilograms of the substance into the Wabigoon and English River systems in the 1960s. A report released this March suggested that leak may still be ongoing.

Mercury is a chemical pollutant, but it also has psychological effects, Hundert said.

“It’s a fact that mercury poisoning leads to depression and anxiety, self-loathing and suicidal ideation,” he said.

Hundert hopes an inquest will prevent similar deaths in the future. He says he would like to see “a series of recommendations that will help youth get the support they need when they are in crisis.”

He says that for others in the community, the lack of information surrounding her death will result in “a serious problem for how youth understand their place in the world and their relationship to the system.”

Maija Kappler, The Canadian Press