Skip to content
Join our Newsletter

'It is agonizing': Grieving mother calls for answers after Indigenous daughter found dead on reserve

An Indigenous woman is dead and her mother is desperately searching for answers on what happened during the last moments she was alive.

Warning: This story deals with sensitive details, including death. If you need support, there is a 24 hours a day, 7 days a week toll-free Help Line at 1-855-242-3310.

A grieving mother is desperately waiting for answers about her daughter's death. 

Jennifer Gunanoot lives in Terrace and is a Gitxsan First Nation member of the Gitanmaax reserve. On July 28, she was joined by a group of people as they marched across a bridge to bring awareness to her daughter’s death. 

“It is agonizing, every day. We relive it every day, and every day nothing is being done,” she says. 

On June 17, just after noon, she received a call from a family member telling her that her 29-year-old daughter Kaylee Gunanoot was dead. 

“I just could not believe it. Absolutely could not believe it,” she says. “I screamed.”

Gunanoot says Kaylee was found dead on the Hagwilget Reserve early in the morning on June 17. 

When asked what she thinks happened to her daughter, she says, “without a doubt, I know she was murdered.”

It has been 52 days since she died and details surrounding how Gunanoot died are not clear. Her mother still does not know what happened before she died and is ruthlessly devoted to trying to figure out why. 

RCMP tells Glacier Media at this time that the death is not suspicious.

"The BC Coroners Service has conduct of this investigation,” says Cpl. Madonna Saunderson with RCMP North District. "There is no evidence to support, at this time, that there is anything suspicious in the tragic death."

Saunderson says the RCMP is investigating the death and the BC Coroners Service is the lead investigation agency. 

"RCMP will assist when and where necessary," she says. 

When Gunanoot went to see her daughter’s body, she says it left her with many questions.

"There was a lump on her forehead. There was bruising so bad all around her [her mouth]. Her neck was protruding to the side. We looked at her arms, and they were just covered, covered in bruises,” says Gunanoot. "There were so many parts that were bald [on her head]."

She waits every day for the results of the report from the BC Coroner Service for the cause of death.

"I want justice for my daughter. I want justice for Kaylee,” she says. "Every day is really hard, but I got to keep going and keep fighting for Kaylee. So that's really where I'm getting my strength from.”

A meeting has been scheduled with the family, RCMP and BC Coroners Service to discuss the coroner report later this month.

"The detachment commander has been in regular contact with the family and a planned, agreed-upon meeting date and time with the family, is schedule for later this month," says Saunderson. 

BC Coroners Service provided a statement on how long investigations can take.

"Timelines for coroners’ investigations may be impacted by a number of factors, including the complexity of the investigation, concurrent investigations by other agencies, related judicial processes, and caseload volumes. Currently, the average timeline for completion of a coroner’s report is 16 months. As noted, this may vary depending on a number of factors,” says spokesperson Sara Hembree. 

In regards to Kaylee’s case, the service cannot say how long it could take. 

"Unfortunately, I have no way to know the length this determination will take and am unable to provide an estimated timeline,” says Hembree.

Gunanoot claims she was not notified about her daughter's death by New Hazelton RCMP; instead, a community member phoned her to pay their respects. Police did speak to Kaylee's father but word had already travelled to the family. 

“It should be handled differently, as soon as someone's found... They need to contact the mother, the father, the clan, you know so that she can be properly cared for,” she says. 

Gunanoot is holding on each day and hopes it doesn’t take months to have answers.

"It's been heartbreaking. But I know that she's with us. And I know she's giving us strength and that we're not alone.” 

The mother describes Kaylee as having the biggest heart and being so loving. 

“When she loved you, you knew you were truly truly loved. She was the very best big sister,” she says. 

Kaylee was laid to rest on July 5 at Gitanmaax Cemetery. As her mother said goodbye to her daughter, she promised her she'd fight to find out what happened to her.

"There's not one hour that goes by that we are not hurting for our girl," she says.