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'Everything points' to body being missing teen; official confirmation awaits autopsy

The body found in the McIntyre River on Thursday is believed to be that of missing 14-year-old Josiah Begg, who has been missing since May 6.

THUNDER BAY – Though there still has not been an official confirmation from police or the coroner, the family of Josiah Begg and Nishnawbe Aski Nation leadership say all signs point to the body found in the McIntyre River to be that of the missing teen.

At a Friday afternoon news conference, the teen’s family thanked the community for their efforts in attempting to locate the 14-year-old since he was last reportedly seen on the evening of May 6.

“We are in a lot of pain and sorrow of the outcome as the result of when (Josiah) was found,” said Mike McKay, the grandfather of Josiah. “We had hoped for a better outcome but it wasn’t meant to be.”  

The body was found by the OPP’s underwater search and recovery unit in a section of the river between Simpson Street and Island Drive just before 6 p.m. on Thursday. The Thunder Bay Police Service issued a media release hours later confirming a body had been found, but provided no further details other than that it was a male.

Nishnawbe Aski Nation Grand Chief Alvin Fiddler said communication received earlier Friday from the Office of the Chief Coroner indicated the body of was that of the missing teen.

“While they have yet to do a post-mortem, everything points in the direction it was in fact him,” Fiddler said. “The height, the weight, his clothing, his watch, his wallet, everything matches.”

The teen, from Kitchenuhmaykoosib Inninuwug First Nation, was visiting the city with his father for medical appointments. Police investigators have previously said he was last seen on video surveillance around 9 p.m. on May 6 in the area of Balmoral and William streets.

A police media release issued Friday afternoon said the coroner and forensic pathologist need to take "further steps" to officially confirm the identity. A post-mortem is expected to be conducted in Toronto later this weekend.

Despite the lack of official confirmation, Fiddler said the information from the coroner's office will bring closure to the family after nearly two weeks of searching.

“We did not want this process of identifying the body that was recovered to be prolonged,” Fiddler said. “The family has searched for over 12 days for their son and grandson. That’s a long time. We wanted to be able to confirm in some way the body that was recovered (Thursday) was in fact Josiah.”

Josiah is now the seventh Indigenous youth to be found dead in a Thunder Bay waterway since 2000, and the second this month after the body of 17-year-old Tammy Keeash was found in the Neebing-McIntyre Floodway on the night of May 7.

Both of the teens were reportedly last seen the previous evening.

“That should alarm all of us that there is something definitely wrong in the city and we need to find out what that is,” Fiddler said.

“That’s something we hope the investigations into these two recent deaths are thorough, that they should be looking into all aspects of the circumstances that led to these two deaths and try to determine if in fact there is a connection.”

The body was discovered during the first day the OPP's underwater search and recovery unit became involved in the investigation patrolling the waterways after city police formally requested their services earlier in the week. 

While Fiddler thanked police services – city police, OPP and the Nishnawbe Aski Nation Police Service – the grand chief questioned why a search of the river wasn't done until the second week of looking for Josiah.

“I think that’s the question the family has,” Fiddler said. “They were given certain information, which we know now is contrary to what they were told That’s the information our volunteers were given as well and I think that’s one of the questions we will be raising and we hope those who will be investigating this case will be able to answer.”

Kitchenuhmaykoosib Inninuwug First Nation Chief James Cutfeet said the community will provide the family with immediate assistance, such as counselling, and has already contacted the federal government.

Cutfeet said the youth in his community have been "on edge" since Josiah went missing.

"We need to find a way to assist our youth," Cutfeet said. "We need to minimize the risks that our youth are put into, namely coming down south for services such as education and medical. We need to find a way to retain our youth in our communities as long as possible but yet experience the southern environment for their education or pursue careers. I think as leadership we need to establish or figure out a way to have a strategy to support our youth."