Disappearance of Mistissini teenager ends in relief for many across Eeyou Istchee

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lynn-iserhoffA Mistissini teen missing for three weeks in a suspected human-trafficking case walked into a Montreal police station January 15 to the immense relief of people across Eeyou Istchee.

Lynn Iserhoff came to Montreal December 18 and checked into a women’s shelter in the city, but disappeared three days later. Her mother, Cynthia Neeposh, had suggested the shelter as a means of getting established in Montreal.

Neeposh had planned to travel to Montreal to surprise Lynn with a visit shortly after New Year’s and hoped bring her back to Mistissini. She assumed that things were going well in Montreal since Lynn had checked in to the women’s shelter and was receiving help and support from the workers there.

But when Neeposh called the centre early in the New Year she learned her daughter had not been seen since December 21. “They never called me saying ‘your daughter hasn’t come back’,” Neeposh noted.

Now, Neeposh is overjoyed that her daughter is safe. “I’m overwhelmed and I’m just so happy,” she told the Nation in the hours following her daughter’s reappearance. “I’m so thankful to all of the media and all of the people who shared the news that she was missing and the people who were helping me look for her. Lynn is back with me now and I’m so grateful that she’s safe.”

A series of disconcerting phone calls with her daughter began January 7, when Lynn revealed to her mother that she was frightened for her safety.

Soon after, a nationwide missing person’s alert was issued for the 18-year-old woman after Montreal police launched a startling investigation into a suspected network of human trafficking in the city.  

Neeposh immediately flew to Montreal. She spoke to the Nation at the Montreal Native Friendship Centre when she was convinced that Lynn was being held against her will.

“I went to see my cousin Daisy and I told her my daughter called me (in distress),” Neeposh said then. Lynn had previously provided her with a phone number but no one would answer.  She asked her cousin to keep calling the number and to immediately notify the police if she managed to reach Lynn.

Neeposh says her worst fears were confirmed when her cousin called back the following day.

“She said, ‘You know your daughter answered. Your daughter is held as a hostage and a prostitute.’”

Her daughter had indicated that several men were preventing her from leaving. According to Neeposh’s cousin, her daughter said, “There’s a man standing at the door, rotating, there’s like seven black guys. They want me to dress like a hooker and there’s supposed to be a car coming, picking me up.”

Said Neeposh: “I cried, I cried, I cried and I said I can’t believe it, it can’t be.”

Near midnight on Saturday, January 10, Lynn managed to contact her mother. “She didn’t sound like herself,” Neeposh related. “I could hear trembling in her voice. When you’re a mother you know the voice of your child, when they’re okay or when they’re not okay. She sounded nervous and she said she only had a few minutes to talk. I asked her where she was, what the address was and she said she didn’t know but she knew how to get to the métro from there.”

Mother and daughter made plans to meet outside the Berri-UQAM station. But Neeposh waited in the cold for hours with no sign of her daughter.

“She never called back and I wondered if it was a set up.”

In the following days, Neeposh kept in close contact with Alan Gull, an intervention and outreach worker from the Native Friendship Centre, scouring Montreal’s meaner streets day and night for her missing daughter.

Gull said the Montreal police detective on the case had identified certain suspects and brought them in for questioning. And he offered advice to young people coming to Montreal from the North.

“There’s good and bad parts of Montreal, if you’re looking for the bad you’ll find it,” said Gull. “Go with your first instinct, be careful who you talk to and where you go.”    

Montreal police officers Michael Arruda and Carlo DeAngelis, who work with the force’s Réponse en intervention de crise (critical incident response) team, have seen many young people get in trouble after arriving in the metropolis.

“The city is a different reality than what young people expect,” Arruda observed. “Newcomers here are often fragile, running away from home, escaping difficult living conditions, dealing with shame, embarrassment or mental health issues and are hesitant to ask for help or to contact the police. What starts as a ‘honeymoon’, where someone buys you clothes, buys you food, quickly turns to a nightmare where you have to pay that person back, typically involving selling drugs or prostitution.”

According to some media reports, this is exactly what happened in Lynn Iserhoff’s case.

Officer DeAngelis said youth should know that contacting police is always an option.  

“There’s always a story behind every person, a reason why they’re on the streets.” said DeAngelis, who regularly patrols with Alan Gull and other members of the Native Friendship Centre.  “We’re here to help, we want to give them back some dignity and hope.”

Both DeAngelis and Arruda said a stronger partnership between the police and the community is key to prevention. By teaming up with community centres and outreach workers to create a point of contact for Aboriginals coming to Montreal they hope to provide better access to services for people dealing with issues of culture shock, language barriers and feelings of isolation.

Resources available for such people include the Native Friendship Centre at 2001 St-Laurent, the Chez Doris women’s shelter at 1430 Chomedey, and the Native Women’s Shelter of Montreal, which can be contacted at 514-933-4688.

Neeposh received widespread emotional and financial support from Cree communities to help fund her stay in Montreal while she searched for her daughter. “I never thought I would face something like this in my entire life,” she said.

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