Ashley Simpson’s 34th birthday was honoured not with celebration but with ceremony and a call to action.
Leading that call was Jody Leon, who organized a gathering Thursday evening – the day after Simpson’s birthday – at a bridge in the south end of the Yankee Flats area – where Simpson had resided before her disappearance.
“We were not able to come out on yesterday’s date… Nevertheless, it’s still very important that we’re here to honour all the women that went missing in this area,” said Leon to an intimate crowd of supporters, including Simpson’s aunt, Marney Portugaise, as well as Dennis and Jane Aubertin, the parents of Malakwa resident Nicole Bell who was last seen in Sicamous on Sept. 2.
“We want to keep their memory alive. We want to say gone but not forgotten. These women are important, and it’s important to keep their stories in the spotlight until we have resolution on every last sister that is missing.
“This bridge is one of the bridges that’s a connector to… three of the women who we know have gone missing in this area. So we’ve got Ashley Simpson who went missing not to far from here, Deanna Wertz and Traci Genereaux, whose remains were found on the Sagmoen farm not far from here. On the other side, not too far connecting that way, we have Nicole Bell. On the side that way, we have Caitlin Potts.”
During the ceremony, Portugaise and the Aubertins held up a banner saying, No More Stolen Sisters. A second, smaller banner next to it said, Ashleys Army… Never Give Up, naming the four local missing women as well as Genereaux.
Leon and Portugaise encouraged anyone with information related to the missing women to come forward.
“It’s a long road, but we’re going to make it because we’re not going to stop,” said a teary-eyed Portugaise. “It’s time that everybody takes a step forward for these women – and people, never mind just women, everyone in general. The world has become a sad place and it’s time to take it back.”
“It was really good,” said Leon the following day. “People were really good to us. Some of them invited us into their homes, talked with us and took the poster and agreed to do something more. Some of them agreed we could come back and search around with drones on their property. So it was really good.”
Leon said the families of the missing women have been grateful for the support she and others have provided, for bringing them together and helping to give them a voice.
“I talk with them behind the scenes as well and try to connect them up with help,” said Leon. “And I’ve also been introducing them to each other. There’s other work that goes on that people don’t know about behind the scenes. And talking with them and just listening to them about their pain…
“All the families of the murdered and missing – they want something to do about it. They want to help the police, they want to be out searching, they want to be out passing posters out. But they don’t have the strength to make that action happen. And so, the fact that they’re not here, down on the ground, they don’t know the area, they don’t know where to go or how to rally people. That’s a function I kind of see myself being the ground person here… So they are really grateful.”
The next step for Leon and company is a drone-assisted search being conducted this Saturday, Nov. 18.