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Families struck by tragedies consoled at massive vigil

Family members of Tina Fontaine console each other at a vigil at the Alexander Docks Tuesday evening.

OLIVER SACHGAU / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Enlarge Image

Family members of Tina Fontaine console each other at a vigil at the Alexander Docks Tuesday evening.

"I love you my girl."

Those were the words of final farewell spoken by Tina Fontaine’s mother, who shares the name of the 15-year-old daughter whose body was found in the Red River on Sunday.

Fontaine hadn’t seen her daughter in two years before she died, and choked on her words, letting her tears flow freely as she addressed over a thousand people at Oodena Circle at The Forks.

She described having detectives come to her door to report her daughter’s death. The only way to identify the young victim was by a tattoo Tina had on her back, which she had gotten to remember her father, who was murdered two years earlier.

The crowd gathered for a ceremony, walk and vigil to honor both Fontaine and Faron Hall, the Homeless Hero, whose body was also found in the river on Sunday, a few hours after Tina’s.

Some participants in Tuesday evening’s ceremonies were relatives of Tina or relatives of Hall. Some had known them in other ways. Many more only knew Tina and Hall from the news.

The gathering started at the Alexander Docks, where Fontaine’s body was found. The teen went missing on Aug. 9 and police believe she had run away from CFS care, which she had been in for a month before her disappearance.

Her body was found wrapped in a bag in the Red River, as police were looking for Hall’s body in the same location in a drowning unrelated to Tina’s death, which is being treated as a homicide.

A memorial was set up at the dock. A teddy bear with a crafted hat, the letters "TF" written on it, sat on the edge, covering a letter from a stranger, telling Tina of the lives she had touched.

Laurence Grisdale visited the memorial an hour before the ceremony started. Hall had lived with him for a few years, but Grisdale said he hadn’t spoken to him recently. He found out about his death through the news. Hall, he said, was a happy-go-lucky guy, loved by those who knew him.

"He always had a laugh he shared everybody. His laugh overtopped everybody. It’s what I’ll remember about him," Grisdale said.

As the family of Fontaine arrived at the dock, they hugged each other. Many sobbed, others consoled. When the ceremony started, one female family member collapsed.

Jenna Wirch, an organizer of the event, said it was important to get as many people as possible to the ceremony, to raise awareness of not only Tina’s death, but the fact she was one of hundreds of missing and murdered aboriginal women.

"When situations like this arise, we have to step up. Because if we don’t step up, who will?" Wirch said.

Michael Champagne, another organizer, said Tina and Hall’s death were a bleak symbol for the aboriginal community.

"We want people to understand, these are two of our relatives, but it represents entire communities that need all of our help," he said.

At the dock, members of the aboriginal community sang traditional songs, and offered up prayers for Tina and Hall. They then marched, along with more than a thousand people who had gathered with them, to Oodena Circle, where they lit candles for a second ceremony. Many of the speakers, including Canadian musician Wab Kinew and grand chief of the Manitoba Assembly of Chiefs, Derek Nepinak, voiced their concern about the hundreds of aboriginal women who have gone missing or have been murdered.

"We must ask ourselves, when those incidents happen, are we silent? The fact that we are here tells me you are not. You are silent no more," Kinew said.

For Tina’s family, the outpouring of support from the community was overwhelming. Both Fontaine, Tina’s mother, as well as her uncle Bryan Favel, said they could not believe the number of people present at the ceremony.

"I’ve never been to one of these before. There’s so much support .. it’s wonderful to see all these people," Favel said.

The pain of Tina’s death was still evident in her mother’s words. She expressed anger at the fact her daughter ran away from foster care.

"You were supposed to be in a safe home... they found you in the river," Fontaine said.

oliver.sachgau@freepress.mb.ca

Two lives remembered

History

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