Saunders' family says her legacy will live on
Daniel Bitonti, CTVNews.ca
Published Friday, February 28, 2014 6:11AM EST
Last Updated Friday, February 28, 2014 10:40PM EST
The family of Loretta Saunders, an Inuk woman whose body was found on a median off a New Brunswick highway earlier in the week, says the 26-year-old's legacy will live on.
"She captured the heart of the country," her cousin Lisa White said at a press conference Friday afternoon.
Saunders had gone missing on Feb. 13, and her disappearance triggered a widespread search and public appeals from her family for help in finding the young woman. Police found Saunders' body Wednesday in a median off Route 2 of the Trans-Canada Highway west of Moncton, N.B. Two people have been charged with first-degree murder in her death.
Saunders' sister, Delilah Terriak, thanked the media and police on Friday for the attention her sister's case received.
"We just want to thank you for bringing awareness especially to the issue of missing, murdered and abused aboriginal woman -- something that’s been put on the backburner too long," Terriak said. “And Loretta made a grand point -- she hasn’t died in vain and so we just want to thank you all."
Saunders had been studying at St. Mary’s University and was set to graduate in May. The thesis she had been working on specifically tacked the issue of missing and murdered aboriginal women.
For years, aboriginal and social justice groups have criticized Canadian law enforcement agencies and governments for not aggressively tacking the high number of missing and murdered aboriginal woman. The Native Women's Association of Canada says despite being only 3 per cent of the population, aboriginal woman make up 10 per cent of all female homicides in the country.
Saunders' murder has already renewed calls for a national public inquiry into the issue.
Saunders' brother, Edmund, said the public's response to his sister’s disappearance is something that should happen every time an aboriginal woman goes missing.
"We came here and we got an explanation," he said. “And it's a prudent point that every missing aboriginal woman can be found… Not very often are aboriginal women returned home. She was returned home.”
Earlier on Friday, Blake Leggette, one of two people charged with first-degree murder in Saunders' killing, appeared in a Halifax court.
It was the first time since Saunders' body had been found that family and friends were in the same room as Leggette. Emotions ran high, with someone yelling "gutless coward," as Leggette stood in court.
Charges have also been laid against Victoria Henneberry. Police believe Leggette, 25, and Henneberry, 28, were in a relationship.
Leggette's lawyer, Lyle Howe, said he is waiting for more information to be disclosed.
"He's just extremely concerned about what's going to happen," Howe said outside court. "There's a lot of unknown at this point, so it's mostly questions."
Not much is known about Leggette and Henneberry. Police have said that Saunders had once shared an apartment with the two, but details about how long the three lived together have not been disclosed.
Earlier in the week, Saunders' boyfriend said he last saw her as she was leaving his home to check on an apartment she was subletting to Leggette and Henneberry.
Saunders’ car had been found on Feb. 19 south of Windsor, Ont. Henneberry and Leggette were both charged with auto theft, but those charges have been withdrawn.
Police have not provided details about how Saunders died. Her body is at the medical examiner's office in Saint John, N.B., where an autopsy will be carried out.
Saunders' aunt, Barbara Coffey, also thanked police and the media on Friday for paying attention to her niece’s disappearance.
"And that’s the important thing -- is that she is going to leave a legacy," she said. "The country came together. People that were strangers were helping us."
With files from CTV Atlantic and The Canadian Press