Losing a child is one of the most painful and cruel experiences any parent can endure.
Losing a child without knowing the circumstances surrounding her death is even more painful.
Nov. 17, 2018 was a grim anniversary for Sonia James and Everett Tom. The body of their daughter Lacey Tom was found by a search party on the shore of the Fraser River on Nov. 17, 2017, bringing to a tragic end family and friends’ search for the missing 26-year-old.
Exactly one year after Lacey’s body was found, her family organized a Remembrance March in her honour on Saturday, Nov. 17. They started at the Lillooet Cemetery and walked through town behind a banner asking “What happened to Lacey Marvina?” and promising “We will never give up.”
“The march was to let people know we’re still looking for answers,” Sonia James told the News.
Prior to her death, Lacey had been staying at a tent for homeless people near the Old Bridge. The weather was cold, with a wind chill factor of minus 13. Her mother saw her at the bridge just before midnight on Nov. 3, 2017. When her mother went to check on her again, she was not there.
Lacey Tom was reported missing to the Lillooet RCMP on Sunday, Nov. 5 and police issued a province-wide alert for her on Nov. 6.
But Sonia James said she also spoke to the Stl’atl’imx Tribal Police, and it appears the two detachments did not share information.
Everett Tom told the News, “It’s unfortunate because I believe both police agencies should share information, especially on a case such as this.”
According to initial reports, the sighting of Lacey Tom at the bridge was the last confirmed sighting. However, surveillance video at Lillooet District Hospital shows she walked into the emergency ward just after midnight on Nov. 4. She took off her top layer of clothes, used the washroom, and left the hospital without saying a word. Tom was seen leaving LDH with her jacket off and without her top layer of pants at 12:40 a.m. on Nov. 4, 2017.
Her family wonders if she put on the top layers of her clothing at the hospital entrance or if she had a ride waiting for her outside the hospital. When her body was recovered, she had all her clothes on and there was a deep gash over her eye.
Her family also says the search for Lacey was frustrating.
“I asked the police if they could bring in dogs, but they said they didn’t know where to search,” said Sonia James. “Well, they could have started down at the Old Bridge.”
Family and friends searched empty buildings, alleys, trails and along the riverbank.
“We crawled into anything we could to look for her,” says Sonia. “We had a big map of the area and people would come and tell us where they’d looked and we put a date and time on there. Even though so many checked there, they still went back and checked again.”
The family also asked if a search boat could be put in the water, but they were told it was too late and the boats had been stored away for the winter.
They raised enough money for a search boat to go out on the Fraser on Sunday, Nov. 18, but Lacey’s body was discovered the day before.
There were rumours of other possible sightings of Lacey between Nov. 4 and Nov. 17 of last year.
The family now says she was seen by one of her cousins on Nov. 9 outside the Hotel Victoria. She was stepping out of a dark-coloured Bronco or Blazer.
The cousin is certain of the date because they were planning a birthday party for the following day. The cousin had just arrived in town and did not know Lacey was missing.
What happened between Nov. 4 and Nov. 17?
That is what the family wants to know.
“We are asking anyone who has any information to come forward,” said Sonia.
“I think someone knows something,” adds Everett.
“I know they do,” Sonia says emphatically. “Tell us.”
“It seems like some people turn their backs on us now,” Everett continues. “Them being uncomfortable makes us think they know something.”
The Coroners Service has set Nov. 10 as the date of Lacey’s death. But that is only an estimate, based on the condition of her body.
“It wasn’t like she was in the water for the whole 14 days,” says Sonia. “It looked like she’d been in the water only a few days, but they had to choose a date so they put it in between the two dates. But they’re not sure on that and we still haven’t got any information on any of the blankets they took from the homeless tent.”
It’s the family’s understanding that the blankets were supposed to be tested for evidence, including possible DNA evidence.”
The B.C. Coroners Service says its investigation into Lacey Tom’s death remains open.
A representative from the Regional Coroners Service in Kelowna told the News, “Until the coroner’s investigation is complete, we have no details to share publicly beyond the fact that we are investigating and what our investigative mandate is (to investigate all sudden, unnatural and unexpected deaths in B.C. to determine who died, how, where, when and by what means; and if we can make recommendations to prevent deaths in similar circumstances, we do so). We are a fact-finding - not fault-finding - agency.”
He added, “We never speculate on timelines for completions of investigations as so many factors can come into play, including reports from other agencies.”
Sonia James remembers her daughter as a kind-hearted and loving person.
“She always did everything the best she could for her two kids. She was a really good provider. She wasn’t out there partying all the time.”
Everett Tom adds, “She fished, she helped gather berries and medicine, she helped dry the tswan, she helped set up and take down camp.”
“And she always went to visit all her family,” recalls Sonia. “She always made sure she checked on everyone who was around. She cared for everyone.”
Sonia shares one other memory. “If she was gone for a day and I didn’t know where she was, I’d say ‘Lacey, where are you?’ on Facebook. And she would get right back to me, ‘Mom, you’re embarrassing me!’”
Everett concludes, “But this time she didn’t come home.”