The Disappearance of Caitlin Potts

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EARLY LIFE:

Caitlin Potts was from Samson Cree First Nation in Maskwacis, Alberta. She was the daughter of Priscilla Potts and sister to Ashley, Codi and Jeremiah Potts.

Up until age 11, Caitlin lived in foster care, despite efforts by Priscilla to try to have her and her siblings returned to her care. While in the foster care system, Priscilla would often visit the children, taking them on trips to the lake and joining them for family dinners. Due to this part of her childhood, Caitlin had developed attachment issues, which Priscilla says her daughter tried her best to work through.

Growing up, Caitlin was described as outgoing and bubbly, and someone who could light up a room. Those around her often said they made them feel comfortable, no matter the situation, and as a result she had a thriving social life. She was also close to her family and would participate in many activities with her loved ones, including family gatherings and church visits.

Caitlin was also the mother of a young son, about whom she would talk about non-stop.

The young mother was in an on-again/off-again relationship with boyfriend Jason Hnatiuk. The relationship was described as turbulent, and Jason was known for being abusive toward Caitlin. There were times Caitlin would visit Codi covered in bruises and crying, and one incident in August 2014 saw Jason assault her at the Forum Hotel in Edmonton, Alberta. During this time, Caitlin was living with her sister.

In 2015, Jason moved to Enderby, British Columbia. A few months later, Caitlin also moved to the city. At some point while in British Columbia, Jason was arrested and Caitlin went to stay at a women’s shelter in Salmon Arm, British Columbia. While there, she went back to school and got a job at Tim Horton’s. However, a few months later she was back with Jason, but living with a roommate she’d met whilst at the shelter.

DISAPPEARANCE:

On February 22, 2016, Codi received a message from her sister, where she stated she had texted Jason while upset because he owed her money. She also told her sister that she was going to travel to Calgary via a ride she’d found on the classifieds site, Kijiji. This story was later corroborated by her roommate, who added that Caitlin had also told her she’d met a stranger the previous night.

On March 1, 2016, after no one had heard from Caitlin for a few days, a missing persons report was filed with the RCMP. According to her family, it was out of character for her to have been out of touch with them for such a long period of time.

SEARCH:

On March 21, 2016, 20 days after the missing persons report was first filed, the RCMP sent out an official alert on their website, which read, “the RCMP Major Crimes Unit is now assisting Vernon North Okanagan RCMP with the investigation of Potts”.

While Caitlin’s last known location is currently unknown, a witness has come forward to say they last saw her in Enderby, and police say she was last seen near the Shuswap River.

In June 2016, Priscilla contacted Indigenous groups in British Columbia, who conducted their own search for Caitlin. Both they and Priscilla were losing faith with the RCMP’s investigation and felt it wasn’t thorough enough. The search, which involved the Secwepemc people, saw searches of Enderby, Mabel Lake, Grindrod and the area along the Shuswap River. A door-to-door canvas was also done to see if local residents had any information.

In October 2016, a ceremony was held in remembrance of Caitlin and other missing and murdered Indigenous women. It was one of many that were held across Canada.

Jody Leon, a woman from Splatsin First Nation, has been in contact with Priscilla and has helped organize searches on her behalf. She was the person to help launch a drone search for Caitlin, as well as missing women Ashley Simpson, Nicole Bell and Deanna Wertz.

In April 2017, the RCMP released surveillance footage of Caitlin entering Orchard Place Mall in Kelowna, British Columbia at around 1:30pm on February 21, 2016. In the footage, she is seen wearing a three-quarter length black jacket with a hood; light-coloured pants; black winter boots; and a hair tie. She was also carrying a white cellphone and a light brown leather handbag. As for why they released the footage, the RCMP stated they wanted to provide a visual reminder of the young woman’s disappearance.

During this time, they also stated that they now suspected foul play in the case.

It has come to light that the RCMP do not believe Caitlin left the Okanagan region before her disappearance, as they don’t have any evidence to suggest or show she actually travelled to Calgary.

In May 2017, Jason was put on trial for the 2014 assault on Caitlin. He was found guilty of assault with a weapon and breaching a condition of a recognizance. Two other charges filed against him were dropped.

Jason contacted online news source iNFOnews to refute information being spread by him in the media, and has claimed he’s being treated unfairly by investigators. He said he was never actually Caitlin’s boyfriend and that she hadn’t lived with him. However, he did concede she would occasionally stay with him. He also stated the missing woman had been working as an escort, and he couldn’t remember the last time he’d saw or spoken with her.

As for whether or not Jason is a suspect in the case, the RCMP will not say.

Also in May 2017, a walk was organized to raise awareness about Caitlin, Deanna and Ashley’s disappearances. Those who participated walked to the areas where each woman was last seen, in the hopes of raising awareness about each individual case. This was followed by a rally that November, which was held by activists to help bring further attention to the missing women.

In April 2018, a fundraiser was held in Enderby to help raise money for the search for Caitlin, Ashley, Deanna and Nicole.

On October 4, 2018, the Red Dress Walk was held to remember all murdered and missing Indigenous women, including Caitlin. It was part of the Red Dress Campaign, a nationwide initiative seeking to inform the public of Canada’s large number of missing and murdered women. To help support the cause, those wishing to get involved are asked to hang a red dress.

The RCMP have said they now believe Caitlin to be deceased, but have not stated when the investigation shifted or why they feel this to be the case. They believe she was murdered, but have yet to find her body. As of 2017, they have stated the case is active.

THEORIES:

1) One theory in the case is that Jason was involved in Caitlin’s disappearance. Given the pair’s history, including his abusive behaviour and the assault conviction, some have speculated that he harmed Caitlin in some way. However, no evidence has been publicly released to support this, and the RCMP have not stated he is a suspect in the investigation. As stated above, Jason has denied being in a romantic relationship with Caitlin and does not recall the last time he was in contact with her.

2) Some hold the theory that Caitlin could have met foul play at the hands of the person she met on Kijiji. Both her roommate and Codi had received messages from Caitlin, where she said she would be travelling to Calgary with someone she met via the website. However, the RCMP have stated they have no evidence to support this trip, so it’s unknown if this person exists or if Caitlin had actually met up with them.

3) A final theory is that Caitlin was the victim of a serial killer from the area. Given the women who had also gone missing at the time – Ashley Simpson, Nicole Bell and Deanna Bell – some have speculated that there could be a serial killer at work.

As well, British Columbia is home to the Highway of Tears, which has seen the disappearances and murders of numerous women throughout the years, many of them Indigenous. It has been brought up that Caitlin’s disappearance could be related to the highway’s tragic past.

AFTERMATH:

Priscilla is in a constant state of worry over her daughter’s disappearance. She says living so far away from where Caitlin disappeared has been difficult.

Jeremiah is frustrated, but determined to find out what happened to his sister.

CASE CONTACT INFORMATION:

Caitlin Potts went missing from Enderby, British Columbia on February 22, 2016. At the time of her disappearance, she was 27 years old. She is described as 5’3″ and 150 pounds, and has brown eyes and long black hair with blonde streaks. She is known to have connections to Kelowna, West Kelowna, Salmon Arm and Enderby, all of which are located within British Columbia.

If you have any information regarding the case, you can contact Vernon RCMP at 250-545-7171 or Crime Stoppers at 1-888-222-8477.

Image Credit: CBC

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