Labrador hometown ‘sad and heartbroken’ over Loretta Saunders murder

Geordon Omand
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Loretta Saunders. Submitted

METRO HALIFAX

The Labrador hometown of Loretta Saunders is reeling after police in Halifax announced they had recovered her body and were treating her disappearance as a homicide.

“Heartbroken,” said Jennifer Hefler-Elson, executive director of the Labrador Friendship Centre in Happy Valley-Goose Bay about the town’s reaction.

“Sad and heartbroken.”

About 80 people attended a vigil for the 26-year-old Inuk woman, held in the Labrador town of 7,500 earlier this week.

“There is a lot of people that have people away (at university) and it touches home,” added Hefler-Elson.

“It could be your daughter, you know?”

Hefler-Elson visited Saunders’ mother and father when police confirmed she had been killed, saying the parents were doing “as well as can be expected.”

According to Jamie Snook, mayor of Happy Valley-Goose Bay, news of her disappearance grabbed everyone in the town.

“She was such a bright and young person with such a promising future,” he said.

“It’s just unbelievable and so unnecessary that it does catch everyone’s heartstrings.”

Snook said the town was grateful for the attention Halifax gave the case.

“I feel the RCMP in Halifax … have done a very effective job finding suspects, finding Loretta … in a fairly swift timeframe,” he added.

“I just hope now that the rest of the justice system does its part effectively and there can be closure.”

Friday is the final day of Violence Prevention Month and Snook said residents of the Happy Valley-Goose Bay plan to wear purple to honour Saunders.

Hefler-Elson said the town intends to organize a public event to commemorate the murdered woman, but is waiting on the family before moving forward.

News on Thursday that first-degree murder charges had been laid against two suspects in the Saunders case came as no surprise to Cheryl Maloney, president of the Nova Scotia Native Women’s Association.

“We were so hopeful,” said Maloney. “We prayed that she would be found.

“I’m just feeling for the family right now.”

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Ongoing Police say Loretta Saunders' death a homicide

Nova News Now>OpinionRemembering Loretta Saunders Derek MontaguePublished on February 27, 2014 Share 65   0 CommentSend to a friendPrint

Loretta Saunders with her friend's daughter Shyanne, at the North West River beach, July 2010. Submitted

Other newsMurder charges laid in Loretta Saunders caseWoman accused of stealing Loretta Saunders’ car to have bail hearing FridaySpring weight restrictions on Nova Scotia roads beginning March 10New superboards will not work for Nova Scotia, says former health ministerLoretta Saunders' family devestated by news of her homicideUPDATED: Loretta Saunders' homicide 'a tragic loss'Pictou County's Chris Falconer to appeal verdict in Amber Kirwan murder caseNova Scotia's chef de mission named for Canada Games 2015  

Editor's note: Derek Montague is a reporter/photographer at TC Media's The Labradorian and is a friend of Loretta Saunders. He can be reached by email at  derek.montague@thelabradorian.ca

As I write this, I’m not sure what I should type, or what I can even say to describe the pain that’s reverberating throughout Labrador right now. We’ve lost one of our own, in the most tragic way possible.

A beautiful young woman, three months pregnant, murdered while on her way to becoming a lawyer; a full life ahead of her.

For more than a week, we came together in order to comfort each other, and raise much needed money so Loretta Saunders’ family could fly to Halifax and look for their loved one.

Between Feb. 17, when Loretta was reported missing, and Feb 26, our hearts and minds were focused on brining Loretta home. We had hope. But that hope came crashing down on Wednesday, Feb. 26, as media reports quickly spread through Facebook of the discovery of her body.

The search was over. Loretta will be coming home, but not in the way we had wished for.

The night of Feb. 26, 2014 will always stick out in my mind. Never before have I seen such a dark cloud hang over central Labrador. Never before have I seen such a public outpouring of grief and anger.

So what can I say that would help anyone, even myself, feel any better? Right now I feel like throwing my laptop across the room. I feel like yelling and screaming. But what good would that do?

Loretta and I were friends as teenagers. We met at an LIA Youth Symposium in Postville. I was 16 years old; she was just 15. As soon as I met her, I was enchanted.

She had such a kind soul. She was intelligent, lively, bright, and had one of the most beautiful smiles you’d ever see. It was very easy to befriend someone like her.

My billets in Postville let me use their snowmobile to get around town. I remember coming across Loretta and some other friends while riding on their machine.

Loretta asked me to hang out and take a walk around Postville with them. I was so happy with the invite that, when I went to drop off the snowmobile, I parked it outside the wrong house. I can still hear Loretta laughing at me as I ran up the hill to get the snowmobile back.

We remained in touch while we were teenagers. I would stop in and visit with her while she worked at Burger King from time to time, and we spent a lot of evenings chatting on MSN Messenger.

But we drifted apart as we got older. Now I wish I had been able to stay in touch longer, so I could have a few more memories of Loretta to bank on.

Read more special articles:Murder charges laid in Loretta Saunders caseWoman accused of stealing Loretta Saunders’ car to have bail hearing FridayLoretta Saunders' family devestated by news of her homicideUPDATED: Loretta Saunders' homicide 'a tragic loss'

Those warm and funny memories we have of Loretta are more important now than ever. Sometimes the healing process can begin with a story.

That’s how it began for me more than three years ago, when I lost one of my best friends in university. Like Loretta, Andrew was young (only 21 at the time of his death) and was a post-secondary student with a bright future ahead of him.

It was Sunday, Oct. 24, 2010, when it all happened. I awoke that morning to lay out the sports section of the Saint Thomas University student newspaper for the next edition.

As soon as I awoke I got a text message on my phone from a friend, informing me that Andrew wasn’t answering his phone.

Most of that morning is a blur. But after making several frantic phone calls, my friends and I were in a hospital waiting room, being told that Andrew, whom I loved like a brother, was gone. I screamed, and I cried, and I pounded the floor with my fists.

After the initial wave of sadness, came a numbing sense of shock and disbelief, followed by numbed silence. Until one of us spoke up and asked, “would anyone mind if I told a story about Andrew?”

Looking back, that was when the slow healing process began for me. We spent the next several days telling each other stories of Andrew out loud and writing them down on paper. Each memory was so invaluable during those first few days of grief, and it was important to share every one of them.

After meeting Andrew’s wonderful family for the first time, we were able to swap stories. They told us about Andrew’s childhood, and we told them about Andrew’s life in university. Combined, Andrew’s life story became more complete.

Now is the time for everyone to do the same for Loretta. Let’s share her stories, not just to keep her memory alive, but to help each other begin the healing process.

Share the memories of this precious young lady that make you smile and laugh; the ones that warm your heart. Based on the amount of pain and loss being expressed in Labrador right now, it’s clear Loretta touched the lives of many, and created a lot of stories worth telling.

Read more about the Loretta Saunders case here.

With files from Philip Croucher

Organizations: Labrador Friendship Centre, RCMP

Geographic location: Labrador, Halifax, Happy Valley Goose Bay Nova Scotia Native Women

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