For some losses, time heals and softens the pain. Not so for the relatives of women missing from the Shuswap and North Okanagan. Although grief is different for each individual, the families want, without exception, more to be done to find the missing women.
2021 brings the five-year anniversary of the disappearance of Caitlin Potts, Ashley Simpson and Deanna Wertz, and four years for Nicole Bell. Closure is not on the horizon, nor is relief.
Priscilla Potts hired a private investigator with the fundraising assistance of Victoria Love, who took on helping her find her daughter Caitlin as a personal project.
Caitlin, who lived in the Enderby area, was last heard from on Feb. 22, 2016. She was 27. Police released a video of her entering the Orchard Park Mall in Kelowna on Feb. 21, 2016.
Love said the investigator was hired a couple of months ago and so far it’s been a waiting game.
Love hopes to launch a search in the summer, possibly with cadaver dogs. “I just want people to know that we’re not giving up until we find Caitlin, I think bringing closure to Priscilla’s family and to her especially. I just don’t want people to forget about these women. ”
Priscilla said she has bad days but what she worries most about is Caitlin’s younger sister who, as the closest to Caitlin, is finding the loss insurmountable.
For Priscilla, she has trouble trusting the police; when she was crying early in the investigation she glanced up and saw what she believed was a smirk and a look of disgust on an officer’s face, which she said quickly changed when he realized she saw him.
She said she contacts the police when she comes to B.C. from Alberta.
Priscilla also questions the justice system, which allows men to re-offend and escape the law.
“I’m not only saying native women, but I think they have it much worse because of the genocide we suffered and are still suffering,” she said of victims. “Women of all races are still being targeted…I think there are more missing women than men.”
Priscilla has also found it tough to talk to Caitlin’s son, now a teenager, about his mom, because it’s so emotional. He would like to help search for her.
The GoFundMe link to help find Caitlin is: https://gofund.me/d848be5b
If you have information or tips about Caitlin’s disappearances, Love asks that they be emailed to: firstname.lastname@example.org.
The RCMP Southeast District Major Crime Unit information line is 1-877-987-8477. For anonymous tips, BC Crime Stoppers can be reached at 1-800-222-8477.
John and Cindy Simpson, Ashley’s parents, who live in Ontario, continue their annual fundraising events for searches, with John planning to organize protests across Canada to demand action from the federal government on making missing woman a priority. A $10,000 reward donated by a relative for information about Ashley’s disappearance still stands, unclaimed. Ashley was last seen on April 27 on Yankee Flats Road. She was 32.
John is still dealing with bankruptcy from money spent searching and from work lost. He also awaits intestinal surgery for a perforated colon caused by stress. Cindy, who has also suffered stress-related medical issues, is now back at work.
John would like to see a national force, with feet on the ground, search for missing people. He said what really shook him off the sidelines was when he learned that some of Ashley’s mail was found on top of a local mountain a month after she disappeared, yet the information wasn’t taken seriously.
He said police don’t talk to him as he’s in disagreement most of the time, but they talk to Cindy about once every couple of weeks.
John said hundreds of people – women, children and men– are missing in B.C. and more across Canada.
“If that got out to the rest of the world, how would that be for tourism?” he asked.
More than anything, John and Cindy would like closure.
Knowing what happened to their precious daughter.
“Way back in your subconscious, you’re still hoping she might maybe someday walk through the door.”
Deanna Wertz’s younger brother Dale would like to see the police given more resources so they can have more investigators on the job with more time available to solve crimes.
He said he’s had no contact with investigators for about four years. He hasn’t wanted to based on what he described as “an inappropriate comment” one investigator made to him.
He would also like more government involvement in finding missing women.
Dale said he and his younger sister were out in the bush for about two weeks searching every day when Deanna, who was 46, disappeared. She was last seen near Yankee Flats Road on July 19, 2016. Dale said he’s certain she was the victim of foul play.
He said he struggles with depression, particularly because the person he believes is responsible has gone unpunished.
Dale expressed appreciation for the work of the other families of missing women and the First Nations women and others who protest regularly.
“They’re doing more than I could ever ask for,” he said with emotion.
This Wednesday, May 5, is the National Day of Awareness for MMIWG (Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls). It is also Red Dress Day.
Jane Aubertin, Nicole Bell’s mom, said she and Denis Aubertin, Nicole’s stepdad, still plan to do more searching, although the pandemic has restricted them and everyone involved. Nicole, then 31, disappeared on Sept. 2, 2017, last seen in Sicamous.
Jane said police contact her about once a month. She said Nicole’s three children seem to be doing mostly all right.
Like the other families, Jane wants safe communities everywhere, which she said requires that people who see something must report it.
“There still isn’t a day that goes by without us wondering what’s going on or what’s happening. We’re still thinking about her. There’s still a 50/50 chance that we’ll find her somewhere.”
Eighteen-year-old Traci Genereaux, of Vernon, was once included in the group of women missing in the region, but in October 2017, the remains of her body were found on a farm near Silver Creek owned by the Sagmoen family.
No charges have been laid.
Curtis Sagmoen is currently facing a charge of assaulting a police officer.
Sagmoen’s court dates at the Vernon courthouse consistently draw a crowd of protesters demanding justice for murdered and missing women in the area.