We set our work aside temporarily to concentrate on the murder on Furby Street when we noticed that everyone seemed to be ignoring, or avoiding, the obvious --- Cherie Lynn Richard had become the latest on the mythological list of Murdered and Missing Aboriginal Women.
The mainstream media, which trumpets every demand for a public inquiry into these "Murdered and Missing Aboriginal Women", had missed the glaring opportunity to focus on the latest and most accessible case to see what lessons can be learned.
So we've stepped into the void. We launched The Black Rod Online Inquiry into Murdered and Missing Aboriginal Women.
Case No. One----Cherie Lynn Richard. Age 20. Murdered July 22, 2012, Winnipeg, Manitoba.
Normally, the story starts with a short synopsis of the event and expands from there. But in an inquiry of this kind you don't know what's important and what's not, so everything needs to be examined.
Lets start with the newspaper photo of Cherie.
It's a picture of a cute, smiling girl with a short, Audrey Hepburn pixie haircut. She doesn't look 20. She looks in her mid-teens.
Is this how she looked the morning she was killed? We're guessing not. Is this a school picture? Why no photo of her as an adult? Is it because there are no pictures of Cherie Richard or because there's an attempt to sanitize her reputation by portraying the 20-year-old woman as still a child.
The biggest question so far is why was she on Furby Street at 5 in the morning? She and her older sister were outside an apartment block near Sargent Avenue. That we know, but why?
It's barely getting light at 5 a.m. The sun isn't over the horizon yet so it's still dark but not dark as night and not light as day. Were they finishing their Saturday night out and headed home for brekkie? Not from what the sister says.
Her sister told the Winnipeg Free Press:
"We would always go out at 5, 6 in the morning. Never got scared before. Never got problems. It felt safe."
Reporter Katherine Dow failed to ask why the sisters went out that early.
There are many legitimate reasons for being out and about at sunrise. Athletes often train early in the day before going to their day jobs. Was she an athlete? Was she delivering newspapers with her sister? A route of 100 papers would go quickly if she took 50 and her sister 50. Did she simply like the morning air, the silence at dawn?
Why she was where she was is a vital part of the story and here we are, days later, with no answer.
The story from here on gets only murkier.
Cherie was with her older sister Shaylene, or Shaii, as she's called by friends and family. Her story has been reported in various forms and bits of it confirmed by other witnesses.
The Winnipeg Free Press:
A witness who identified himself only as Joseph said he was walking down the street at about 5 a.m. when he saw two women and three men standing on the street.
The witness said he later heard a scream and, when he returned to the area, saw paramedics administering CPR to one of the women he had seen earlier that morning.
The investigation revealed that the deceased and another female were in the area of the 500 block of Furby Street when they were approached by one male and two females. A verbal altercation took place, at which time the deceased was stabbed.
Winnipeg Free Press:
Shaylene Richard said she and Cherie were standing with their bikes on Furby Street at around 5 a.m. Sunday when a man ran out of an apartment building and stabbed Cherie in the stomach.
"I had started riding my bike away when I heard her yell. She said, 'I got stabbed, I got stabbed,' and I ran back and held her," she said.
She told CBC News that she and Cherie were biking in the area when they stopped outside an apartment building.
That's when she got into an argument with two females and a male about money.
Richard said the male then ran up to her sister, who was minding her own business, and stabbed her. "I was arguing with two girls and that one guy and I told my sister to go drive up ahead and that guy ran up to my sister and stabbed her," Richard said.
A neighbour witnessed the incident and told CBC News that the victim and her sister were on their bikes when a man ran from a nearby apartment building and stabbed one of them in the stomach. The witness... said the incident appeared to be a dispute over money.
Did the Richard sisters stop and talk with three men (Joseph) about 5 a.m. and, almost half an hour later, get into an argument with two girls and one guy (CBC News)? Or did witness Joseph mistake the two girls for men?
That's a pretty busy street if six to 9 people meet, pass, and congregate on the same stretch at five in the morning.
Was Cherie stabbed just after Shaii told her to "drive up ahead"? Or after Shaii "had started riding (her) bike away"?
