Hundreds pray for missing women

Walk to CRAB Park
Vancouver Sun-May 12,1999


Donations can be made toward the Missing Women Memorial Bench,
at any branch of the Bank of Montreal #27270-8060-059


A memorial at First United Church was held for the 21 women who have disappeared from the Downtown Eastside.  Kelly Sinoski, Vancouver Sun, Thursday, May 13,1999

Four hundred relatives, friends and supporters of 21 women who have disappeared from Vancouver's Downtown Eastside lit candles, prayed and sang Wednesday in a special memorial service at First United Church.

Native elders, children and men and women packed the East Hastings church for 2 1/2-hour ceremony.

Later, carrying flowers, they marched to CRAB Park where they dedicated a bench to the women.

"I believe God is with my mother wherever she is," said teenager Sandra Koski, whose mother, Kerry Lynn Koski, disappeared in January 1998. "I hope one day she will come back to us."

Dozens of others spoke tearfully of how the women--their mothers, sisters, daughters and friends--loved life and laughter and children.

Memorial aimed at celebrating lives of missing

They remembered their last Christmas together, the last time they spoke.

Maggie deVries, whose sister Sarah Jean deVries is missing, recalled how her sister ate her blueberry pancakes last Christmas and danced with her son Benjamin in her arms.

"May you know somehow and somewhere no that you are loved and that you always were...," deVries said reading a poem she wrote last June, three months after her sister went missing. "I treasure each moment we have had together over all our years."

The memorial was the first group gathering to celebrate the lives of the 22 "street-involved" women, most of them drug addicts and prostitutes, and to help bring a sense of closure to their disappearance.

Since 1995, 22 women have gone missing. No bodies have been discovered and only on woman has been found alive, leaving 21 still missing. Friends and family believe a serial killer may be responsible for the disappearances and have urged the police to find out what happened to their loved ones before anyone else disappears. Two weeks ago, a $100,000 reward was put up to aid the police investigation.

So far, no evidence has surfaced that would indicate the missing women were victims of foul play. All were sex-trade workers in the Downtown Eastside, they disappeared from the same area, they haven't contacted relatives; and they haven't touched bank accounts or personal property.

Michelle Pineault, whose daughter Stephanie Marie Lane also disappeared, leaving a young son, said she doesn't expect to see her daughter again.

"Today, I hope, is the beginning of a healing process because my daughter has been gone a long time," she said after the ceremony, holding a picture of her pretty, dark-haired daughter. "I grieve every day."

Outside the church, members of Vancouver Rape Relieve carried pickets saying "Find these women now" and "Prostitutes are not disposable."

"We expect the police and the RCMP to seriously investigate these women and their cases," spokeswoman Tara Khadem said. "We believe the police response to these missing women has been horrible. To say there isn't enough evidence is horrible."

Vancouver police media liaison Constable Anne Drennan said legal experts are still working on the wording of the recently approved $100,000 reward. She didn't know how long that would take.

Police say the wording of the reward is trickier in this case than in most others because there are so many victims, and some may still be alive but in hiding for various reasons. Two detectives, a constable and a civilian staff member are working full-time on the file.

Laura Linklater, who works with a relief agency in the area, said the disappearance of the 21 women shouldn't be swept under the carpet but should be treated the same way as if the women had disappeared from an affluent area of the city.

"We're lighting candles for our sisters, our daughters, our cousins. We're just honoring their lives because they mean something," Linklater said. "These people were special."

Missing women honoured, , By Adrienne Tanner, The Province, Thursday, May 13,1999.

With flowers and song, tears and memories, the 23 women who have vanished from the downtown eastside since 1995 were honoured yesterday.

About 300 people crammed into the First United Church to attend a memorial that lasted more than two hours.

In the audience sat grandparents and children, prostitutes and social workers, police officers and a bus driver who said he came out of a sense of community.

All had in some way been touched by the mysterious disappearances.

With the sweet strains of Amazing Grace playing in the background, family members and friends lit candles to honour their loved ones.

Then they spoke, some personally about their grief, others about the broader social evils of drugs and poverty. All of the missing women were prostitutes, drug users or both.

The saddest were from the children.

"Thank-you for coming and remembering my mom," said Janet Henry's daughter Deborah.

"I remember the good things she did for me and the smile she had."

Tragic too, was the grief and guilt of mothers who tried but could not save their children.

"I couldn't help her," said the eloquent mother of Linda Jean Coombes.

The lead investigator in the search for the missing women said she had two wishes. Det. Lori Shenher said she hopes firstly that the families find peace.

"Secondly that the Vancouver police department can provide some answers."

After the ceremony, Kathleen McClelland, whose daughter Helen Hallmark is among the missing, said she is trying to come to grips with her daughter's death.

For her, the memorial did not bring closure.

That will only come when she finds out how she met her end.

Twenty women have gone missing - May 12, 1999
Memorial March-May 12/99
CRAB Park Memorial Rock



Missing Women Tip Line: 1-877-687-3377

Updated: August 21, 2016