HALIFAX - The hope that university student Loretta Saunders would be returned to her family ended Wednesday when police said they found her body off a busy highway in New Brunswick and were treating her death as a homicide.
Halifax police say Saunders's body was found at about 4:30 p.m. Wednesday in the median off Route 2 of the Trans-Canada Highway, west of Salisbury, N.B., two weeks after she disappeared. Salisbury is just west of Moncton, about a three-hour drive from Halifax.
Friends and volunteers who searched for Saunders, an Inuit woman originally from Labrador, gathered at a news conference in Halifax late Wednesday to thank the community for its outpouring of support.
"We are just small-town girls from Labrador ... and everybody was so supportive and just gave in the search to help find her," said Jean Flowers, a family friend from Hopedale, N.L.
"I just want to thank everybody on behalf of the family because I know they are so appreciative of everything that has been done."
Hillary Edmunds, also a friend from Labrador, said news of Saunders's death has touched many.
"It's like when you throw a rock into the water, it ripples," Edmunds said. "It doesn't just affect one person or the family. It affects everybody."
Police say they have identified suspects in the homicide and charges are anticipated in the case.
Cheryl Maloney of the Nova Scotia Native Women's Association said her group was in shock after it heard Saunders was found dead.
"Loretta became something not just to us as volunteers, but to the city, the province and the public," Maloney said.
"People really stepped up and they all fell in love with this girl."
Saunders, 26, a student at Saint Mary's University in Halifax, was last seen on the morning of Feb. 13 in the Cowie Hill Road area of the city.
At a news conference Tuesday, her boyfriend said he last saw her while she was leaving his home to check on an apartment that he said she was subletting to two people later accused of stealing her car.
Two people have been charged with stealing her 2000 Toyota Celica, which was found in Harrow, near Windsor, Ont., last week.
Members of Saunders's family travelled to Halifax to make public appeals for help in finding her. A vigil was held for her Tuesday night in the city.
"We recognize that Loretta's family and friends, along with the community, have rallied together in an effort to bring her home safely," Const. Pierre Bourdages of Halifax Regional Police said in a statement. "This is a tragic incident and a profound loss."
Delilah Terriak has said her sister was set to graduate from university in May and was doing her thesis on missing and murdered aboriginal women.
Ontario Provincial Police arrested Blake Leggette, 25, and Victoria Henneberry, 28, and they were returned to Halifax to face auto theft charges.
Leggette is scheduled to appear in court for a bail hearing on Friday, while Henneberry is scheduled to make an appearance in Halifax provincial court on Thursday.
Annie Clair, 43, told a news conference last week that she met Saunders just before she disappeared and was due to be interviewed by her as part of her thesis.
Clair, who lives in the Elsipogtog First Nation in New Brunswick, said Saunders was three months pregnant, and wanted to talk to her about native traditions, the language and aboriginal women.
"She wanted to learn because she didn't have that part of her growing up," she said.
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'We Still Don't Know If Jack's Alive Or Dead'
My grandmother kept meticulous scrapbooks of clippings, photos and letters chronicling her and her husband's search for their eldest son, Jack. L-R: "Trooper Presses Mission To Find Son Lost in 1972 Combat in Laos," <em>Scranton Tribune</em>, May 1, 1975; "Father Tells of Heartbreaking Search for MIAs,"<em> Times Herald Record</em>, October 26, 1973; Photograph of my Grandmother at "Freedom Tree" Dedication for Jack on October 13, 1973; Photograph of Rosemary and Ed on their honeymoon in New York, 1946; "Families of MIAs Begin Vigil in Laos," <em>Air Force Times</em>, October 17, 1973; A postcard from my Grandfather to my Grandmother from Thailand dated October 10, 1973; An invitation to the U.S. Embassy in Thailand; Photos of my Grandfather's 1973 trip to Bangkok; "Pearce Returns From Laos Encouraged And Optimistic," publication unknown, 1973.