Was the killer a party to the argument? Did he leave the group and enter the apartment block only to come dashing out to stab Cherie? Why did he leave? Why did he return? Why did he stab Cherie, who by her sister's account, wasn't arguing with anybody?
But above all, what the hell was Shaii arguing with the girls about? Apparently the reporters for the FP and the CBC didn't think that was important. Everybody agrees it was about money, but what about money?
Were the girls trying to rob Cherie and Shaii? Did they owe Shaii money? Did Shaii owe them money? Did somebody sell somebody something and there was a dispute about payment? Were they debating over who had the most money and how they got it? Who started the argument?
What do we know about Cherie Richard the person?
The Winnipeg Free Press reported Tuesday:
Relatives described her as a shy, caring tomboy who was in the wrong place at the wrong time.
“She wasn’t involved in drugs or gangs or nothing,” said her cousin, Donna Richard. “She was just a good girl. She had such a big heart and would do whatever for people, anything really.”
There's nothing to contradict that image. She was, by the accounts of friends and family, a "good" girl.
She lived with her sister in the neighbourhood where she was killed. They moved to the
West End two years ago when Cherie turned 18, said Shaii.
Cherie's online references say she graduated from St.Norbert Collegiate, class of 2010. Her sister says she "her sister was a tomboy who was working toward graduating from high school at St. Norbert Collegiate." Twenty years old without even a high school diploma is not a good thing.
"Shaylene Richard said she and her sister had been in and out of group homes for many years." That's not surprising. There were nine children in the family, a guarantee of a life of poverty. Mom (aka metis-mama09) lists herself as single on internet social sites.
One of Cherie's apparent foster parents posted this tribute in the FP comments:
7:51 AM on 7/23/2012
please be sensitive about this....i raised this girl in my house for three years. she was an amazing person and was not a drug dealer. this was a case of wrong place at the wrong time. she liked to travel around the city when it was quiet, lived and loved with all her heart, and was an amazing person. i'm going to miss her smile, her laugh, and her love for everyone around her. RIP.
Wrong place at the wrong time? If she was, she wasn't alone. What do we know about her sister who was right there with her?
Probably more than she wants us to know.
A vicious personal attack on Shaii Richard appeared last year on a website referring to her "hoodrat" friends, her parenting skills, the father of her children ("in jail once again") and her love of socializing ("she claims to be a “playa”).
We're not going to reprint the hit piece, but it serves as an important factor in the inquiry. Anyone connected to a missing or murdered woman instantly comes under the scrutiny of police and/or the news media, no matter how clean his or her life. Does anyone want that? It's no wonder, then, that potential witnesses avoid investigators and important clues are never relayed to police.
And the internet spat between Shaii Richard and her detractors may offer a glimmer of what was behind the confrontation on Furby last Sunday.
Written in twisted-English gang-talk, there is nevertheless a refreshing absence of threats of physical violence, despite a surprising reference to behaviour that could attract retaliation. It appears to be a back-and-forth exchange of insults between Shaii and girls who dislike her. Foreshadowing?
yeeah f*ck cuz im a fckn awsome mother! ask bout me! me friends kno dis 2!!… keep hatin atleast i have my own fck*kn place unlike u bitches jst hatin n talkkn shit cuz ur homesless r still live wit ur fc*n parents!.. haters hate harder!!! u just makin me famous..! & all sudden im ugly?? LMAO!.. dummie it up!! guarnteed im betta lookin den u!! y ur not leavin ur name!!.. & my kids are lucky 2 have a mom like me… i take care of dem u dnt see dem lookin all rough n shit LMAO!… yaah dats wut i thaught!!.. & ima hoe? plz i was commited 2 my bbzdad 4 2 years!.. he knows it 2!.. & bout me fckn arnd wen he was locked up..! we werent even 2geather!!.. & unlike all u hatin bitches atleast my bbz dad helps me wit his kids!! look at all u retards.. ur kids r fatherless!!! why?? cuz dey regret havin kids wit u… r u dnt kno who ur bbzdad is!!…
Believe it or not, there's more positive information than negative, here.
Including posted support from a commenter who identifies herself as Shaii's sister, we learn than she is/was going to school to complete her Grade 12, she has a fixed address, she may not live with the father of her two children and he may have a criminal record, but he's helping support them, and she was a responsible teen mother who managed to keep her children out of CFS care and raise them with love.
