A child, failed even in death
The decomposing remains of a vulnerable Indigenous child, who vanished while in the care of the Ministry of Children and Family Development, went undetected by Vancouver Police officers—and many others—for months.
The major investigative oversight occurred despite multiple visits to, and apparent inspections of, the single room occupancy unit where Noelle O’Soup’s remains would finally be discovered, Global News has learned.
The grim revelation in the tragic case of O’Soup, who was just 13 years old when she went missing from a Port Coquitlam group home for children in foster care on May 12, 2021, comes amid a weeks-long Global News investigation into the girl’s disappearance and subsequent death—and damning allegations of negligence and investigative oversight on behalf of the Vancouver Police Department, the Ministry of Children and Family Development, and the Coquitlam RCMP.
“She was treated like an Indigenous child,” O’Soup’s cousin, Olivia Louie, told Global News. “The amount of care that went into the investigation, seemingly, is close to zero.”
The remains of O’Soup, and those of another female in her thirties, were discovered inside one of the units of the privately-owned SRO on East Hastings and Heatley Avenue on May 1, two and a half months after the tenant of that unit, a man in his forties, was discovered dead himself.
And, according to sources with knowledge of the investigation, the remains of the two dead females were only ultimately discovered by building maintenance staff—not the officers investigating the case.
“Noelle had been in the apartment, deceased, for quite a long period of time. And in that period of time, officers had come into the building—they’d removed another deceased person—while there were still two deceased people in the unit for months,” Louie explained.
“There were multiple times Vancouver Police officers were at the apartment, speaking with the tenant, before the tenant’s death.”
Multiple people with knowledge of the investigation tell Global News that the now-deceased tenant had been living alongside the decomposing remains of O’Soup and the other female for months, prior to his own sudden death.
His death is not considered suspicious, but those of the two females found dead inside his residence are, with both deaths now under investigation by the Vancouver Police Department’s Major Crimes Unit.
Neither the male tenant nor the woman whose remains were discovered alongside O’Soup’s have been publicly identified.
The BC Coroners Service has declined comment on the case or its timeline, citing an investigation into the causes of all three deaths that remains open—months after the remains were first discovered.
“Based off what police told me, she was there for a long time. So that man who they found (deceased) was living with Noelle and that other unidentified person. We don’t know for how long,” said Lorelei Williams, an advocate for O’Soup’s family. Williams’ Indigenous name is Palexelsiya.
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“He was found, and then Noelle was found a few months later. So, there is that gap. And, of course, the family has questions: why didn’t somebody do an investigation right away? Why didn’t they go through the room? It’s a small room.”
Office of the Police Complaint Commissioner investigation launched
That could be the focus of an investigation launched by the Office of the Police Complaint Commissioner on May 18, less than three weeks after O’Soups’s remains were finally discovered. The OPCC, which monitors and oversees police misconduct investigations, wouldn’t confirm the specific allegations of the Police Act investigation to Global News but did provide a detailed statement confirming the investigation and its nature.
“Following a request by the Vancouver Police Department, on May 18, 2022, the OPCC initiated a Police Act Investigation into the conduct of one Vancouver Police officer for an allegation of neglect of duty,” Deputy Police Complaint Commissioner, Andrea Spindler, told Global News in an e-mail.
“The basis of the allegation relates to conduct surrounding attendance at a suite where three deceased individuals were ultimately located,” Spindler confirmed.
The Police Act investigation has since been suspended, to ensure there is no prejudice to any criminal investigations involving the deaths.
In subsequent e-mail correspondence, the OPCC directed Global News to Section 77 of the Police Act, which defines Neglect of Duty as ‘neglecting, without good and sufficient cause, to promptly or diligently do anything that it is one’s duty as a police officer to do.’
A major investigative blunder
But O’Soup’s extended family is also raising wider questions surrounding the actions—or inactions—of the entire Vancouver Police Department and its officers.
“It seems pretty astounding to me that a single officer is being investigated for negligence, when we’ve heard from easily a dozen people who had interactions with VPD officers, and were ignored,” O’Soup’s cousin, Louie, explained.
Louie says members of her family have since been in communication with residents of the building where O’Soup’s remains were found, The Heatley Block, who say they tried to draw attention to reported sightings of the 13-year-old, both inside the building and in the surrounding neighbourhood—while she was still alive.
“It’s so upsetting to think that, if maybe one of these people had been taken seriously, that Noelle may still be with us,” Louie said.
“We’ve heard multiple accounts from people who live (in the building) that the tenant who lived here often brought young women who seemed troubled to this building, and then they left. And some of them weren’t seen after that.”
An inescapable foul stench
Multiple residents of The Heatley Block tell Global News that, for months—while the tenant of the unit in question was still alive—they raised repeated concerns about an inescapable foul stench coming from his suite, and permeating the entire second floor of the building.
“Honestly, there was a smell eight months prior to his death,” building resident Grace Billikwa recalled.
“I was like, ‘oh, it smells like death.’ But blood has a strong scent. I was having a hard time eating. I was just, like, mortified,” said Billikwa.
Billikwa, who lives a few units down from the suite where all three bodies were ultimately discovered, says she used to have casual conversations and interactions with the now-deceased tenant.
But she stopped interacting with him in the months leading up to his death—in part, because of the foul stench coming from his unit.
“We all tried to make the scent go away, and we told him he had to deal with it,” recalled Billikwa.
“And then, later on, the scent kind of somewhat disappeared—and he was still alive. And then a month and a half later: he’s dead, and the smell came back.”
Police remain tight-lipped on tenant’s identity
So, who was this man in his forties, found to have been living alongside the hidden human remains of a child and a woman? That’s a question Vancouver police have repeatedly refused to answer—despite multiple requests for further information from Global News, and by O’Soup’s relatives.
“Why was she in a unit with a 40-year-old man? There’s no reason for her to be there,” emphasized Williams.
“Police definitely aren’t giving the guy’s name out, which the family wants to know. Because then they want to talk to people who knew this guy: was he a human trafficker? Was he linked to human trafficking? Was he a groomer?” Williams wondered aloud.
Vancouver police refuse to say if the deceased tenant is suspected in connection to the deaths of O’Soup and the other female found dead inside his residence, or if he’s being investigated in connection to any other unsolved suspicious deaths or missing person cases in the Lower Mainland.
Vancouver police refuse to release call records
Despite repeated requests from Global News—and accounts from multiple building residents, who say they raised concerns surrounding that suspicious smell of decay that lingered for months—Vancouver police are also refusing to release the department’s call records involving The Heatley Block, in the months leading up to the discoveries of all three bodies.
“Some of (the neighbours) said there was a lot of people coming in and out of that unit where Noelle was found,” said Williams, who, along with other relatives of O’Soup, says she was approached by frustrated residents of The Heatley Block at a candlelight vigil held outside the building on June 28.
“The fact that he was there with Noelle for so long, and the other unidentified person—there’s a lot of questions.”
Those unanswered questions only continue to compound and complicate the grieving process for the wide network of immediate and extended relatives who knew and loved O’Soup, and for complete strangers—like building resident Billikwa—who weren’t able to help her while she was still alive, and in need of help, before she died.
“I feel like I could have done something to prevent that,” said Billikwa, growing visibly emotional.
“That’s, like, my sisters. It hurts.”