Edwin Pearce, 1943
Edwin "Eddie" Pearce enlisted in the U.S. arm in July of 1942, one month after his high school graduation.
World War II
The top photograph shows the crew of my Grandfather's plane. They were shot down on October 14, 1943 on their 12th combat mission while bombing Bavarian Schweinfurt ball-bearing factories in Hitler's Germany. The men had been rushed out to the front so fast that they hadn't been trained to use their parachutes. My grandfather would later recall falling through the air, frantically trying to pull the string on his chute, while all around him, floating U.S. Airmen were encircled by German planes "herding the men like sheep in the sky." The photo below of their plane, "Patches" (so-called for the many dents it received in the name of duty), was taken by U.S. press corps right before the shoot-down and was used in newsreels that were played in movie theaters across the country.
Edwin Pearce's Prisoner ID From Stalag XVII
My grandfather had a perfect comb-over even into his 80s (when, I'll admit, there was little to comb), but for this particular photograph -- taken by German guards in the POW camp Stalag XVII -- Eddie told his grandchildren that he had pushed his hair in front of his face to disguise himself so he'd have a better chance of going unnoticed if he ever escaped. When the Hollywood film<a href="http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0046359/" target="_hplink">"Stalag 17"</a> came out in 1953, he told his children that the film's depiction of living conditions in the camp was "very accurate," with one glaring exception: In the film, the escapees hid out in the water tower. In real life, they escaped notice by hiding under the latrines.
Rosie And Sisters
My grandfather dated all three of the Johnson sisters before proposing to my grandmother, at far left.
This is the hand-colored high school graduation photograph that my grandmother signed and gave to her future husband for safekeeping.
This photo was taken just after my grandparents were married on January 20, 1947. They are standing on the doorstep of the home they would share for nearly 60 years.
Starting A Family
Here, my Grandfather holds his namesake, Edwin Jack, on his right hip, and his second-eldest son, Mike, on his left (Mike would be serving in the Navy in Spain when his brother was shot down over Laos). Rosie and Eddie would have three more children: Bob, Linda (my mother, the only girl) and Kim. Eddie was a very involved father, spending hours drawing pictures with his children and telling them stories, though he was most known for his <a href="http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MagqBmjwVvA" target="_hplink">"thumb removal" trick</a>, which he performed to the terror and delight of children and grandchildren alike.
Eddie giving Rosemary a squeeze. She's wearing a homemade dress as they pose in the backyard of their house. It's likely that Jack took this picture.
Jack's Graduation Photo
Jack was a strong student and dominated the conversation at Pearce family dinners in high school with his funny stories and gentle teasing of his younger siblings.
Father And Son
Jack loved cars (and speeding -- in high school, he crashed his father's brand new two-door, red-roofed Plymouth Fury going over 100 miles an hour). While home on leave from Vietnam, Jack bought the yellow 1970 Camaro in this picture. After he signed up for a second tour of duty, he tried to bring his dream car back to the dealer -- he had barely gotten to drive it, and the odometer only read 1,700 miles. But when the car salesman learned that Jack was heading back to Vietnam, he only offered him half of what he bought it for. My Uncle Kim recalls that his older brother struggled with how soldiers were treated at home -- the first thing Jack saw upon reaching U.S. soil after his first tour of duty was a group of anti-war protestors burning the flag at the airport.
From Milford To Laos
A photograph of my grandmother, in tears, speaking about her son at a "Freedom Tree" Dedication Ceremony in Milford, PA, on October 13, 1973. Her husband wasn't there to see her; Eddie was halfway around the world in Laos. The following day, he was to witness the release of POW lists from the Royal Lao and Pathet Lao. In a letter to the editor of a POW publication, my Grandfather described the eerie significance the date held for him: <blockquote>I flew to Laos, at my own expense, to be present when the Royal Lao and Pathet Lao were going to release the list of POWs each side held. The date was October 14, 1973 -- 30 years to the day that I was shot down during WW II.</blockquote>
At the July, 1976 meeting of the National League of Families in Washington, my grandmother realized one of the files for a crewman on her son's plane contained a paper that was not in any of the 13 other missing mens' -- a DIA report stating that a rallier, or informer, witnessed the shoot down and reported that nine men were rescued from the crash by Lao villagers. When Rosemary requested that the document be copied, Air Force personnel denied her request and the paper's owner was then told the document had been removed from her son's file. After much fighting, the document was restored.
