Families heartbroken 1 year after Quebec girls vanished: Maisy Odjick, 16, and Shannon Alexander, 17, last seen Sept. 6, 2008

September 2, 2009 The disappearance of two teenage girls in Maniwaki, Que., one year ago has left a painful void in their families and their small Algonquin community. Maisy Odjick, 16, and Shannon Alexander, 17, were last seen on Sept. 6, 2008. A year later, Odjick’s clothes, her flute, her camera and treasured photos are still where she left them at the home of her grandparents, where she usually stayed. “I’ve kept everything the way it was when she left here, when she disappeared … hoping that she’ll come home or that she’ll call and let me know that she’s alive somewhere,” her grandmother Lisa Odjick said, wiping tears from her cheeks. “Not knowing if she’s alive or dead, that’s the hardest thing.”

Quebec provincial police declined to comment earlier this week about the case, but they were scheduled to hold a news conference about it in Ottawa with the Ontario Provincial Police on Thursday morning. At Lisa Odjick’s cream-coloured bungalow on the Kitigan Zibi Anishnabeg First Nation reserve, about 145 kilometres north of Ottawa, there is still a pillow on the arm of the brown fold-out couch where Maisy slept, and her clothes are still in the white cupboard in the corner. Her family got a cake for her last birthday and put gifts under the tree for her at Christmas in case she came home, her grandmother recalled. “But she didn’t come home. Now another birthday’s coming up and she’s going to be 18, and still no word,” her grandmother sobbed. “And it’s hard. It’s so hard.” On Sunday, a march and candlelight vigil will be held to commemorate the girls’ disappearance, organized by Maisy’s mother, Laurie Odjick. At an apartment in nearby Maniwaki, Shannon Alexander’s father Bryan said he has been waiting by the phone for months, hoping someone who knows the girls’ whereabouts will call. “My whole family’s torn up,” he said. Lisa Odjick said nothing seemed amiss when she last saw Maisy, who was heading out to a dance with her friend on Saturday night. “She was all happy when she left here with Shannon,” Odjick recalled, saying the girls had only known each other for a few weeks but were already very close. Odjick asked Maisy to call on Sunday, but grew worried when she didn’t hear from her. She went over to Bryan Alexander’s place, where the girls had planned to spend the night. Alexander said he had originally left for the weekend to paint Shannon’s brother’s house, but returned a day early. “I was spooked, there was no answer in the house,” he said. He found the doors locked and the dog outside. Inside, the girls had left their purses, their wallets, their identification, their backpacks — even Shannon’s medication. But the girls themselves where nowhere to be found. During the past year, the two families have heard rumours about what might have happened to the two girls — possible sightings in Ottawa and Montreal, for example — but neither the Quebec Provincial Police nor the Kitigan Zibi police have reported much progress in their investigations. Nor have any substantial tips come in through a website set up by some relatives in an effort to find the girls, Laurie Odjick said. That is despite the fact that the public has donated close to $13,000 to reward anyone with information. In May, a set of bones was found near the reserve. Bryan Alexander said his mother almost had a heart attack when it was suggested they might belong to the two missing girls. They turned out to be animal remains. Both families have expressed dissatisfaction with the police investigation. Laurie Odjick said she organized the initial searches for the girls when police didn’t. “They never even offered to help,” she alleged. “Everything that has been done so far has been done by the family .… I don’t think it was high on their priority list.” Odjick said police were slow to investigate and not thorough. “There was no search team, there was no forensics team in that apartment, there was no questioning of the parents,” she said. She added that there was also jurisdictional wrangling that initially had the Quebec provincial police probing Shannon’s disappearance and the reserve police probing Maisy’s in separate files. Running away, abduction possible Police have said there is evidence that the girls ran away. However, last fall they would not rule out the possibility that the girls were taken against their will. The girl’s families believe the girls were likely abducted. Both the Odjicks and Bryan Alexander pointed to the fact that the girls left with nothing but the clothes they were wearing, leaving behind even their identification and their most treasured possessions, such as Maisy’s photos of her brother and sister. “For her to leave without those, it’s inconceivable to me, because she took those everywhere with her,” Lisa Odjick recalled. The families have said in the past that the girls would sometimes leave for a few days at a time. But both girls also seemed happy and had not indicated any plans or reasons to leave at the time they disappeared, their families said. Shannon had been planning to start nursing school the month after she disappeared. Her father said he had already paid her tuition. In any case, the girls would have called if they could, their families said. “My daughter would call me all the time,” Bryan Alexander recalled. “Even if she ran away, she would call me: ‘Daddy, I ran away, I’m just down the road, I’m over here.’ Know what I mean? That’s the type of girl she was. It didn’t matter if she was across the street. If it was more than 10 minutes, she’d call me.” Laurie Odjick said she hopes police are right and the girls did run away. “”Cause that means they’re still out there. But as a mom, it doesn’t make sense ’cause that’s not [like] my child.” She said the hardest part is having to continue living and working and looking after her other kids as usual without knowing what happened to Maisy. “My biggest fear … is that I might never know.”

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