It could be worse.
Wrong place, wrong time. Its starting to look like Cherie Richard was in the middle of a beef involving her older sister and two girls and it cost her her life.
What about the killer?
Its been longer than 48 hours since the fatal stabbing and you know the rule of thumb about that. The title sequence for the show The First 48 lays it out: "For homicide detectives, the clock starts ticking the moment they are called. Their chance of solving a murder is cut in half if they don't get a lead within the first 48 hours."
Do the police know who killed Cherie Richard. Two days have passed and they haven't even released a description of their suspect. They have a perfect eyewitness who was only feet from the killer; they should know the height, build, race, hairstyle, clothing and direction of flight at least. They should likely have fingerprints from the door to the apartment building.
Police aren't saying anything about the investigation. We used to assume that police always knew more than they were telling. But that was before the spree killer shot two people dead and nearly killed a third in the North End in 2010 (still unsolved) and one or more people sprayed bullets into a wedding hall on Main Street in 2009, killing one guest and wounding others (still unsolved.) Now you think they're not saying anything because they don't know anything.
Communication with the public still remains a big problem with the Winnipeg Police Service.
There's one thing we do know about the killer. He's not afraid of the law. He's willing to kill someone to settle a verbal argument, even if that someone is just a bystander. That's the level of depravity into which this city has sunk.
And, lastly, what about the aboriginal community that's so concerned about murdered and missing aboriginal women? They are noticeable by their absence. They could be blanketing the area of the murder, speaking to people who won't speak to police, collecting names of suspects and helping to solve the murder.
But they're not.
There's no money in it. No hefty per diems. No grandstanding to justify travel allowances. Just hard slog, of the kind that police do all the time.
What do we know, then?
Cherie Richard was an innocent young woman, undereducated, perhaps, but living on her own and capable of making her own decisions. She made a series of bad decisions, encouraged by her older sister.
* They decided to be out in the middle of the night, on bicycles. It was an hour when most people are at home, sleeping. The reason for their early-morning jaunt is still unclear.
* They stopped outside an apartment with a bad reputation (known for drug raids and one previous murder) where they were approached by, or her sister engaged, three people, an encounter that escalated into an argument.
* Common sense tells you to be wary of anyone you meet on the street at 5 in the morning in a city known as the Murder Capital of Canada. Moreso in a part of town known for its drug and gang influences.
* So there they were, two young women in their twenties engaged in a shouting match on a public street at sunrise. As it turned out, one of the people she was arguing with was either armed with a knife or went inside to get a knife.
Shaii Richard may have known the two girls, while the man they were with was a stranger. At some point he left the encounter and went inside the apartment block. It appears that the argument ended, with Cherie and her sister about to leave. Then ,with no warning, the man allegedly ran out the door and just stabbed Cherie in the abdomen, taking off and leaving her to die.
The killer was obviously unstable, lacking the social restraint we expect in civil society. He was also very, very dangerous, lashing out with a killing blow at Cherie Richard, who wasn't involved in the argument and was just standing by her sister.
Wrong place at the wrong time?
Cherie Richard put herself in that place and at that time. She may have trusted her older sister to look after her, only to find herself led into a situation she wasn't expecting, a chance meeting with a homicidal stranger and a sudden, unexpected attack.
What can we learn?
With 20/20 hindsight we can say that if Cherie Richard had been home in bed like most people that Sunday morning, she would still be alive. If her sister hadn't engaged in an argument on the street which escalated into murder, Cherie would still be alive. But ultimately, that's not what killed her.
She was killed by a deranged individual who thought so little about the value of life that he killed a defenceless, innocent woman over nothing.
Aboriginal leaders are quick to blame everyone else for treating their murdered and missing women as if they have no value. But in this case, it's the killer who put no value on Cherie Richard's life.
The police would like nothing more than to capture him. The neighbourhood should be cooperating as much as possible with the police because the killer is obviously an extremely volatile and dangerous person who could kill again at the drop of a hat.
And those aboriginal "leaders" should show how much they care by using their resources to canvass the community for the killer's identity and to demonstrate that the killers of aboriginal women will be hunted down and brought to justice quickly.