Protesting In Washington, D.C.
My mother (a freshman in college when this picture was taken) and her brother, Kim, at a POW/MIA protest in Washington. After Jack was declared MIA, My grandparents drove to the Capitol every weekend to participate in rallies and protest and were sometimes joined by their children.
Where is Edwin Jack Pearce?
My grandmother marching on JFK Plaza in the 1970s.
A (Mostly) Military Family
At the time Jack was shot down, three of the Pearce's four sons were serving in the military: Mike in the Navy in Spain and Bob in the Marines in Italy. Kim, the youngest (pictured here at a protest in Washington, D.C.) was not yet old enough to join. Kim never did join the military, and grew up to become a successful painter. After the death of his own child, Stacey, at age 18, he become known for his <a href="http://kimpearce.com/aboutartist/aboutartist.htm" target="_hplink">paintings memorializing people's loved ones</a>, which he gives as gifts to their grieving families.
Still In Love, 1993
My Grandparents In 1993, as I remember them.
'Father Always Hoped MIA Son Would Return'
At the time of my grandfather's death, Jack's fate was stil unknown. The local paper ran a three-page spread on his search for his son. Pictured: "An Extraordinary LIfe," <em>The Gazette</em>, January 13, 2006; Photo of my Grandmother,<a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/jessica-rotondi/mother-breast-cancer-awareness-more-than-pink_b_988029.html" target="_hplink"> mother</a> and Uncle Kim from Tree Dediction Ceremony, October 13, 1973; newspaper article on my Grandfather's October 1973 trip to Laos; my Grandmother's handwritten list of income from a 1974 bake sale to benefit The National League of Families; a photo of my grandparents in their backyard with <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/jessica-rotondi/mother-breast-cancer-awareness-more-than-pink_b_988029.html" target="_hplink">my mother, Linda</a>, and my <a href="http://kimpearce.com/" target="_hplink">Uncle Kim.</a>
'Don't Let Them Be Forgotten'
This is one of the many binders my Grandmother filled with images, pamphlets, clippings and statistics on men Missing in Action in Vietnam. Also pictured: Department of Defense Form 1300 listing Jack's status change from Missing In Action (MIA) to Killed In Action (KIA); postcards from my Grandfather to my Grandmother during his travels to Laos, Thailand and Vietnam; Program from October 1973 Tree Dedication Ceremony; A photograph of my Grandmother breaking down into tears at the 1973 ceremony as she speaks to the guests about her son.
Burial At Arlington
On June 17, 2010, the unidentified mixed remains of Jack's crew were brought to <a href="http://www.salem-news.com/articles/may272008/mia_recoveries_5-27-08.php" target="_hplink">Arlington National Cemetery</a> for a group burial. Jack's separate remains were interred next to his father's at a private ceremony in Milford, PA on September 20, 2008.
Rosemary Receives Jack's Medals at Arlington National Cemetery
Surviving family members at the June 17, 2010 ceremony at Arlington accepted medals and flags folded over the shared coffin during the ceremony. Here, my grandmother, age 84 and in a wheelchair, is presented with a flag and Jack's medals.
Together At Last
"I am fortunate to have lived a long life. It seems that most of my adult life has been spent searching for answers about Jack and hoping that he would come home and walk through my door. After thirty-six years, it is very difficult to accept the death of my son, but is is a comfort to know that he is finally been brought home and at rest with his father." -Rosemary Pearce