Cédrika Provencher, a nine-year-old freckle-faced redhead from Trois-Rivieres, Que., vanished from near her home on July 31, 2007.
For more than eight years, the young girl’s face was plastered on posters across the province.
There were rumours and claims of sightings, a massive manhunt and heartfelt appeals for information from the family that didn’t pan out.
Then, on Dec. 11, 2015, Cédrika’s remains were discovered by hunters along Highway 40 in Saint-Maurice, east of where she was last seen.
Henri Provencher, Cédrika’s paternal grandfather, told The Canadian Press that when a child dies in an accident, there is closure, which is not the case in abductions.
“You don’t know where your child is, it’s hell every day,” Provencher said.
“You wonder where she is, what she’s doing, what they doing to her, are they taking care of her? Is she being abused?” he said.
For a man who spent much of the last decade devoting his time and energy to finding Cédrika, tracking down the person responsible is important.
“It will change something, because in life you are responsible for your actions,” Provencher said. “The person who did this is accountable for their actions.”
‘A murder investigation is never closed’
For 10 days leading up to Christmas 2015, some 200 police combed the woods, seeking to gather clues before the first snowfall. Some of them returned in June 2016.
There have been no arrests and little about the investigation has emerged publicly.
Provincial police spokesman Capt. Guy Lapointe said the probe is ongoing, adding that sometimes there’s a benefit to not talking.
“A murder investigation is never closed,” Lapointe said. “Never. Never.”
A decade on, Henri Provencher said he wished things had unfolded differently when Cédrika first vanished.
Provencher pointed to shortcomings in the time it took local police to act, as well as communication problems between different police departments — in particular when it came to sharing pertinent information with the supervising provincial investigator.
“There was a lot of wasted time,” Provencher said. “If I’ve abducted a child, give me two hours and I’m across the border into the United States.”
Still, Provencher refused to criticize the massive effort by authorities to find his granddaughter, noting police methods have changed greatly in 10 years.
Case triggers change
François Doré, a retired police officer who served as the face of the provincial force at the time of Cédrika’s disappearance, agrees the transfer of the case from local police to provincial counterparts was slow.
He also said the word “abduction” wasn’t introduced quickly enough in the case, with local police speaking of a “disappearance.”
“There is a difference between disappearance and kidnapping,” Doré said, adding it makes a difference in the type of command structure put in place, how officers are deployed and how tasks are assigned.
Cédrika’s case triggered change, including the creation of a commission in 2012 to look at how police treat files involving the disappearance and abduction of children.
An Amber Alert was never triggered in Cédrika’s case because she didn’t meet all the criteria necessary at the time — under 18, declared missing and believed by police to be in danger.
Pina Arcamone of The Missing Children’s Network said the alert’s reach has since been extended through Facebook, Twitter and emergency texts.
But for Cédrika, “it took many hours, [even] the next morning, before the news of her disappearance was broadcast,” she said.
In August 2016, the Provencher family held a private funeral to say goodbye. Now, her grandfather says he has one goal left.
“I don’t want there to be another Cédrika, and that is what motivates me,” he said.
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