Family of Indigenous woman considers circumstances surrounding her death 'suspicious'
WINNIPEG -- The family of an Indigenous woman, who died on Jan. 5, is considering the circumstances surrounding her death suspicious.
Jaeda Vanderwal, 22, was found unclothed along a section of a rail line in Point Douglas with serious injuries.
Investigators determined she was hit by two different trains before she died in hospital.
Her family is wanting to know about Vanderwal's whereabouts prior to her death. They say there is a six-hour timeframe where she was unaccounted for.
Police aren't treating it as a criminal matter but have committed to working with the family.
"She was always happy, every time I seen her – she was always laughing," said Vanderwal's aunt, Elyssa McIvor. "She always tried to look at the bright side of things even when things were like really down."
"Over the days leading up to Jaeda's burial, we are left with more questions than answers."
Winnipeg police say officers were called to the area southeast of the Louise Bridge around 9 p.m. on Jan. 5 after train operators discovered Vanderwal unclothed with serious injuries and administered first aid.
So far, investigators have determined Vanderwal climbed or jumped over a locked gate and walked along the tracks and around a number of nearby vacant or abandoned buildings in the area.
"She then returned to the rail line at which time she was struck by a train causing a serious injury. It is believed that she removed her clothing at this point and crawled along the tracks before being struck by a second train," said Const. Jay Murray with the Winnipeg Police Service.
Police say she took off her clothes due to 'paradoxical undressing', which is a phenomenon officers see frequently in cases of lethal hypothermia where people lose their rationality and feel hot, prompting them to strip off their clothes.
Vanderwal was taken to hospital and died from her injuries.
Police say a combination of video surveillance and tracks in the snow, helped investigators determine Vanderwal was alone at the time and was walking.
"Over investigation to this point has led us to believe it's non-criminal death. We believe that for whatever reason Jaeda walked down that train line and was struck by the train," said Murray. "The cause of death has determined to be a blunt force injury with hypothermia being a contributing factor."
Natalie Beaulieu, Vanderwal's mom, says she wants to know why her daughter ended up along the train tracks.
Vanderwal had just returned to the city where she lives after visiting her grandmother in the Sandy Bay First Nation.
The last contact her family had with her was around 3 p.m. on the day she died.
"My daughter was never like this. She always let everybody know where she was," said Beaulieu.
Family members say when she was younger, Vanderwal ended up in the child welfare system and she ended up living with an opioid addiction at a young age to cope.
McIvor said her niece wanted help.
"I've been trying to help both Jaeda and another individual – another girl – get into treatment. They're still waiting. They were waiting for beds," said McIvor.
Police are still awaiting a toxicology report which could provide further answers.
Winnipeg Police Chief, Danny Smyth, is scheduled to meet with Vanderwal's family on Friday to discuss the circumstances surrounding her death.