BLAIRMORE, Alta. - A candlelight vigil meant to lend hope and support in the search for a missing two-year-old girl dissolved in grief Tuesday night as RCMP informed the crowd that investigators had discovered human remains.
As an official with victims services announced the Amber Alert for little Hailey Dunbar-Blanchette had been cancelled, one young woman crashed into a friend's arms and sobbed. Others sniffed quietly and wiped away tears. Some just stood in stunned silence.
A group cocooned Hailey's grandmother in an embrace.
"This is the news that nobody wanted to hear,'' said Crowsnest Pass Mayor Blair Painter. "This is going to devastate our community and it's going to take us a long time to heal from this.''
RCMP confirmed in a news release that information they had received led them to what they believed to be Hailey's body in a rural area near Blairmore on Tuesday afternoon.
"The RCMP extends its deepest condolences to Hailey's family,'' said RCMP Supt. Tony Hamori. "This is a sad day for the citizens of Blairmore and all Canadians who have held this little girl in their thoughts and prayers since Monday.''
He said nothing much else could be said about the investigation at this point, "other than to thank the public and the media for helping us find Hailey.''
Hailey had been abducted early Monday morning from the town of Blairmore, 220 km southwest of Calgary, by someone driving a speeding white van.
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Her father, Terry Blanchette, 27, was found dead in their home and police believe his death was a homicide.
Mounties have a 22-year-old suspect in custody. Supt. Tony Hamori said the name of the man, a resident of Blairmore who was arrested there on Tuesday, wouldn't be released until charges had been laid.
Blanchette was described by friends and family as a devoted single father who shared custody of Hailey with his former girlfriend, Cheyenne Dunbar, who lives in Edmonton.
He worked as a cook in a restaurant and had many criminal convictions between 2010 and 2012 for issues such as failing to appear in court, failing to stop his vehicle, evading police, minor theft and assault.
But after Hailey was born, there were no more court appearances. Blanchette's Facebook posts switched from talk of court dates to pictures of him with his baby daughter.
Neighbour Angela Mathieson said Blanchette loved being a father.
"He was taking good care of her. There was always laughing and giggling going on over there.''
Hamori said Dunbar was co-operating with investigators.
"Police have been speaking with her and obviously, at this point in time, followup investigation is going to be done on all information we receive.''
Tuesday night's vigil had started out with a group wearing yellow arm bands talking about searching the nearby woods together for Hailey.
Candles and stuffed animals covered a picnic table by a playground just around the corner from the home where Hailey had lived.
A group sang a reworked version of the old spiritual "Kumbaya''—"A girl is missing, my Lord, Kumbaya ... bring her back to us, Kumbaya.''
A pink sign with "please bring our baby Hailey home safe'' hung on the park's gate, a single teddy bear affixed to it.
The news swept across social media, prompting an outpouring of sadness from across the country.
"My heart is broke, can't stop crying,'' Cathy Hollahan posted to a Facebook page called "Let's Bring Hailey Home Safe.'' "RIP, my darling.''