THUNDER BAY – As a dive team searches area waterways for signs of Josiah Begg, Thunder Bay police insist this isn’t the time for “finger pointing” and is instead calling for teamwork toward finding the missing teen.
Just one day earlier, Indigenous leaders publicly slammed the Thunder Bay Police Service for their search for the missing 14-year-old from Kitchenuhmaykoosib Inninuwug First Nation as well as the investigation into the drowning death of 17-year-old Tammy Keeash, threatening to pool their resources to conduct their own private investigations.
Responding on Thursday, spokesman Chris Adams said members of the police service have “never lost sight” of the pain and suffering the families are going through.
“Our duty is to work for the families and work directly with those families to find these solutions. When we think of finger pointing, it has no practical purpose. What we need to do is hold hands together and actually work together,” Adams said on Thursday.
“To get down to a level where people are pointing fingers, it serves no useful purpose. Our purpose is finding answers and that really should be all of our goal here.”
The missing teen is described as an Aboriginal male, about 5-foot-8 and weighing about 120 pounds. He has short brown hair and brown eyes. He was last seen wearing a red baseball cap, red hoodie, and grey and white sweat pants. He was said to have been visiting the city for medical appointments.
Nishnawbe Aski Nation Grand Chief Alvin Fiddler previously said all available resources should have been “deployed 24/7” with the city “turned upside down” since the teen was reported missing.
“Our communities do not have confidence in the police to conduct thorough investigations,” Fiddler said in a statement that was distributed on Wednesday. “Our leaders are now forced to pool their resources to coordinate their own searches and - potentially – fund their own private investigation. If the police won’t act, we will.”
But Adams said there is a role for NAN and other organizations to play with the ongoing police investigation, describing the collection of information and the volunteer efforts from the community as both being “critical” to aiding the search.
“Some people do have difficulty coming forward to police with information. That’s where organizations that represent, say Indigenous people, can have a real powerful influence in helping bridge that gap with us to bring people forward to let them know they’re helping not only police but they’re helping the families,” Adams said.
“I think that there is a real significant and important role they can play in that regard, and not to mention the absolute support they give the families themselves. That is really important as well.”
Police investigators formally requested use of the OPP’s underwater search and recovery unit on Monday, with the team beginning their search on Thursday in an area of the McIntyre River near the Balmoral and William streets area.
Thunder Bay Police Service Staff Sgt. Ryan Hughes that site is where the missing teen was reported to have been last seen around 9 p.m. on May 6.
“We have no evidence to believe he’s in water but the OPP have technology with sonar and sensors that they can sense anything that’s underneath the water that’s abnormal,” Hughes said. “With that, they have their divers available to go in the water if necessary.”
Despite the use of the dive team, Hughes said the operation is still considered a missing person search and not a recovery effort.
The provincial police have also provided a helicopter, which was used to conduct an aerial search of most of the south side of the city along with strips of the north end on Wednesday with a more detailed look at parts of the south side again on Thursday.
As well, NAN and the Bear Clan organized a volunteer search on May 11 and the Canadian Rangers have offered to look in the local rivers.
Adams said getting the joint searches and police investigation to work efficiently together can be “tricky.”
“It does take a coordinated effort and it has to be done cautiously with some thinking done ahead of time about where you search and how you search,” Adams said.
“When it comes to investigations, it really is based on collecting evidence properly. It is also based on following up on information correctly and doing it in a manner that doesn’t take investigators down the wrong path,” Adams said.
Keeash, from North Caribou Lake First Nation, was found dead in the Neebing-McIntyre Floodway on the evening of May 7, just hours after she was reported missing.
Police on May 12 issued a media release announcing a post-mortem determined the cause of death to be consistent with drowning and there was no evidence of foul play.
“They have a hard time accepting the fact that the police did a quick investigation,” Fiddler said on Wednesday. “They made this determination before she was even buried. To us that’s not good enough. There should be a more thorough investigation and wait for all the results from the post-mortem that was done, and those haven’t come in yet.”
Adams said new leads or information will always be pursued should they arise.
“Investigators work with the coroner and review those results but really the coroner is the one who makes the determination,” Adams said.
“The investigative end is to follow up all leads, all information, learn as much as possible and then basically keep an open mind throughout the investigation. When we say it’s a coroner’s investigation that does not mean the investigation is closed. It just means that at that point, after a very thorough examination, criminality could not be established.”