The family of a young woman found dead in B.C. in July say they have more questions about how she died than answers.
Brittany Martel, 27, from the K’atl’odeeche First Nation, Northwest Territories, was found in a ditch on July 22 along Hwy 5 south of Merritt, B.C.
Police informed the family that when she was discovered, she had no shoes on her feet, and was without her cell phone.
“She never goes anywhere without her phone,” says Diane Fabian, Brittany’s aunt.
The family believes that two women who were travelling with Brittany that month may have more information about the days leading up to her death.
Fabian says on July 24, two days after her body was discovered, she received a phone call from a friend of Brittany’s who had been driving with her through B.C.
Brittany’s friend phoned Fabian to tell her that Brittany had phoned her angry asking why she had been left in B.C.
“I asked her if she could tell me when the last time she spoke to Brittany was but she hung up.”
When APTN reached out to this friend she declined to comment.
Another woman contacted Dolly Martel.
“One of Brittany’s friends who she had been driving with said that when she got up from a nap on the side of the road and Brittany was gone,” says Dolly. “She said she drove back and forth down that highway and there was no sign of her. She went back to that spot and there was no sign of her. Then she left”
Both Fabian and Dolly Martel say they hope the RCMP conduct interviews with the two women who the family believes might have been with Brittany last along with Brittany’s boyfriend who she had hitchhiked frequently with.
Police have declared her death as “not suspicious.”
“The woman’s death is not deemed suspicious and no criminality is suspected,” says the RCMP statement dated July 31.
The release from the RCMP does not include any other details about her death.
An autopsy was performed on July 30.
Cpl. Derrick Francis told APTN that the case now rests with the B.C. Coroners Service.
“We do still have questions of how she came to be there and figure out her last steps before she became deceased,” he says.
Francis says that a pathologist will give a final report before the cause of death is fully determined, but even so, sometimes reports come back inconclusive.
“I know deep in my heart that she was put there by somebody,” says Dolly. “I can’t see her just walking in the bush, plus where she was found.
“I want justice for her. I want closure for my family.”
The B.C. Coroners Service has advised the family to have a closed casket.
“We just got word that we have to have a closed casket as she was badly decomposed,” says Dolly.
Diane Fabian says the closed casket is not something that the family had planned for after what police told them.
“The RCMP told us they couldn’t find any marks on her or negligence of her body, said that she looked healthy.”
Martel’s blood work is being processed.
For the family, having her body so far from home after her death goes against their Indigenous culture and adds to the grief.
“They don’t even know the exact day she died. Our tradition is that we make a cross on the day she passed but we don’t even know what to put for that day.”
Hitting the road
“She tried to go to counselling but a lot of times the counsellor missed appointments and she gave up. She tried to get into the Matrix addictions program, but it was full. She made up excuses to not go.” says Dolly.
Her battle with addictions led Brittany to live on the streets some nights and hitchhike.
In June, she had hitchhiked from the Okanagan region back up to the NWT.
“She asked for money saying she was at the Greyhound waiting. She said she wanted proof that she was on the Greyhound, so she sent me a picture,” says Dolly.
Brittany would often take a Greyhound bus to Edmonton to meet up with her boyfriend, but something would happen and she would hitchhike back south to look for him.
“She had wanted to go back down to see a boyfriend she had been hitchhiking with,” says Dolly. “He was kicked off of the Greyhound after he had verbally abused her and had a violent outburst. He was left at a rest stop.”
The family says at this point in time, the RCMP have not contacted Martel’s boyfriend.
Remembering her Life
Dolly Martel remembers her niece’s artistic side, her love for her family and her smile.
“She could look at something and she could draw it, she experimented with painting and tattooing. She was really brilliant in her passion for art. ”
Diane Fabian remembers Brittany’s warm and caring nature.
“When she was with me she was a happy young girl, always loving, smiling and laughing no matter what was going on. Whenever she saw you she would hug you and tell you she loved you.”
The family says they want her to be remembered as a caring individual.
“When she was little and would argue with her siblings she was always the first one to pull them back together and say ‘I am sorry I love you’” her Dolly says.
A vigil will take place in Brittany’s home community later this week.