Mom cries to B.C. jury about the last day she saw daughter alive in 1978

The last time Madeline Lanaro saw her 12-year-old daughter alive was just outside Merritt, B.C.

The mother of a 12-year-old girl who disappeared 40 years ago tearfully told a jury Tuesday about the last time she saw her daughter outside Merritt, B.C.

Madeline Lanaro said she was driving her old Mustang home with her other children when she passed her daughter Monica Jack on the highway as the girl waved at them on what was a sunny day on May 6, 1978.

“I honked and the kids yelled out, ‘Do you want a ride?’ And she said ‘No.’ “

Jack’s skull and some bones were found 17 years later on a hill close to where she was last seen by witnesses.

Garry Handlen was arrested in November 2014 following an undercover police operation and has pleaded not guilty to first-degree murder in Jack’s death.

Lanaro told B.C. Supreme Court that it was the first time Jack had asked permission to ride about 30 kilometres into Merritt.

She said Jack left their home on the Quilchena Reserve and met up with her cousin so the two girls could shop in town together for a birthday present for Jack’s sister Lizzy.

Lanaro said she saw her daughter riding home hours later as she was heading to the reserve after buying supplies for an overnight fishing trip and the birthday party, but Jack was never seen again.

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Jack, who had two older brothers and three sisters, joined her siblings to make breakfast and bake cookies for a school fundraiser on the Saturday she was last seen, her mother said.

She said Jack, who’d received her bike as a gift from her father a couple of weeks before her 13th birthday, asked if she could ride into town with her cousin Debbie John.

“She barely was used to her bike,” Lanaro said.

“It was a bit of a distance,” she said, wiping away tears, adding children from the area sometimes walked to the town for fundraisers.

Jack was in Grade 7 and a good student with lots of friends, she said.

Lanaro said families in the area got together regularly to fish on weekends and share what they caught.

She knew when she went into a grocery store in Merritt that her daughter had been there because of a charge she’d made on their account and later saw her near her sister’s home, Lanaro testified.

“We talked a little bit and I told her to go home.”

RELATED: Mother’s 25-year search for daughter led to DNA database for missing persons

Lanaro said after seeing her daughter riding towards home on the highway, she went fishing overnight as planned and arrived back the next morning to discover she had not shown up.

She called police and friends of the family started looking for the girl.

An RCMP officer who later interviewed her made her uncomfortable, Lanaro told the court.

“As I was being interviewed I realized I’m an Indian woman,” she said.

“He was quite rude to me.”

She said his attitude likely had something to do with the fact she was an Indian woman who was a single mother.

Lanaro said the officer’s note taking was “quite sloppy” and the interview wasn’t recorded.

“He took a few notes and he was off,” she said.

Lanaro said her family had previously lived in Oroville, Wash., where her children were “friends with millionaires’ kids” and no one was prejudiced toward them.

But that all changed when the family moved to the Merritt area, Lanaro said. Her sons found it challenging to fit in when playing football, she added.

“Some parents were not pleased their sons were sharing trophies with Indian boys. That’s when it really hit my kids that we are different.”

Debbie John, the cousin Jack rode into town with on the last day anyone saw her, told court the girls were close and spent many weekends together.

She said the two had talked on the phone the night before and planned their trip into Merritt. They parted ways afterwards as each went to their own home.

That evening, John said she called to see if Jack had arrived home and one of her cousins said the girl hadn’t made it there yet.

“I don’t know why I didn’t call back,” she said.

Camille Bains, The Canadian Press

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