'Like losing 3 daughters': Aunt of Nepinak sisters charged with murder speaks
Michelle Gerwing and Daniella Ponticelli, CTV Winnipeg
Published Friday, January 15, 2016 3:45PM CST
Last Updated Friday, January 15, 2016 8:21PM CST
In a room full of media, Susan Caribou sat alone.
Caribou is the aunt of high-profile missing indigenous woman Tanya Nepinak, whose sisters now face murder charges in Winnipeg's first homicide case of 2016.
"I honestly knew something drastic was going to happen,” she said during an emotional press conference at the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs on Friday. "It's a lot to carry every day without closure."
On Jan. 13, Winnipeg police arrested Candice Nora Nepinak, 31, and Vanessa Louise Nepinak, 35, in connection to the death of 35-year-old Cynthia Marie French.
“If someone would have heard my call for help for my sister and my nieces, maybe this could have been prevented,” Caribou said through tears. "I myself have had two mild heart attacks because of all the trauma in my family."
Tanya Nepinak disappeared in September 2011. Her missing person's case was eventually ruled a homicide investigation by police, despite her body never being found.
In 2012, Shawn Lamb was charged with second-degree murder for Nepinak's death and the deaths of two other women.
In November 2013, Lamb was sentenced to 20 years in prison after pleading guilty to manslaughter in the killing of two women in Winnipeg.
He denied killing Nepinak, and charges related to her death were stayed.
'An everyday battle': the impact of trauma
Caribou said she was always worried about how the trauma of Nepinak’s disappearance would impact the family.
She said reaching out for help hasn’t resulted in meaningful change, and often her voice went unheard. Now, Caribou fears for her sister, the girls’ mother, who lives with depression.
“It’s an everyday battle,” she said. “One daughter is missing and now the two girls are not going to be with her. It’s like losing three daughters for my sister.”
Criminologist Frank Cormier, with the University of Manitoba, said it's a sad fact violent crime often leads to more violent crime.
"The victims, and even the perpetrators of crime, very often have friends, family members, other people in their close primary group, who have also been touched by violence," said Cormier.
Cormier also pointed to other influencing factors as helping perpetuate a cycle of violence.
"If there are people that suffer from certain difficult life circumstances, whether that’s poverty or job instability, housing instability, alcohol or drug abuse, those kinds of things.. it's extremely important that we need to look at those people that surround them,” he said.
Winnipeg’s first homicide of 2016
Before 6 p.m. on Jan. 12, Winnipeg police were called to the 500 block of William Avenue.
Officers found two women, sisters, with serious injuries from a stabbing. Paramedics took both women to hospital, where 35-year-old Cynthia Marie French died from her injuries.
French’s 36-year-old sister was later upgraded to stable condition.
Police said the sisters had returned to their home earlier that night to find one of the suspects in French’s room. They were able to force the suspect out of the home, but she returned an hour later with her sister.
Both victims were then stabbed in the upper body, said police.
French’s sister managed to escape and call police on a payphone, but was assaulted once more when the suspects found her again at the payphone.
“I can’t imagine how traumatic the initial and subsequent incidents must have been for her,” said Const. Eric Hofley with Winnipeg police during a press conference on Jan. 13.
“To believe that you’re relatively safe, still you’re injured; but then to find that the two accused leave that residence, after having assaulted and murdered your sister, and assault you again,” he said.
Police arrested and charged the Nepinak sisters that night. Both women face counts of second-degree murder and attempted murder.
According to police, the two pairs of sisters knew each other; however, officers haven’t confirmed the extent of the acquaintance.
Susan Caribou speaks during an emotional news conference with media at the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs' office on Jan. 15, just days after her nieces were charged with second-degree murder.
Tanya Nepinak is shown in a file photo.