Maisy Odjick and Shannon Alexander
* Fact: Between 1980 and 2012 Indigenous women and girls represent 16% (reported cases investigated only) of all homicides in Canada, yet are only 4% of the population.
Laurie Odjick has a voice that captivates you, especially when it comes to stories about her daughter, Maisy Odjick. “Just seeing her face, her eyes and counting her little fingers and toes,” Laurie said while reflecting on the day she gave birth to Maisy. “I was already in love because I felt her for nine months, but to see her, hold her, it’s just simply amazing and such a gift. That’s something I will cherish for the rest of my life.”
Maisy and her best friend Shannon Alexander, 17, were reported missing from Kitigan Zibi Anishinabeg Nation in Quebec in September 2008.
Laurie said Maisy and her friend were average teenage girls. They went to high school, gossiped about boys and socialized at the popular local hangouts. Neither girl was in trouble with the law nor did they lead high-risk lifestyles. So when the two suddenly disappeared, it was a shock to everyone who knew them.
The last time Laurie saw her daughter was on Friday, Sept. 5, 2008. Maisy and Shannon were outside Maisy’s grandmother’s house, mowing the lawn.
Maisy lived with her grandmother and usually mowed the lawn on Saturday mornings.
Laurie asked her why she was mowing a day early. “She said she was going to go spend the weekend at Shannon's, in Maniwaki, Que., a town adjacent to the reserve, because her dad was going to help his son in the city [Ottawa] to paint,” Laurie recalled.
“I hugged her and kissed her and I asked her what she was doing that weekend,” Laurie said. The girls told her they were going to a school dance.
They went to the Maniwaki arena for the dance that night. Friends who were at the dance saw the girls leave the arena. They may have spent time at a park near Polyvalente High School that night, although they reportedly left after Shannon argued with a boy at the location.
The next day, September 6th, 2008, the girls walked Shannon’s father, Brian Alexander, to a bus stop in Maniwaki. That was the last time anyone saw either girl.
When Shannon’s father returned to his apartment, he found the girls away, but they had left behind their purses, wallets, identification and backpacks. Shannon had even left her medication behind.
Laurie said she believes the investigation into Maisy’s disappearance was mishandled from the beginning by Kitigan Zibi police. She said her daughter and her friend were labelled as runaways. “The apartment that Shannon’s dad and her lived in at the time wasn’t even searched,” Laurie said.
She said her family never got a file number and the police didn’t notify media about the disappearance. “I mean, even the chief and council, nobody ... it seemed like nobody cared at the time,” Laurie said.
Maisy’s aunt, Maria Jacko, built a website with information about the girls and their disappearance. http://www.findmaisyandshannon.com
Then more than six days after the girls went missing, Kitigan Zibi Chief Gilbert Whiteduck arranged for a news conference. “It was even sadder because only the town paper really showed up and APTN,” Laurie said.
She and other volunteers started searching on their own, without the help of police.
After a month went by, the police notified the public. But Laurie feels that valuable evidence was lost by then. Eventually, Search and Rescue Global One was invited to the community by the chief and council.
Two separate searches were conducted, both unsuccessful. In 2009, the Sûreté du Québec (SQ) provincial police force took over the case. Laurie said relations with the lead investigator are now good. “From the very beginning, he calls me.... Even if he knows nothing, it’s just reassurance that she’s not forgotten and that makes a world of a difference,” Laurie said, adding that the detective has even given her his personal cell number.
Laurie said she realizes she may never get any answers as to what happened to her daughter. She said the lead police investigator has told her that Maisy's file may soon be shelved. “He told me there is going to become a time when Maisy’s file will be a cold case, only meaning that with no information coming in, and all the investigating they’ve done led to nowhere,” she said.
In July 2017, there was renewed hope for Laurie and her family. The SQ received a new tip on the girls’ disappearance, leading investigators to conduct a search at the Kitigan Zibi reserve. Investigators searched Pitobig Creek and the surrounding area in Kitigan Zibi. They also interviewed about 20 people.
Unfortunately, police learned that construction on the nearby Maniwaki Speedway had disturbed the creek’s shoreline in the years since Maisy and Shannon’s disappearance, potentially compromising evidence that may have once been there.
The search hasn’t led to any breaks in the investigation, but the SQ say the investigation will continue.
Laurie firmly believes there are people out there who know what happened to her daughter and her best friend. "I mean, two girls don't just disappear off the face of the Earth. And I'm hoping one day those people who do know something step forward," she said.
Shannon’s family has been more private, as her disappearance has brought them great despair. Shannon was a cadet and loved being in a leadership role.
These girls were best friends. Sisters and daughters. Granddaughters and real people.
You can read their whole story in Stolen Sisters: The story of Two Missing Girls, Their Families and How Canada Has Failed Indigenous Women by Emmanuelle Walter.
Recently Maisy and Shannon's story was featured on Taken-the podcast, a platform shedding light on the stories of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls (MMIWG). Hopefully these profiles will educate, bring awareness and new clues to solves these cases.