An Ontario coroner says he will review how Sheridan Hookimaw died and may call an inquest.
Dr. Michael Wilson of Thunder Bay made the pledge in a letter released by James Bay-Timmins NDP MP Charlie Angus Wednesday.
“I can confirm this death is being further investigated by our office and the family’s request for a discretionary inquest is being reviewed,” Wilson wrote in the letter shared with APTN News.
Hookimaw was 13 when she died by suicide in her remote, northern Ontario community.
Six months later a wider suicide crisis gripped the Cree community with the chief reporting dozens of teens were considering or attempting to take their own lives.
“Canada failed Sheridan. She was ground down into poverty, sickness and hopelessness,” Angus said in an email to APTN.
“We need to understand how this tragedy touched off the horrible Attawapiskat suicide crisis of 2016.”
Thank you to Dr. Michael Wilson, coroner of Ontario for agreeing to investigate the tragic death of Sheridan Hookimaw. We need a full inquiry as her death touched off the terrible #attawapiskat suicide crisis of 2016. #justiceforsheridan pic.twitter.com/wHSvqRW95K
— Charlie Angus NDP (@CharlieAngusNDP) December 6, 2017
The family asked for an inquest, with Angus’s help, to explore circumstances that would lead a young teen to such an end.
Sheridan’s adoptive mother, Stephanie Hookimaw, said she sees parallels with the seven student deaths in Thunder Bay that triggered a wide-ranging inquest there.
“It seems multiple factors contributed to Sheridan’s death. In addition to the bullying she experienced at school, her physical health put Sheridan at greater risk for self-harm, particularly when coupled with the lack of suitable housing available in the community,” she said in the letter to the regional coroner.
“Further, much of the medical care she required was not available in Attawapiskat.”
In Ontario, a death by suicide does not automatically trigger an inquest, but the coroner does have the discretion to call one if it’s deemed in the public interest.
“The family is feeling that Sheridan is forgotten and they want something to come out of the tragedy like healing and changes to the system for the kids,” said aunt Jackie Hookimaw-Witt.
“The situation with the young girls is not getting any better. It’s getting worse. They are hoping that when there is an inquiry, the story will come out as to what is really needed.”
Politicians Angus and Gilles Bisson, the NDP-MPP for the region, co-signed a letter to Wilson in favour of an inquest.
They said Sheridan may have been exposed to toxic chemicals from contaminated school grounds and she lived with 20 other people in a “house unfit for human habitation.”
The letter said the girl tried and failed to get help after facing a suicide death in the family and to deal with bullying.
Sheridan was found outdoors by a patrolling Nishnawbe-Aski Police Service officer on Oct. 19, 2015, in an area known locally as the “first rapids.”
She suffered from several medical ailments, including asthma, that was aggravated by mould in her home.
In the winter of 2014, the sewage link-up to the home failed, triggering a backup that made the home unlivable despite attempts to contain the smell and disinfect the premises using air fresheners and bleach.
The backup, which made the mould worse, aggravated the girl’s condition and she was hospitalized in Timmins, Ont.
The house was condemned that summer and the family was forced to live in a two-bedroom nurse’s residence.