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.