Family members of a woman who died in a Vancouver apartment more than three years ago are speaking out about the way their mother was treated after her death.
Lorraine Elaine Campbell, 65, was found dead in an apartment on Pender Street after a fire in July 2020.
It was later determined she had died of a drug overdose before the fire.
Her family said her body was cremated and buried in an unmarked grave in Surrey without anyone being contacted.
They said they only found out about her death last week.
“Last Monday, my family was advised by the (Vancouver Police Department) that my mom had passed in a fire in July 2020, and we are only just finding out about this now. It’s very, very upsetting,” Sheri-Lee Campbell, one of Lorraine’s daughters told Global News.
She said they have a very large family and were originally from Ontario but moved out to B.C. with their mother when her and her siblings were young.
“My mother did have mental health issues and unfortunately was not in a position to continue to raise us,” Sheri-Lee said. “And when I was 12 years old, the Ministry of Children and Family Development intervened and removed us from her care, and we were placed to live with her older sister in Ontario.”
Sheri is the eldest of three girls and she and one other sister moved back to Vancouver when they were older.
“My dad lived here, and a few years ago, my mom and my dad reunited and she was living with my dad,” she added. “In May of 2018 my dad passed suddenly of a heart attack and my mother did not handle it well and she disappeared back into the Downtown Eastside.
“And so from that day forward, we did not hear from my mom. She normally would check in with us. My family always kept in contact with her.”
However, as time continued to pass and they still hadn’t heard anything from Lorainne, the family placed a call to the Vancouver police for a compassionate to locate.
Sheri-Lee said that is how they learned of their mother’s death years ago.
They have yet to hear anything further from the Vancouver police or social services as they currently have control over her mother’s remains, she added.
“Because no next of kin was located, she was cremated and buried in a plot with no name. For the last three years, she has sat in the plot with no name in an urn. She has a huge family. There is no reason that next to kin could not have been located,” Sheri-Lee said.
Her mother had records with the VPD from previous arrests, from correctional facilities, the Ministry of Family and Child Development, and social services, she added.
“We believe that no effort was made to locate her because she is a Downtown Eastside person.”
A man who identified himself as Lorraine’s half-brother spoke to some of the first responders at the scene of the fire but the family said there was no follow-up with that person and he wasn’t related to their mother, he just lived in the same building.
Sheri-Lee said they loved their mother very much and she knows her mother loved her children and her family but she also struggled in her life.
“Just because she has mental health issues and wasn’t able to care for herself or her children doesn’t mean that she didn’t deserve a proper burial.”
Younger sister Dawn Campbell told Global News she loved her and idolized her.
“It was a hard relationship,” she said though. “She was beautiful. But she just wasn’t there for us as when we were kids. She wasn’t there. The addiction took over early.“
Dawn said it didn’t mean her mother was a bad person, but Lorainne became a mother at a young age and it was always challenging for her.
“I think it wasn’t unusual for someone to not hear from her for a while,” Dawn added. “So this was not unusual. You know what I mean? We just did our constant check-ins or she would do a check-in with my aunt, you know, or need money or whatever it was.”
She said everyone in the family is shocked, hurt, angry and guilt-ridden about what happened.
“When I was 16, she was in Kamloops and of course, she was receiving welfare at the time,” Dawn said.
“And so when I moved there to be with her, she claimed me as a dependent so that her welfare would go higher. So the ministry is very clearly aware of me as a dependent as well as they have me as a contact. They have me in their system.”
In a statement to Global News, Vancouver police said that when conducting sudden death investigations they always try to identify a single family member who has a relationship with the person who died and they trust that person will share information with other relatives and loved ones.
“Shortly after Lorraine Campbell’s death, in July 2020, we identified a man who we believed was Lorraine’s half-brother and with whom we believed Lorraine had a close relationship,” police said in the statement.
“We trusted that this person was the most appropriate next of kin and that information about her death would be shared with other family members. We have recently learned that this person misrepresented their relationship with Lorraine.”
Vancouver police confirmed they are reviewing the circumstances surrounding this case.
“We extend our condolences to the relatives and loved ones of Lorraine Campbell who recently learned of her death.”
Global News has also reached out to the BC Coroners Service and the Ministry of Social Development and Poverty Reduction.
Dawn said there was no way someone would not have been able to reach them.
“But because she was a drug addict and because she lived down in the Downtown Eastside, her death was just dismissed,” she said.
“And it’s horrible to think that other people that are going through the same thing and have huge families that care about them just can’t do anything for them.”
Now the family just wants to take Lorraine’s ashes back to Ontario where they can bury her with all her family around and say a proper goodbye.
“I think it’s really, really important that these other people are treated with dignity and respect and are given a name,” Dawn said.
“For her to just be buried unnamed for three years in a graveyard without anyone knowing is just horrific. It’s horrific. At least give her a name.”