As the only girl in a family of five boys, Noelle O’Soup was a special gift to her mother, especially considering the day she was born.
“She was named Noelle because he was born on Christmas Day,” said Noelle’s maternal aunt, Michelle Munch. “My sister wanted a girl so badly and she kept having boys, boys. She finally had her girl, and it was just on Christmas Day.”
“She was a cute, chubby, little red-haired baby. She was just a happy baby.”
For years, Noelle’s parents raised their children, but addictions and other issues eventually led to the children being placed in foster care.
Just 13 years after that red-haired baby was born, in May 2021, Noelle went missing from her group home in Port Coquitlam. Her body was found early last month in a Downtown Eastside apartment, along with a second body that has not yet been identified.
Noelle’s family has so many unanswered questions about how, when and why this young teen died, and what the police and child welfare workers did to find her. But she, along with dozens of people who attended a vigil in honor of Noelle on the Downtown Eastside on Tuesday, also want the public to know that she was loved and missed.
“I just don’t want people to paint my niece as this runaway. She was a little girl. She was only 13 when she went missing,” Munch said.
“I think she just missed her mother a lot. I think she was a very vulnerable girl who could have been easily convinced.”
Noelle’s father is from the Key First Nation in Saskatchewan while her mother is a member of Saulteau First Nation near Chetwynd. Munch, who is from Quesnel, didn’t see her sister very often, as Noelle and her siblings mostly lived in Metro Vancouver.
She remembers visiting the family’s home in Surrey when Noelle was two years old.
“She was just really cute. She wouldn’t stop following me everywhere. I was doing my makeup and she would sit on the counter looking at me,” Munch recalled.
Munch came back when Noelle was about seven and lived with her mother in assisted living, and then again when Noelle was 10 and the kids were in foster care. At the latest meeting in 2017, hosted by the BC Ministry for Children and Families, Munch showed her niece and nephews how to sew beads on a traditional indigenous blanket – something Noelle thoroughly enjoyed.
“She asked me how to do it. She couldn’t really sew,” Munch recalled. “She was bubbly.”
It was the last time Munch saw Noelle, who was nicknamed Elli in her teens.
Munch had asked the ministry to let her sister’s children live with her in Quesnel, but was told they all had different learning disabilities and she was concerned that they would not be supported in a much smaller town. “I’m so sorry now that I didn’t bring her, try to help her.”
After Noelle went missing in May 2021, Munch began meeting monthly with the ministry to help find her. She was surprised to learn that the 13-year-old had lived in a group home and wants to know if the ministry has investigated why she ran away.
In an e-mail to Postmedia, the ministry said it was unable to answer questions about this case for confidentiality reasons. In broad terms, the ministry said it is looking for homes that are “best suited” for children’s needs; works with the caretaker and the police to help find missing youth; and conducts an assessment after the death of a foster child, which can lead to change.
Munch also wonders why the RCMP took a week in May 2021 to issue a missing persons report, given that her niece was only 13 years old.
In an email, Coquitlam RCMP said the missing persons bulletin was just one tool it used to find Noelle. The others include searches in multiple jurisdictions, posting her photo to electronic billboards and sharing information with local and national missing persons units.
Officers also notified Noelle’s family and “put their hearts and souls into this investigation,” Const said. Deanna Law.
“There is no truth to the allegations that suggest that the RCMP did not care about finding Noelle in a timely manner and that the RCMP did not explore all available investigative techniques to locate her. Several of the Coquitlam RCMP investigators are parents and have young children of their own — all felt deeply affected by this research and had a professional and personal sense of urgency in this matter,” Law said.
A year after she disappeared, Noelle’s body was found on May 1 in an apartment at Heatley St. 405, a building owned by a numbered company. It took the coroner until last week to identify her.
At the same time, another body was discovered and a third body of a man in his 40s was found in the same unit nine weeks earlier. Vancouver police have not commented on any connection between the deaths.
“I want to know how she went undetected in this building for so long,” Munch said.
Police are just saying that the cause and circumstances of what happened to Noelle are under investigation. “Noelle’s death has raised many questions in the community and we are determined to find answers,” Const said. Tania Visintin.
Key First Nation Count. Also Solomon Reece, Noelle’s second cousin on her father’s side, has questions.
‘What means were used to find her? … And what sped up events for her to come (to the Vancouver apartment) in the first place? asked Reece.
“The ultimate truth is that Noelle has been abandoned by everyone. Everyone has abandoned her.”
Jennifer Charlesworth, BC’s child and youth representative, was unable to comment directly on Noelle’s death for privacy reasons. But she said when a juvenile dies in care, a preliminary assessment is made by her office, though she said it was too early to discuss what it would entail.
“In a general sense, if you start thinking about a kid who’s been missing for a year, and they were very young,” Charlesworth said, “or they feel like they’re not in a good place, and then make choices to get into other situations that could put them at risk – all those things, whether it’s Elli or other kids in similar circumstances, those are always flags that I look at and make sure we’ve really found out.”
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