By Lloyd Dolha
More than 60 aboriginal searchers from across Saskatchewan continued a desperate bid to find any sign of missing five-year-old Tamra Keepness in Regina, ten days after she was reported missing by her father.
“We’re going through the bushes and also the mud – virtually searching every space we can find,” said Ellen Keewatin, one of Tamra’s great-aunts, who is also part of the search effort.
“When you really start thinking about it, it is scary, but you have to keep your mind set on finding that little girl.”
Some aboriginal crews came from as far as La Ronge, Sask., 550 kilometres north of Regina.
Tamra KeepnessThe little girl was reported missing by Troy Keepeness, her father, on the morning of Tuesday July 6. She was last seen the night before when her mother sent her to bed at about 11 p.m. at night.
At a press conference on Tuesday, July 13, Regina police announced that they have called off the search for the five-year-old as of 9 p.m. Monday night, but vowed their investigation will continue and posted a $25,000 reward for any information leading to the missing child.
“We will find Tamra and if there has been criminal conduct, we will find those involved,” said Regina police Chief Cal Johnston. Police said they have spent some 5,600 man hours looking for the little girl. Up to 120 police and civilian volunteers conducted an exhaustive search of the immediate neighbourhood and sections of the city without finding any sign of Tamra or her personal effects.
“As each day passes, the likelihood that this incident will end happily diminishes,” said Johnston. “The possibility that Tamra met with an accident or other misadventure becomes remote.”
Deputy police Chief Clive Weighill said that police have interviewed 100 people, including family friends, relatives and neighbours, as well as known sex offenders and are planning to interview 60 more.
Weighill said that 40 detectives are still working on the case and were assisted by RCMP major crimes detectives.
“We will continue to actively investigate Tamra’s disappearance,” he said.
Scott Keepness, Tamra’s uncle and spokesperson for the family, said that he’s not discouraged by the move by police.
“They’re just human,” said Keepness. “Everybody has a limit to what they can do and stuff like that. But I’m believing we’re going to see her again.”
On the Monday before police called off the search, Lorena Keepness, Tamra’s mother, said that she was frustrated with the pace of the investigation into her daughter’s disappearance. She told reporters at the time that she believes Tamra was kidnapped and said that Regina police have not even talked to even one of the people she named as possible suspects.
Family and friends held a vigil at the Keepness home that night and prayed for the safe return of the child, whose five young siblings include a twin sister.
“It’s never too late, and God has the power to bring her home,” said Lorena Keepness.
“Hopefully, somebody brings her home,” said Troy Keepness. “I’ m getting more frustrated each day and she’s not home yet.”
The immediate family of the missing girl has said little in public since then. Police suggested that they still have some unanswered questions about what was going on in the family home the night Tamra went missing.
Tamra Jewel Keepness is described as a three-foot-five aboriginal girl and weighs about 40 pounds with a thin build and brown bobbed hair and brown eyes. When last seen she was wearing a light blue halter top with pink accents, light blue jeans, and pink and white shoes.
Aboriginal leaders of Saskatchewan said that the disappearance of Tamra Keepness is only part of a larger and sadder picture.
Guy Lonechild of the Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations said that the FSIN hopes this case draws attention to the plight of other aboriginal people who vanish every year across Canada.
On Thursday, July 15th, the television show America’s Most Wanted posted a picture and a brief description of Tamra’s disappearance on their website.
Regina police spokesperson Elizabeth Popowich, said the show’s producers expressed interest in filming a segment on the case.
“Tamra’s picture is out there internationally, and I think that sends a tremendous message of unity on this single goal.”
Popowich said that Tamra’s case will also be featured on a radio broadcast of the show.
“Anything that can help is a tremendous thing.”