A nearly four-months-long search for a missing Hope woman has come to a tragic ending, as police confirm the body of Shawnee Morita Inyallie was found earlier this month.
Inyallie, 29, vanished from Hope without a trace mid-July. Since then searches have been conducted by family members and police without any luck, until her body was found by hunters close to the mouth of the Fraser River in Delta on Nov. 4. Inyallie’s family have now put her body to rest, yet they still have questions about how their loved one died and how her body ended up in the river.
Laying their loved one to rest
When The Hope Standard reached Inyallie’s aunts Linda Peters and Juanita Pete Sunday, they had just finished picking out a dress and a matching pink scarf for their niece to be cremated in. A memorial was held for Inyallie Monday in Chilliwack, followed by a service Tuesday at Chawathil First Nation.
Finding a loved one dead is an awful thought for any family, but Inyallie’s aunts are glad they are able to put her body to rest.
“I’m just glad that we found her and that she’s at peace and she’s on the other side with the other ancestors and we’re not worried where she is anymore. I’m glad that she’s found and she’s at rest now,” said Pete.
“I believe she’s in a peaceful place with our ancestors and the rest of her family that went before her. She has aunts and uncles and brothers and sisters that have gone before her,” Peters added.
Shawnee goes missing
Inyallie went missing around the middle of July, the exact date she was last seen is not clear, and July 21 police issued a call for public assistance.
Peters, who organized several searches for her missing niece, told The Hope Standard Inyallie had left her backpack with medication at her mother’s house and hadn’t cashed her weekly cheque, both of which were out of character for her.
The family then organized numerous searches of local highways and the Fraser River, turning up empty-handed after each search yet refusing to give up hope. Police have also kept up an active investigation, Hope RCMP Staff Sgt. Karol Rehdner said, including following up on tips that come in, talking with social service agencies and conducting their own searches.
During an Aug. 2 search of homeless camps in Chilliwack, Inyallie’s mother Rena Monroe and her aunts spoke of how kind and trusting Inyallie is. “She’s a very happy-go-lucky girl, she talks to everyone,” Monroe said.
Peters worried her niece’s trusting and sometimes naive nature could have resulted in someone talking her into going somewhere with them.
Inyallie was known to visit the Fraser Valley communities of Agassiz and Chilliwack from her home in Hope and Chawathil First Nation, often hitchhiking along local highways. She also had family in Prince George.
Frustration with lack of media coverage
During the nearly four months Inyallie was missing, her brother stated the family has ‘felt anger and sadness like no other.’
In a text message after Inyallie was found, Pete expressed his disappointment with media overlooking missing persons, or labeling them as statistics.
“A family member is never a number. They are a brother, sister, mom, dad aunt, uncle, grandmother or grandfather. Before they are native or any other race, junkie or drunk, they are human,” he stated. “No matter the circumstances that brought any of them to where they are, being missing or passed away, they are an important part of somebody’s family.”
The community response has been overwhelming, Peters said, with many sharing condolences and memories of her niece.
“People have been sharing stories with us and it’s nice to hear that she was really well-loved around town. I know she struggled, but she’s at peace now. I’m just sad that she had to leave at such a young age,” she said.
The volunteers who searched for Inyallie, shared missing persons posters and offered other contributions were thanked by Patrick Pete, stating ‘we owe a debt of gratitude to them all.’
So far there is no evidence of criminality in Inyallie’s case said Mike Rail, spokesperson for the RCMP’s Upper Fraser Valley Regional Detachment. Hope RCMP and the BC Coroners Service continue an investigation and follow up from tips which stretch back to July.
The family has been told by the RCMP that no foul play is suspected, however, they still have questions about when, where and how Inyallie ended up in the Fraser River.
“There’s a homeless camp close by the river in Hope and my understanding is that’s where she was seen last. So if that’s the case, she travelled an awful long way. That’s like 200 kilometres, and I’d also like to know how do they know when she actually died,” Peters said. Staff Sgt. Rehdner confirmed Inyallie was last seen at the homeless camp along the CN rail line near the Water Street overpass.
The family is also awaiting a coroner’s report into Inyallie’s death.
Andy Watson with the BC Coroners Service stated in an email that next of kin will receive a copy of the report before any other requesting agency. He was unable to share information on how Inyallie’s body was identified and whether an autopsy was performed, as these facts form part of the coroners service investigation.
Peters said there are also plans to visit the site Inyallie was found with the RCMP, to do a smudging or ceremony there.
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