First Nations Family Advocate joins quest to find identity of deceased male in Winnipeg

Winnipeg police are hoping the large number of tips they received about a man whose remains haven’t been identified will help investigators locate the young man’s family, however police aren’t the only ones looking into the matter.

A male in his late teens or early 20s was found in medical distress at a restaurant on Main Street in early August. He later died in hospital.

Police and the provincial medical examiner’s office have exhausted all investigative avenues and have been unsuccessful in identifying him.

Now, people from the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs’ First Nations Family Advocate’s office are also looking into the matter.

“We have these networks and we can know who people are related to and know how we are connected to them in some way or another,” said Cora Morgan, who heads up the office.

“Usually it doesn’t take much time to be able to figure those things out, so this is a kind of a real mystery.”

Two grainy images of a person.
Winnipeg police say an unidentified male who was found injured on Aug. 5 died two days later. Police are asking the public for assistance in identifying him. (Submitted by Winnipeg Police Service)

Morgan says she’s passed the man’s image and description to everyone in her network and staff members have been combing through social media to see if they can find out who he is.

Const. Jay Murray with the public information office says Winnipeg police have received a number of calls since media reported on the deceased, and hopes they will help investigators reach his loved ones.

Morgan can’t believe nobody knows who he is.

She worries he may have aged out of the child welfare system, and had nowhere to go — something she says happens in Winnipeg all too often.

“It’s just sad and and I struggle with the lack of dignity that he’s been afforded, the lack of caring and support and, you know, I think it’s most people’s biggest fear to die alone.”

Very rare case of unidentified body

The young man’s body is currently being held at a funeral home.

Dr. John Younes, the chief medical examiner for the province of Manitoba, says about 150 people’s remains go unclaimed in the province every year, but it’s very rare for someone to die in hospital and remain unidentified.

“I’ve been working here for more than 20 years and I can think of one case where an intact human body has turned up and that identification was unsuccessful.… Almost always, eventually, someone will come forward, someone with a missing person report, and that’ll be the answer,” he said.

After four weeks, a ceremony will be held either at a funeral home or at the graveside.

In the meantime, coroners check missing persons records, fingerprints and a forensic dentist will take x-rays in case those can be used to confirm the identity.

Manitoba’s chief medical examiner says fingerprints, missing persons reports, dental records and even DNA can help determine who an unidentified person is. He says there’s still a good chance someone will come forward to help determine who he is. (Getty Images)

Coroners can also look for signs of surgeries or medical implants, which can have serial numbers.

As a last resort, they’ll test DNA.

In some cases, investigators contact hereditary DNA companies to see if a relative is on file.

Younes says the province hasn’t had a case where they’ve done that yet, because it’s so rare that someone can’t be identified.

He says there’s still a good chance someone will come forward to identify him.

Sometimes people live nomadic lives and don’t always check in with family. Loved ones start looking for people when they haven’t heard from them, even if it’s months or years down the line.

When it comes time for a funeral to be planned, Morgan says the First Nations Family Advocate’s office will help out and ensure Indigenous traditions are observed.

Police are asking the public to contact the major crimes unit at 204-986-6219 if they have any information about the deceased, or remember encountering him the night of Aug. 5 in Winnipeg.

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