The Manitoba Metis Federation (MMF) is doubling the $10,000 reward for information leading to the location of Jennifer Catcheway, who went missing on her 18th birthday in 2008.
The $20,000 is part of a new $250,000 reward program to generate tips on “thousands” of missing and murdered Indigenous Peoples across Canada, said MMF president David Chartrand.
“Our government decided let’s ante this up a little bit more,” Chartrand told a news conference Thursday attended by Catcheway’s mother Bernice, father Wilfred and brother Willie Starr.
“You can send the information anonymously. (The Catcheways) don’t care if anyone gets charged anymore.”
Catcheway disappeared in northern Manitoba after speaking to her mother on the phone. She indicated during the call she was in a vehicle but didn’t identify who she was with or where they were headed.
Bernice said she was afraid for her daughter at the time – the youngest of the couple’s three children – and urged Jennifer to come home immediately before hanging up.
“I kick myself every day. If I didn’t hang up,” she said, her voice trailing off.
“I never spoke to her again.”
Even though 12 years have passed, the family’s pain was still evident.
Bernice broke down several times appealing for tips on her daughter’s whereabouts, as did her son Willie.
“We don’t forget about the other families going through this same experience,” he said, his voice cracking. “We know how it feels. We care.”
Both Willie and his father wore jackets with the words “Jennifer Catcheway, Missing But Not Forgotten” emblazoned on the back.
Bernice wore beaded earrings in the shape of red dresses, a national symbol for murdered and missing Indigenous women and girls (MMIWG).
Chartrand said it didn’t matter that Jennifer or her family was First Nations. He said along with the reward, the MMF will pay to erect 12 new billboards around the province.
“They just want their baby home and to take her to their own graveyard,” he told reporters.
“Have some compassion and heart – send a prayer, a message, a map, a clue.”
Chartrand said he was moved by her parent’s dedication to finding her. As recently as two weeks ago, he said they thought they might have unearthed their daughter after following a map to a buried blue tarp.
“My heart was beating,” Bernice said between sobs. “… I was hoping this was Jenn.
“I just want to bring her home. Somebody out there knows… Somebody took her, somebody stole her. She didn’t just disappear.”
The couple expressed “gratitude” to the MMF for keeping their daughter’s case alive. They noted they’ve excavated three garbage dumps searching for her and will never stop looking.
“Help me, help me bring her home. I don’t want to beg,” her mother said.
“You can help us.”
They said they would not disclose to police who gives them the tip they need to find Jennifer. They said the case is still under investigation by the Manitoba RCMP Serious Crime Unit at D Division headquarters in Winnipeg.
“My husband and I will go get her. Wherever she is,” Bernice said.
Tips can be sent to Manitoba Crime Stoppers or Bernice Catcheway’s Facebook page.