Family of slain Lumby woman now in hiding, community rallying support

Click to play video: 'Lumby residents to remember slain woman'
Lumby residents to remember slain woman
The body of Tatjana Stefanski was found in the North Okanagan and the prime suspect is not in custody. The community is banding together to fight for justice for the 44-year-old mother and as Klaudia Van Emmerik reports, calling on changes to so-called catch-and-release laws. – Apr 22, 2024

It’s been just over a week since Tatjana Stefanski’s body was found in a wooded area in the North Okanagan and now her family has gone into hiding, a friend says.

“The family is afraid right now because they don’t know where (the suspect) is,” said Jen De Bourci, a family friend, on Monday.

“They’ve had friends offer them places to stay until it’s safe for them to go back home. … When you’re in shock and grief, not being able to feel safe on top of it, it is just appalling.”

While the suspect in Stefanski’s killing was arrested near where her body was discovered, police said in a press release that he was released shortly after on a series of conditions.

He was seen days later near Stefanski’s home, where her children and partner Jason Gaudreault still lived, De Bourci said. That’s when they left.

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Gaudreault posts daily online messages about his situation. Tuesday, he said he and the children are in day 10 of living in fear and in hiding.

“I am dealing with constant communication with detectives and appointments for the kids while still trying to arrange services for Tatjana,” he wrote in a social media post.

“I am being dragged and pulled in every way imaginable. Please help us by joining Justice for Tatjana page and invite your friends. Nobody should ever have to endure what we are going through. Hopefully soon there will be a conclusion and we can go home. ”

The uncertainty the family is currently facing is why so many in the community are expressing frustration about what the authorities are, and are not, doing.

Last week, Lumby Mayor Kevin Acton said that he felt the town was put in a vulnerable position and that he’d heard as much from constituents.

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“I think the person who’s suspected of doing something this heinous should be detained until, you know, at least we can feel safe,”  Acton said.

Click to play video: 'Outrage in Lumby after suspicious death suspect released'
Outrage in Lumby after suspicious death suspect released

De Bourci echoed that sentiment and said her focus right now is on the family.

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“How are they supposed to feel safe and grieve? How are any of us supposed to feel safe after that? We don’t know what he’s capable of,” De Bourci said.

De Bourci said, however, that she has taken Gaudreault’s lead and is focusing on the laws, not their enforcers.

“Jason has said that he really doesn’t want people lashing out at the RCMP. It’s their job to uphold the law, and they’re working within the laws … doing what they can,” De Bourci said.

“He feels as though the RCMP has been really supportive of their family in the ways that they are allowed to be. So he’s really clear that it’s the laws that need to change, so that the RCMP can do their job.”

The RCMP said the threshold for charge approval is not insignificant, and that police do not have the authority to hold someone indefinitely until the investigation is complete.

“Suspicious death investigations are complex and can take time,” Cpl. James Grandy said in a statement last week.

Until it’s over, however, the community of Lumby is rallying to try to blunt the pain of this tragic turn of events and on Sunday night, some met to use their “grief for good.”

“That was what was behind the meeting. There was so much activity online but nothing was really forming,” De Bourci said.

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“People were trying but no one was really sure what needed to be done and the family isn’t available.”

They concluded that the community wants to hold a vigil to remember and honour Stefanski, but also demonstrate to her family that they care.

Click to play video: 'Woman’s body found near Mabel Lake Provincial Park'
Woman’s body found near Mabel Lake Provincial Park

De Bourci said the meeting attracted very few people and she’s since learned that there were safety concerns. It’s possible the vigil would be similarly attended but De Bourci said police will be involved and it will be held in a safe public area.

“We’re going to hold a vigil (in Lumby) actually at Oval Park and so we’ll just walk the oval. So it’s going to be really community-centred. We’re not going to be traipsing off through some trails somewhere. We’re going to be safe, we’ll let the RCMP know and we’ll do our due diligence.”

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The vigil will be held Friday, 7 p.m., at Oval Park.

Police have not released the name of the suspect, though on the day Stefanski was reported missing, police have said they were also looking for her ex-husband, Vitali Stefanski.

For more information, a Facebook page has been set up.

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