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Vancouver vigil held for Chelsea Poorman as family, advocates hold out for more answers around death

The mother of an Indigenous woman whose remains were found a year and half after she went missing in Vancouver says she won’t give up trying to find out what happened.

“I’m not going to stop fighting until I get answers to what happened behind this house, to what happened to Chelsea,” said Sheila Poorman from the house located in one of Vancouver’s wealthiest neighbourhoods, where her daughter’s remains were found in late April.

Chelsea Poorman, 24, was reported missing in September 2020. For a year and a half, Sheila Poorman along with her two other daughters put up missing person posters across the city and pleaded with police to do more to find her.

Since Chelsea’s mostly skeletal remains were discovered on the back patio of an unoccupied home in Vancouver’s Shaughnessy neighborhood, her death has raised questions over how police have handled the case.

“For the police not to take this serious was the worst thing that I had to go through,” said Sheila Poorman on Saturday, as she joined others at the residence to say prayers and erect signs about missing Indigenous women.

“You know, losing my daughter and them not taking it serious. I cried to [police], I told them that she was vulnerable. They didn’t take me serious.”

vancouver vigil held for chelsea poorman as family advocates hold out for more answers around death
Sheila Poorman, the mother of Chelsea Poorman, speaks to media on Saturday from the Vancouver residence where her daughter’s remains were discovered. (Janella Hamilton/CBC News)

People participating in the vigil on Saturday made speeches at the property near Granville Street and West 36th Avenue, then marched to Vancouver’s Entertainment District downtown, where Chelsea Poorman, a Cree woman from Saskatchewan, was last seen.

She had been with her sister Paige Kiernan, having drinks before attending a party in an apartment on Granville Street. Before she disappeared, she texted her sister that she was leaving the party to meet up with a man.

It was the last time the family heard from Poorman, who had a brain injury and some physical disability due to a serious vehicle accident in 2014. 

“She was positive no matter what was going on in her life and she always saw the good in others and she never spoke bad of anybody and that was the part that I loved about Chelsea and that’s the part that I’m going to miss,” said her mother.

Investigation ‘active and ongoing’, police say

Since Chelsea’s remains were found, Sheila Poorman along with Chelsea Poorman’s father, Mike Kiernan, have been critical of police, who in announcing the discovery of Chelsea’s remains said the death was not suspicious.

Investigators also said that due to the state of her remains, it would be impossible to know for sure the cause of death.

Poorman and Kiernan said they were confused over whether police had closed the case or continued to investigate, and have trouble believing Poorman went to the property on her own and died there.

Both have said they were told their daughter was missing some fingers and a part of her skull, details police have not made public.

Police maintain that the case was never closed and that investigators continue to work to find out more about what happened.

vancouver vigil held for chelsea poorman as family advocates hold out for more answers around death 1
On Saturday, people marched from the Shaughnessy neighbourhood residence where Chelsea Poorman’s remains were discovered on April 22, to Granville Street’s Entertainment District, the last place she was seen alive in September 2020. (Janella Hamilton/CBC News)

On Saturday, Sheila Poorman said police told her they were using dogs to search for any other of her daughter’s remains.

The Vancouver Police Department would not confirm that detail, but said the file has never been closed and “remains an active and ongoing investigation.

“We have discussed the file in detail with the family,” said Const. Tania Visintin in an email. “We won’t be discussing details of the investigation with the public, however.”

Lorelei Williams, whose cousin went missing in 1996 and was later named one of Robert Pickton’s victims, has been helping Chelsea Poorman’s family by organizing several events before and after Chelsea’s remains were discovered.

She says she knows the pain Sheila Poorman, Mike Kiernan and Chelsea’s sisters are coping with.

“I know it all too well,” she said.

vancouver vigil held for chelsea poorman as family advocates hold out for more answers around death 2
A woman tapes a sign about Chelsea Poorman to a utility pole in Vancouver on Saturday, during another vigil held to advocate for answers in Poorman’s disappearance and death. (Janella Hamilton/CBC News)

William says she is hopeful that continued attention on the case will result in tips and information.

“Somebody had to see something,” she said. “Just anything. You know when people come together, ideas come out and this can help support their family.”

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