24 August 1973 (age 17)
25 November 1990 (aged 17), Saskatoon, Canada
Helen Betty Osborne, John Joseph Harper, Murder of Tina Fontaine
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Neil Stonechild (August 24, 1973 – November 25, 1990) was a Saulteaux First Nations teenager who died of hypothermia. There were accusations that the Saskatoon Police Service may have taken him to the northwest section of the city and abandoned him in a field on a night when temperatures were below −28 °C (−18 °F). The practice is known as a starlight tour, and a number of such cases in Saskatoon area have been referred to collectively as the Saskatoon freezing deaths.
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Stonechild was an accomplished wrestler, having won a bantamweight provincial title in Saskatchewan. On the night of his disappearance, he was the subject of a Canada-wide warrant for his arrest on a charge of being Unlawfully At Large from a community home.
Stonechild's friend Jason Roy was with Stonechild the night of his death. When first interviewed by the police in 1990, Roy stated that he had "blacked out" shortly after he and Stonechild had parted company. In 2000, however, Roy stated that the last time he saw Stonechild alive was shortly before midnight, that Stonechild was handcuffed in the back of a police cruiser with a cut on his face, and that the last words Stonechild said to him were, "Jay, help me. They're going to kill me."
When first interviewed by the police in 1990, 5 days after Stonechild's disappearance, Roy provided a handwritten, signed statement stating that he and Stonechild had drunk most of a 40-ounce bottle of vodka between them. Roy also stated that he and Stonechild had parted company at "about 1130 pm", and that he had "blacked out" and had no recollection of what happened after he and Stonechild separated that night. In 2000, however, Roy stated that the last time he saw Stonechild alive, Stonechild was handcuffed in the back of a police cruiser "gushing blood" from a cut on his face, and that the last words Stonechild said to him were "Jay, help me. They're going to kill me." Jason Roy's family was ultimately put into an RCMP witness protection program.
Roy also stated that he had given the police officers a false name – Tracy Lee Horse – when they questioned him.
Shortly after talking to Jason Roy, Constable Brad Senger and Larry Hartwig encountered Neil Stonechild's cousin, Bruce Genaille, and questioned him on suspicion that he was Stonechild. In 2003, Genaille told the inquiry that there had been nobody in the back of the cruiser at the time.
At 11:56 p.m. on November 24, 1990, Constable Brad Senger performed a query on the Canadian Police Information Centre (CPIC) computer system for the names "Tracy Horse" and Tracy Lee Horse", the false name provided by Jason Roy. Three minutes later, at 11:59 p.m., Constable Senger performed a CPIC query for the name “Neil Stonechild". Five minutes later, at 12:04 a.m., November 25, 1990, Constable Hartwig conducted a CPIC query of the name “Bruce Genaille”. Genaille testified at the Wright inquiry that there had been nobody in the back of the cruiser when Hartwig and Senger questioned him.
His body was found, with one shoe missing, on November 29 by two construction workers. In the initial investigation of his death, the Saskatoon police determined that there was no foul play. Ten years later, however, his companion on November 24/25, Jason Roy, said Stonechild had been in police custody. Roy said he had seen his friend in the back of a police cruiser. In 2000 the Royal Canadian Mounted Police investigated Stonechild's death and the deaths of other First Nations individuals thought to have been in police custody.
In 2003, the Saskatchewan provincial government held a Commission of Inquiry (the Wright Inquiry) into Stonechild's death. The report concluded that Stonechild had been picked up by the police shortly before he died on the outskirts of the city. The inquest reported that the office did record the interaction in their log books. It concluded that marks on Stonechild's wrists and on his nose could have been caused by handcuffs. The report also concluded that relations between the police and First Nations are problematic. However, the inquiry found that at the time of the death the police investigation was not adequate to conclude what the circumstances were surrounding Neil Stonechild's death. The inquiry concluded on May 19, 2004.
Following the inquest, police officers Larry Hartwig and Brad Senger were fired. It was appealed but the firings were upheld.
In 2015, author Candis McLean published "When Police Become Prey: The Cold Hard Facts of Neil Stonechild's Freezing Death", which presented evidence to exonerate the police officers involved in the case. A book signing that would have coincided with the 25th anniversary of Stonechild's death was cancelled.