ST. JOHN'S, N.L. — Police believe Cortney Lake — the young Newfoundland mother whose disappearance generated an outpouring of concern — was murdered.
The Royal Newfoundland Constabulary said Friday they have identified "people of interest" in the apparent death, which is now being treated as a homicide.
Const. Geoff Higdon said new footage from a vehicle's dash-cam shows her getting into a black GMC truck near her home in Mount Pearl at 7:54 p.m. on June 7. Video shows her walking along a sidewalk, and then stopping and getting into the vehicle before it swings around and heads in the opposite direction.
Earlier surveillance camera footage showed her walking alone down a street nearby at about 7:50 p.m. Her social media and cellphone were not used after that.
"Information thus far has led investigators to believe that Cortney Lake was murdered and investigators have identified people of interest, but we will not be providing any information on who may be involved or how they may be involved," Higdon said Friday.
Police say they believe Lake, 24, was driven to a secluded, wooded area close to the residential neighbourhood where she was picked up, but do not know where that may be.
Family members issued an emotional statement soon after police announced the grim development.
"Our hearts are forever broken," relatives said in a statement. "Cortney has been taken from us in the worst way imaginable. We are horrified and devastated as we think of what her last moments on this earth might have been."
Police asking for information
The RNC is asking anyone who may have surveillance cameras to review their footage for any sign of the truck or Lake. They say the truck has a distinctive Browning camouflage deer head decal in the passenger side of the back window.
Higdon said people who may have spotted the truck after 7:54 p.m. should also notify police.
"Investigators have received dozens of calls from the public with information, which has been extremely helpful in establishing the timeline around Lake's disappearance. Information has also led to a significant amount of evidence that has led investigators to believe that Lake was murdered," police said in a release.
Higdon said investigators seized a similar looking truck from an home on Alice Drive earlier this week, but wouldn't confirm if there's a connection to the Lake case. There have been reports that Lake's ex-boyfriend, Philip Steven Smith, lives in the home. He is in custody pending a bail hearing on a list of breaches.
We hope justice is swift and strong, imposing the harshest punishment possible to the person(s) responsible for her death.Family of Cortney Lake
When asked if there was a danger to the public, Higdon said it appeared to be an isolated incident.
Lake's disappearance captivated social media, spurred appeals from her family for information and prompted people to hold several vigils. Police created the hashtag #HelpFindCortney and distributed images of her at an Esso station in St. John's, where she made a purchase and then left earlier in the day on June 7. The force also tweeted a photo of her that people could use as their profile pictures in order to expand their search for Lake, who has a six-year-old boy.
The family said they would not rest until Lake is found.
"We need to be able to say goodbye in a way that is fitting for our beautiful girl. It is difficult beyond anything we have ever experienced to know that she has left this earth — but we also know that her beautiful soul is shining with a light that could never be extinguished by the evil act of a murderer," they said.
"We hope justice is swift and strong, imposing the harshest punishment possible to the person(s) responsible for her death."
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