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Police watchdog probes death of B.C. Indigenous woman near Vanderhoof

Chelsey Quaw-Heron’s body was located one kilometre from where she was reported missing
Chelsey Quaw (Heron) went missing from Saik’uz First Nation Oct. 11, 2023. (Photo submitted)

The Independent Investigations Office (IIO) of BC is stepping in to investigate the RCMP response surrounding the death of Saik’uz First Nation’s Chelsey Quaw-Heron.

Quaw-Heron was the subject of a missing person’s investigation and several searches after the 29-year-old went missing in the early morning hours of Oct. 11, 2023 from a residence on the Saik’uz First Nation. Almost a month later, on Nov. 5, her body was found within one kilometre of that same residence.

The police watchdog agency said they were notified on Nov. 26 of concerns regarding the police response to a request for a wellness check for Quaw-Heron.

“Information provided by the Vanderhoof RCMP confirmed that on Oct. 11, 2023, police were called to conduct a wellness check at a residence,” said IIO in a Dec. 6 statement. “Officers took steps but were unable to locate the affected person at the time.”

The IIO commenced an investigation after being notified on Nov. 26.

Several search and rescue teams as well as community groups formed search parties to look for Quaw-Heron in the days and weeks following her disappearance with no results. The family also held a press conference Nov. 3 to bring more attention to her disappearance, and that of Jay Preston Raphael, who is missing and was last seen on Feb. 25, 2023 at Saik’uz First Nation.

Initial investigative steps in the Quaw-Heron investigation will seek to confirm details leading up to the woman’s death as well as what, if any role police actions or inaction may have played in the incident, the statement further said.

The BC Coroners Service is conducting a concurrent investigation into the cause of death.

The IIO is asking any person with relevant information or video footage of the incident to please contact the Witness Line toll-free at 1-855-446-8477 or via the contact form on the website.

The IIO is the Independent civilian oversight agency of the police in B.C. which investigates all officer-related incidents that result in serious harm or death, whether or not there is any allegation of wrongdoing.

READ MORE: More tears shed as plea made to find 2 more missing on B.C.’s Highway of Tears

Angie Mindus

About the Author: Angie Mindus

A desire to travel led me to a full-time photographer position at the Williams Lake Tribune in B.C.’s interior.
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