The sister of an Edmonton woman whose remains were found on the outskirts of the city Wednesday said the family has found relief in the grim discovery.
Billie Wynell Johnson, 30, vanished on Christmas Eve.
“It was probably the most relief that I’ve felt in my entire life,” said Johnson’s sister, Kiara Omeasoo.
“I lost a lot of sleep. I pushed so hard and made sure that wasn’t left in the dark,” Omeasoo said. “I’m thankful for the outcome of everything but it took a long time.”
Kenneth Courtorielle was arrested in February and charged with second-degree murder in Johnson’s disappearance and police say there is now a charge of indignity to a body pending against Courtorielle.
Johnson was in a relationship with Courtorielle, one marked by violence, he family said.
Omeasoo learned from police Thursday that her sister’s remains had been found.
“My whole family was coming together and having ceremonies for her and praying for her, and I strongly believe that is why she was found.”
The family had been leading its own investigation, hiring a private investigator, plastering the city with posters. They called for tips on social media, gathered clues and fed what information they gathered to police.
The family also staged their own searches. With help from the Bear Clan Patrol, an Indigenous community watch group, they directed volunteers in scouring forests, ditches and farmers’ fields on the outskirts of Edmonton.
“It felt like a bad nightmare when I was out there; a bad nightmare that I wanted to wake up from,” Omeasoo said.
“There were hundreds of people, people that didn’t even know, coming from all over … and I want to thank them.”
Omeasoo wonders if more searches led by officers, not volunteers, could have brought her sister home sooner. She said investigators rarely picked up the phone to update the family on the investigation, even when Johnson’s remains were found.
“I honestly believe that if my sister wasn’t indigenous, that she would have been found back in January,” she said.
“I was very angry with the police all these months and weeks … but I just bit my tongue and did my best to work with them.”
The last time Omeasoo spoke with her sister was Christmas Eve when Johnson was supposed to come over for a family dinner, a tradition they had shared for years.
Johnson never made it and phone calls went unanswered.
The family does not when the remains will be returned but have already started preparing a memorial.
Omeasoo will send her sister home with a feast, the same one she had prepared for her that night four months ago.
“I’m going to cook turkey dinner with bannock and pea soup. I can’t wait to feed her and send her on her way.
“There is a long journey of healing and grieving ahead.”
Police said the investigation is ongoing and that further details about where the remains were discovered will not be released.
“Homicide detectives worked tirelessly on the file and are very relieved to bring some form of comfort to Billie’s family in the recovery of their loved one’s remains,” Staff Sgt. Colin Leathem said in the news release.
Johnson leaves behind a daughter and son, aged four and 11.
Omeasoo had a feeling her sister’s remains would soon be recovered.
She has often dreamt of Johnson in the months following her disappearance. In these recurring dreams, she said, her sister always appeared sad and was pleading to be found.
Two weeks ago, the dream changed. Her sister appeared to her, happy and spoke of returning home.
“I told my aunties two weeks ago, we have to start preparing for her funeral,” Omeasoo said.
“I just knew in my heart that she was going to be found.”
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