Human remains linked to missing teen

GRANDE PRAIRIE — The father of one of two teenage girls who disappeared six years ago while hitchhiking in Alberta is relieved he can finally grieve.

GRANDE PRAIRIE — The father of one of two teenage girls who disappeared six years ago while hitchhiking in Alberta is relieved he can finally grieve.

Edmonton RCMP knocked on the door of Jo Gunning’s home in Fort St. John, B.C., on Thursday night to tell him his 19-year-old daughter, Rene, was dead.

Her dental records were linked to one of two skulls found last month by a camper near Grande Prairie, Alta.

“It’s still a bit of a shock,” said Gunning. “I thought I’d prepared myself, but I hadn’t.

“I just don’t want any other family going through what we’ve been going through these past six years. At least we’re one of the lucky ones and we can get some closure now.”

But the family of the other missing teen, Krystle Knott, 16, of Dawson Creek, B.C., is still waiting for news.

Knott and her new pal Rene were last seen at West Edmonton Mall on Feb. 18, 2005. RCMP said the aboriginal girls apparently met at the mall and told friends they were going to hitch a ride together back to B.C.

RCMP spokesman Sgt. Tim Taniguchi said other forensic techniques, including DNA testing, are being used to identify the second skull. He did not know how long it might take to get results.

He said the Knott family is being updated on the investigation.

“But we deal with facts and we deal with evidence, and the second set of human remains are still unidentified,” said Taniguchi.

He confirmed the deaths are considered suspicious.

Project Kare officers are involved in the case. The RCMP-led unit investigates murdered or missing people who lead high-risk lifestyles.

Detectives have determined the two teens were not involved in prostitution, but their habit of hitchhiking placed them at risk for violent crime.

Eighteen women, some hitchhikers and some aboriginal, have either been murdered or disappeared in recent years along Highway 16 in northern British Columbia

The Highway of Tears, as it has become known, runs 750 kilometres between coastal Prince Rupert and Prince George, about 800 kilometres north of Vancouver.

Gunning said the last time family talked to Rene she planned to hitchhike to Edmonton to get away from a bad boyfriend and to get over a recent miscarriage.

At the time, she had a baby boy. Gunning is now raising seven-year-old D’Andre.

Gunning said he’ll continue to participate each year in the aboriginal Sisters in Spirit walk to raise awareness for missing and murdered aboriginal women.

“Word just doesn’t get out there when it comes to native women going missing or murdered,” he said. “People tend to brush it under the rug, so to speak. And they’ve got to realize that these women, although they might have problems, they’re still human beings, somebody’s mother, somebody’s daughter.

“They can’t be forgotten.”

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