Family, friends and supporters of Chelsea Poorman gathered for a vigil Sunday at the vacant Shaughnessy home where her remains were found more than a year and a half after she went missing.
Supporters, many dressed in red, sang, drummed and performed ceremonies in the street in front of the home.
“Chelsea didn’t deserve this. Chelsea was a strong person. She went through so much trauma. She overcame so much. But to end up like this is not right,” Poorman’s mother Sheila told the crowd.
Poorman was last seen in downtown Vancouver on Sept. 6, 2020, where she had gone for a night out. Her skeletal remains were found by contractors doing work on the home on West 36 Avenue on April 22.
Vancouver police said her cause of death may never be determined, but there was no evidence of foul play.
Poorman’s mother said Sunday that she’s not satisfied with the police explanation.
“There’s something that I was told from the coroner, and I had to ask him twice if what he said was true. He said the Chelsea wasn’t fully intact,” she said through tears.
“She was missing her cranium, and she was missing some fingers. And they have the gall to say it’s not suspicious and no foul play.”
Sunday’s memorial was organized by Butterflies in Spirit, a dance group made up of family members of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls.
The group has been helping support the search for Poorman since her disappearance.
JB the First Lady, a hip-hop artist who collaborates with the group, told the crowd that the Vancouver Police Department’s handling of the case had left supporters feeling rage, when they should have had the space to grieve for Poorman.
“As Indigenous people we see the injustice and we stand up,” she said. “Hold VPD accountable for their actions and how they treated our people.”
Audrey Siegl, a member of the Musqueam First Nation, put Poorman’s death in the context of the ongoing legacy of colonialism and systemic racism. Poorman’s disappearance and subsequent discovery were yet another example of the way Indigenous women and girls face the most violent aspects of those systems, she said.
“The investigation didn’t happen properly from the beginning, which automatically connects with her life not meaning anything to police, to politicians, to the systems that exist that created the reality where this is possible time and time again,” she said.
“This is someone’s daughter. Now her family is coming to do this work where her body was left so disrespectfully and so dishonourably. They don’t get to bring their daughter home the way they wanted.”
On Sunday, Vancouver police maintained they took Poorman’s case seriously from the start.
“The Vancouver Police Department began investigating Chelsea Poorman’s disappearance the day she was reported missing, and didn’t stop looking for her until she was discovered,” Const. Tania Visintin said in an email.
Visintin said a team of senior homicide investigators led both the Missing Persons Unit and Major Crimes Section in a “detailed and complex” investigation that made use of “a number of investigative techniques.
“As investigators, we must always render our findings based on facts and evidence. Following a careful examination of all available facts and information, there is insufficient evidence to suggest her death was the result of a crime,” Visintin said.
“We know this news is unlikely to satisfy family, friends, and community members who knew Chelsea, loved her, and believe her death must have been the result of foul play.”
For now, Poorman’s mother said she will be taking her daughter home for a proper burial. But she said she isn’t prepared to stop fighting for answers to what happened to Poorman, and why it took so long for her to be found.
“We’re going to fight for Chelsea, for the truth of what happened to her, because we’re not going to sit by and let them say it’s not suspicious and there’s no foul play,” she said.
“We’re not going to sit by and let them brush us under the rug.”