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'Women are sacred': N.B. community honours murdered teen

Members from the Esgenoopetitj First Nation in New Brunswick marched to a monument site Wednesday morning to remember one of their own.

Members from the Esgenoopetitj First Nation in New Brunswick marching to the monument site in honour of Hilary Bonnell on October 4, 2023. (Derek Haggett/CTV Atlantic)

A memorial ceremony and monument unveiling was held to honour Hilary Bonnell who was murdered fourteen years ago in the community she grew up in.

The 16-year-old disappeared on Sept. 5, 2009 after attending a house party.

Two months later, her body was found and her cousin Curtis Bonnell was eventually found guilty of first-degree murder.

Hilary's disappearance and death devastated the community, especially her mother Pam, who passed away in February.

Pam's sister Erica Augustine organized the event and said Hilary will never be forgotten.

"Hilary was more than just a victim. She was a daughter, a sister, a friend and a treasured member of our community," said Augustine. "We acknowledge the families in communities who bare the weight of their absence every day. My sister Pam was never the same after she lost Hilary. But her strength and resilience throughout this journey inspires me."

While the day was for Hilary, the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls' movement was a powerful presence at the ceremony.

Elder and family member Jeannie Bartibogue asked men in the community to stand up from now on and start supporting and helping women.

"You forget who brought you here and who brings you into this life. Women are sacred. They're not to be taken advantage of in any way, means or form," said Bartibogue. "Enough is enough. One stolen sister is enough."

Bartibogue pleaded with the crowd to stand up do something if they see any violence against women.

"This didn't have to happen to her. She was only 16-years-old," said Bartibogue.

The memorial site was chosen because it was the last place Hilary was seen alive.

It was a difficult day for Hilary's step-father Fred Fillier who is mourning the loss of two women in his family.

He said Hilary's ashes were on his wife's nightstand for 14 years.

"Now Pam is on our nightstand as well.”

Fillier said the monument was years in the making and he is relieved it was finally unveiled, but it didn't bring him any closure.

A phot of the memorial site to honour Hilary Bonnell who was murdered fourteen years ago. (Derek Haggett/CTV Atlantic)

"No. I miss them dearly. That was my family and half of them are gone. It's only Frederick (his so) and I in the house now and it's not the same," said Fillier.

He called the ceremony a "humbling, beautiful experience" and it reminded him of when the community came together to search for Hillary.

Childhood friend Alanna Mitchell described what Hilary was like.

"She was energetic, she was outgoing. She was a lot of things.... a lot of positive things," said Mitchell. "She just had this light to her. She was this caring person with this big heart. She was so not afraid of the world."

A horrible tragedy, but a positive day for a community still in mourning.

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