Daughter of Winnipeg homicide victim believes with adequate supports, she’d still be here today

The daughter of a Winnipeg homicide victim believes her mother would still be here today if adequate resources were in place for people fighting addiction.

The public first learned of Melissa Cook’s plight just this week, when Winnipeg police announced her death in what it believes is a homicide.

Cook’s story started many years ago on Saoptaweyak Cree Nation, near Swan River.

That’s where she became a mother to seven children, including Naturelle Cook.

“I rarely ever saw my two older siblings,” she tells Global News.

“The only time I saw them was at our grandma’s funeral, and at the time I had to say goodbye to our mom.”

It was a family separated, with several children in the Child and Family Services and foster care systems.

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Naturelle says her mother would do anything for anyone — a caring person, with a smile always on her face.

That changed for Melissa in 2017 after the death of her young son.

It accelerated a downhill spiral that culminated in her incarceration at the Women’s Correctional Centre in Headingley.

Cook served her time, and earlier this year, the family got an unexpected phone call.

Naturelle says her mom told them she was a month sober.

“She talked about going to treatment and getting the resources that were needed for her, but she felt like she wasn’t getting enough help.

“That’s why she stopped trying to get sober.”

Without anyone to help her in the right direction, Naturelle says her mom quickly fell back into habits of drug use.

She lived unhoused in Winnipeg for several months, and in early July, the family got another phone call.

Read more: Winnipeg police look for answers in burning death of 41-year-old woman

She’d been admitted to hospital after attending a local shelter with severe burns.

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Naturelle’s father went to see her, but she says Child and Family Services wouldn’t let her go without criminal repercussions.

“I phoned the hospital and I told her I would see her in a few days. For them to say they would charge my dad … I regret not going, but I didn’t want my dad to get (charged).”

Her dad reported Melissa was chipper at the time, but her condition would soon take a turn for the worse following an infection.

Naturelle and the family finally got the chance to see their mother on Aug. 19.

“We went into her room and she had a breathing tube down her throat.

“That’s when I knew it’s serious… we have to let our mom go.”

The next day, Melissa died at age 41, becoming one of Winnipeg’s 41 homicide victims in 2022.

Naturelle Cook believes her mother could have been helped.

Read more: ‘I want more’: Winnipeg meth user shares his struggle with addiction

“More accessibility, and if there were other treatment centres that use cultural methods.

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“Sweat lodging, smudging, all the cultural things (Indigenous people) need to do to cleanse ourselves.”

Naturelle is now watching other loved ones fall into the same throes of addiction that her mother did.

“They try to get help but they always get denied.

“They want to go far (away from their homes) so they can sober up, but there aren’t enough resources for that.”

As a family and community grieves, Naturelle promises not to stop until there’s justice for her mother, and supports to help people in need like she was.

Winnipeg Police Service Const. Jay Murray said Monday that police are working backwards in an attempt to figure out what happened and who might be responsible.

“We do know that Melissa wasn’t very candid about her injuries with some of the people she interacted with,” he said.

“We want to know if she confided in her injuries to anyone, the source of her injuries … or even a better timeline.”

Murray said there’s no indication at this point that Cook was targeted due to being unhoused.

Read more: 2022 edging closer to record-breaking homicide year in Winnipeg

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Melissa Cook has become one of the 41 homicide victims in Winnipeg this year, but Naturelle says she’s much more than just a statistic.

“My mom was a very generous, kind woman. She always had a smile on her face, no matter what.

“It pains me to hear that her life was snatched out of her hands. She deserved to live life to the fullest.”

Investigators are hoping to speak with anyone who knew her, may have known about her injuries or may have been similarly victimized.

If you have anything that could help investigators, call the major crimes unit at 204-986-6219 or Crime Stoppers at 204-786-TIPS (8477).

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Winnipeg police appeal for information on death of woman experiencing homelessness

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