Autopsy confirms bodies found in river are those of missing Sagkeeng snowmobilers

The Manitoba community of Sagkeeng First Nation can finally lay to rest two band members who went through ice on the river while snowmobiling last November. 

Autopsies have confirmed that the bodies pulled last week from the Winnipeg River are those of Ashley Guimond and Julia Bruyere, a young man and woman, Sagkeeng First Nation Chief Derrick Henderson said Wednesday.

The Hutterian Emergency Aquatic Response Team (HEART), which volunteered to search, used an underwater video camera to find them last week. 

Henderson said it meant a lot to their families.

“Well, it’s closure, right? At least this is closure for them,” he said. 

Chief Derrick Henderson says the confirmation will bring some relief to Sagkeeng First Nation. ‘I’ve been thinking about this since November, when they went in the water … how it affects the community,’ he said. (Jeff Stapleton/CBC)

One body was discovered by the dive team on Jan. 2. The other was found the next day. Henderson said at the time he was “99.9 per cent” sure the bodies were those of the snowmobilers, which has now been confirmed.

“The day that we had the recoveries … I spoke to them and, you know, it was closure for one family Wednesday and Thursday was closure for the other family. Now they can put them to rest.”

The dive team had planned to leave on Wednesday of last week, but after finding Ashley Guimond’s body on Wednesday, decided to stay an extra day to try to find Julia Bruyere’s body as well. 

“And sure enough, they did,” said Henderson.

Tom Crossman operates the underwater camera during the Jan. 3 search for a missing snowmobiler at Sagkeeng First Nation. (Jeff Stapleton/CBC)

The two snowmobilers disappeared on Nov. 20, while attempting to cross the river, which hadn’t completely frozen over yet.

Henderson said the volunteer team initially contacted him to search for the bodies in November, but the ice was too thin to do so safely. The group reached out to Tom Crossman of Minnesota, who joined the search in January, bringing the high-tech remote-operated vehicle with him that ultimately located the bodies.

Henderson said the machine with lights, a camera and sonar is “unbelievable.”

“You see everything that’s in there. And I don’t understand why our emergency [teams] don’t have something like that, when somebody does fall into the river. Can you imagine scanning the Red River and see what’s there?”

He said the Hutterian team is fundraising to get its own remote-operated vehicle.

“It’s unbelievable what they did,” said Henderson.

“It’s a relief because, you know, I’ve been thinking about this since November, when they went in the water … how it affects the community,” he said.

“You know they’re there, but you can’t do nothing. You’re helpless.”

A funeral for Guimond will be held Thursday at 1 p.m. Bruyere’s funeral will be held Friday at 1 p.m.