NATUASHISH, N.L. - A body recovered on sea ice along Labrador's remote northern coast is that of James Poker, a teenaged boy reported missing 10 days ago, an Innu leader confirmed Thursday.
Family members identified the 17-year-old as his body was recovered Wednesday about 30 kilometres from Natuashish, the community formerly known as Davis Inlet, Chief Gregory Rich said in an interview.
Rich said residents are mourning the death of a sweet, kind young man.
"If you met him on the road, he would give you a thumb's up and wave at you. Usually he called me Mr. Chief," Rich said. "'How are you, Mr. Chief?' he says to me, with a big smile on his face."
RCMP Cpl. Rick Mills said the body was being flown to St. John's for an autopsy as early as Friday morning.
The crew of an aircraft flying near Davis Inlet on Wednesday spotted what appeared to be a body on the ice and notified police.
Poker was reported missing from Natuashish on Feb. 16. Searchers scoured the region by air and on the ground for any sign of him, with no luck.
Rich said Poker was on foot and it's not known why he wound up so far from the community.
The boy's father, Thomas Poker, said in an interview that his son went to live with relatives as a baby after he and the child's mother broke up.
He said James later spent six years in foster care in Ontario until he was 16.
Thomas Poker said he tried to welcome James but his son didn't feel at home after so many years away. He often preferred to stay at the local youth shelter.
He said his son had recently struggled with undiagnosed mental health issues and was hearing voices, but there are few support services nearby.
He said James twice visited Hopedale, about 80 kilometres south down the coast from Natuashish, by boat in September and November.
His son's friends have mentioned that he talked of walking to the community, that maybe he wanted to see someone there and tried to make it on foot.
Chief Rich said Poker would drop by his office sometimes to chat.
"Our main talk was to further his education and find something to do after he graduated," Rich recalled. "He visited a lot of people in the community and that's how people got to love him."
He said Poker loved hanging out with friends, joking around and listening to music. He'd often see him at the recreation centre in the small community of about 900 people.
Ruby Rich said her young cousin will always be in her heart. James would often drop by her house for a laugh and a meal, she said from Natuashish.
She said he'd always tell her: "I'll see you later, okay?"
Chief Rich said he's satisfied the search for the boy, though at times hampered by winter weather, was thorough.
—By Sue Bailey in St. John's, N.L.
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