11/12/2014 10:52 EST | Updated 01/12/2015 05:59 EST

Rinelle Harper Beating Suspects Also Charged In Second Attack

WINNIPEG - Police have charged two young men with a pair of violent sexual assaults, including one on an aboriginal teenage girl, and say they will take a closer look at whether the suspects had anything to do with the death of another First Nations teen last summer.

The two suspects, who are 20 and 17, face several charges, including attempted murder, in the attack on 16-year-old Grade 11 student Rinelle Harper, who was beaten Friday night and left for dead on a walking trail along the Assiniboine River in downtown Winnipeg.

They also face aggravated sexual assault charges in a second attack that same night on a 23-year-old woman.

Police Supt. Danny Smyth said the two will come under closer scrutiny as police continue to look for 15-year-old Tina Fontaine's killer. Her body was wrapped in plastic and dumped in the Red River in August. Her death has renewed calls for a federal inquiry on missing and murdered aboriginal women.

"We don't have any information right now that would suggest these men were involved with the Tina Fontaine investigation," Smyth told a news conference Wednesday. "That being said, we really had little, if any, contact with these men before this. We will certainly take a closer look at them now."

Police say Rinelle was out with friends Friday night when she got separated from her group.

She met two males who struck up a conversation with her, Smyth said. The three of them walked to the Assiniboine River where the girl was attacked and ended up in the frigid water.

"Rinelle managed to crawl out of the river a short distance away upstream and she was attacked a second time ... and left unconscious and essentially left for dead on the riverwalk," Smyth said.

She was found by a passerby the next morning and was taken to hospital in critical condition. She has been upgraded to stable and her family says she is recovering.

Police say the second woman was attacked a short time later.

Again, the attackers struck up a conversation with the woman and then turned on her in an alley near a public pool, Smyth said. She was sexually assaulted, beaten with a weapon and left unconscious. Police were called shortly before dawn.

Fred Harper, Rinelle's grandfather, said the family is "really happy" arrests have been made. The violence and brutality of the attack has left them reeling.

"It has been very disturbing to experience that kind of crime — being beaten up, alone to die — it makes us feel really hurt. For somebody to do that to another individual ..." he said, his voice trailing off. "She has a very long life ahead of her. It will be hard for her to live on because of the experience she's had."

If anyone can do it, Harper said it's his granddaughter. She is a very strong, courageous girl, he said. While she was being attacked, Harper said she would have been thinking "I'm going to make it. I'm going to make it."

"She will not give up," he said in an interview shortly after arriving in Winnipeg Wednesday.

Rinelle is originally from the Garden Hill First Nation and has been living in Winnipeg for two years while attending Southeast Collegiate. The high school for aboriginal students issued a statement saying staff and students are "trying to come to terms with this horrific assault on one of our own."

The school said Rinelle, like any other student, was looking forward to a long weekend after completing her mid-terms. She left the collegiate with her parents Friday "for a much deserved rest," the statement said

"We are extremely thankful of the remarkable progress she has made since Saturday. We are wishing her a speedy recovery and hope she returns to school soon."

Justin James Hudson, 20, along with a 17-year-old male who can't be named, are charged with attempted murder, aggravated sexual assault and sexual assault with a weapon.

Court documents show Hudson pleaded guilty to drug possession last year and was fined $200. He is also facing charges laid in August of possessing stolen property.

Victims of sexual assault are not usually identified, but police took the step of releasing Rinelle's name, with the permission of her parents, to "humanize" her and to ask for anyone with information related to her attack to come forward. The public response was overwhelming, Smyth said.

Police were also able to watch surveillance video from a number of cameras in the area, he said.

"Some of the camera footage was used to piece together the timeline."

Fontaine had been in the city less than a month and had run away from foster care. Her body, wrapped in plastic, was found in the Red River on Aug. 17, just over a week after she had been reported missing.

Police haven't said how she died but are treating her death as a homicide.

No arrests have been made.