Missing Edmonton girl found following search by family

Update: Celeste Lacendre-Napope, 14, has been found, safe and unharmed.

The girl was found in Edmonton by the Edmonton Police Service on Friday afternoon.

“The EPS would like to thank the media and the public for their assistance,” a police spokesperson said in a media release.

Nearly two weeks after a 14-year-old Indigenous girl went missing, more than 100 people came out to search with her worried family, who say they have lost faith in the Edmonton Police Service to carry out the investigation.

The family organized its own search Thursday night, scouring city streets and parks looking for any sign of Celeste Lacendre-Napope, who was last seen on May 24 leaving home on her blue-and-grey bike. 

“The more time that passes, the harder it’s going to be,” said Lorna Cardinal, an aunt of Lacendre-Napope.

The girl’s family said she was last seen around 3:30 p.m. that afternoon in the area of 146th Avenue and 117th Street. She was reportedly on her way to meet friends.

When Lacendre-Napope didn’t come home, the family reported her missing the next morning, telling police that the disappearance is out of character for the quiet and shy girl.

“It’s been absolute hell,” Cardinal told CBC News. “I wouldn’t wish this on anyone.

“No one deserves this pain. Nobody.”   

Lacendre-Napope is five feet three inches tall with long, straight brown hair and brown eyes. She was last seen wearing blue denim shorts, white Nike runners and a wolf pendant necklace. 

A triplet, Lacendre-Napope lives with her great-aunt — Cardinal’s mother — along with her brother and sister.

‘We have no faith in EPS’

The family was frustrated during the first days of the police investigation, saying they didn’t feel like there was clear communication. Officers came to the home on May 26 but didn’t provide the name of an investigator the family could contact directly, CBC was told.

Cardinal said she learned the Missing Persons Unit had been assigned to the case on Tuesday, the same day that EPS issued a missing persons notice. By then, it had been nine days since Lacendre-Napope was reported missing, a delay Cardinal finds unacceptable. 

“We have no faith in EPS,” she said.  “They’ve proved it already.” 

The search party organized on Thursday night set out to nearly every corner of the city with leaflets and posters in an effort to find the missing girl. (Jordan Omstead/CBC)

Police say the Missing Persons Unit became involved in the investigation on May 28 and formally took it over on June 1. 

It’s normal for missing persons investigations to begin with patrol officers who are most familiar with the area, said EPS spokesperson Carolin Maran. 

“Detectives work through a series of investigative steps before a news release is issued and the length of time this takes is unique to each situation,” Maran said in a statement on Thursday.

On Wednesday, one day after the police notice was issued, Cardinal received a Facebook message from a man who saw a girl matching Lacendre-Napope’s description at a gas station in the west-end neighbourhood of Callingwood.

The man, David Blackley, said he reported the Tuesday sighting but the officer didn’t take his name or contact information. 

“It made me kind of feel like an idiot for even calling,” Blackley told CBC News. “It kind of seemed like I was a burden.” 

After Cardinal shared Blackley’s report with police, Blackley received a call Thursday from a detective who he described as sounding angry that the information hadn’t been taken.

“That’s basic police work,” he said. 

Police said investigators followed up on Blackley’s tip and continue to actively look into all tips. 

‘I just want to see her again’ 

The search for Lacendre-Napope comes a year almost to the day since the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls issued its final report.

One of its recommendations specifically calls on police services to establish a comprehensive approach for the provision of support to the families of missing Indigenous persons. 

The family said police did not offer information about any mental health support services. Maran said the contact information for the Victims Services Unit is publicly available but that assistance with referrals can be provided if more immediate assistance is required.

Cardinal said there have been other miscommunications with police. 

On May 28, her mother called the police non-emergency line for an update on the case only for the dispatcher to say Lacendre-Napope had been found safe, Cardinal said.

Discouraged by their interactions with police, the family organized a massive search party on Thursday night.

Supporters gathered at Kinsmen Park underneath the High Level Bridge as an Indigenous elder offered a prayer. The group divided themselves among seven areas of the city to distribute posters and leaflets bearing Lacendre-Napope’s face and description. 

“This is all we have,” said Marilyn Cardinal, Lacendre-Napope’s cousin. 

“I just want to see her again. To tell her I love her.”