By Chevi Rabbit
For Ponoka News
The body of 30-year-old homicide victim Billie Johnson of Samson Cree Nation (SCN) has been found and more charges are pending against Kenneth Courtorielle, who is accused of killing her.
Johnson was living in Edmonton at the time of her death. She was last seen on Dec. 24, 2020 and was reported missing on Dec. 28, 2020. Since then, it has been a harrowing four months for the family and several communities who came together to search for her.
Marless Johnson, Billie’s mother, says she is relieved that her daughter’s body has been found. However, she is calling for more support for women in domestic violence.
“My daughter was loved. She was the love of my life. A God-given gift. I was blessed to have her for 30 years of my life. She had a great sense of humour,” said Johnson in a phone interview.
“As she got older her personality came through and she was kind hearted. She was a very observant, kind hearted and a beautiful woman.”
According to the Edmonton Police Service (EPS) Courtorielle, 35, was known to the victim, and the pair lived together.
He was arrested on Feb. 9, 2021 in St. Albert with the assistance of RCMP and was charged with second degree murder.
EPS says Courtorielle was a person of interest since the beginning of the investigation. Based on “overwhelming evidence,” it was determined she was deceased and Courtorielle was charged.
Billie’s mother says she only met Courtorielle once.
“She kept him a secret from me,” said Johnson.
When she did meet him, she was full of questions and she didn’t have a good impression of him.
“I was asking questions like, where are your parents from? What his intentions were with my daughter? He never looked me in the eyes,” she said.
“There was something weird about him. He would drop her off at my place but he would never come in. He sat outside in his vehicle,” said Johnson .
On the day of her disappearance, Billie visited her dad.
“She walked out the door and wished us a Merry Christmas … That was the last time I saw her.”
It wasn’t like Billie to not keep in touch, and when Johnson didn’t receive a response after texting her Merry Christmas, she knew something was wrong.
“She didn’t text back and nothing the next day. I called her again. No answer. I started getting scared,” said Johnson.
The lack of social media activity was also a red flag to her family and something they brought to police.
“I said to my family something was happening to my daughter. I felt it. I know my daughter,” said Johnson.
“So, I posted for help on Facebook and it just took off on social media.”
The family has stated their criticism of how the investigation was handled and claim police were not quick to respond to their pleas.
“I was screaming for the police to help find my daughter. They asked me to calm down because I was being hysterical,” said Johnson.
The family and their supporters then hired a private investigator, according to Jamie Smallboy, who is connected to the family and assisted in the search efforts.
“The private investigator put pressure on the (EPS) and gave them everything we found,” said Smallboy.
Smallboy added many Indigenous families face insensitivity and a lack of cooperation when dealing with police.
“It’s overall lack of concern when our women go missing. I feel like that is why the number of missing and murdered women are rising,” said Smallboy.
“I told them I was going to make sure my daughter wasn’t going to be a damn statistic. I was so upset when they asked if she was white or brown. What does it matter what race she is? She was a human being, a mother, and my daughter,” said Johnson.
COVID-19 restrictions and not being able to speak with police in person also made things more difficult, she says.
“I wanted to talk to a police officer in person but because of all the COVID-19 restrictions, it made it impossible.”
Johnson says after some time passed, she knew Billie was gone.
“I got this deep feeling after a while. I saw a picture of my daughter hanging on my mirror. It fell on the ground. I called out to my daughter … I knew my daughter was gone. I felt it,” she said.
“I am relieved that her body was found. I was praying every day and every hour. Calling out, ‘Where are you my baby?’”
Johnson says she is grateful for the work of Detective Aubrey Zalinski and his team for the work they did, as well as SCN departments, Cree Valley Town Towing for joining in the search, Enoch Cree Nation and all the communities that helped with support and searching.
“I’m thankful for everybody’s prayers.”
Johnson is now looking for justice for her daughter and says there needs to be more support for women fleeing domestic violence.
“The death toll created by domestic abuse is high. Just look at the statistics,” said Johnson.
StatsCan COVID-19 states, “While the restrictions due to the COVID-19 pandemic may impact victims of any type of crime or violence, many organizations within Canada and internationally have raised concerns about increased domestic violence.”
Courtorielle’s next court appearance is on April 30. He has also been charged with indignity to a body.
The Government of Alberta website states, “Clare’s Law came into effect on April 1, 2021 to allow people who feel they may be at risk of domestic violence to find out if their partner has a violent or abusive past.
“Alberta has the fourth-highest rate of police-reported intimate partner violence among Canadian provinces. Half of all young women and girls who are victims of domestic homicide are murdered by someone with a prior conviction. This law will help prevent domestic violence by giving people at risk the information they may need to protect themselves from harm.”