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Loretta Saunders, seen in this undated police handout photo, has been missing since Feb. 13. (The Canadian Press)
Loretta Saunders, seen in this undated police handout photo, has been missing since Feb. 13. (The Canadian Press)

Family hoping to raise reward for information about missing criminology student Add to ...

Delilah Terriak is convinced her sister, Loretta Saunders, is alive. “I can feel her out there,” says the 21-year-old. “I can feel her. We all can.”

It is nearly two weeks, however, since Ms. Saunders, a 26-year-old Saint Mary’s University criminology student, was last seen or heard from.

Police found her car – a blue Toyota Celica, with the distinctively loud muffler – in Southern Ontario just days after she went missing. They have charged two people in connection with the theft of the car and use of her debit card.

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But so far, no one knows where Ms. Saunders is.

Tuesday night, more than 100 people gathered at a vigil for Ms. Saunders in Halifax’s Grand Parade square. Some of her classmates were thereas was Diana Garnier, who didn’t know her at all, but wanted to show her support as a “fellow Newfoundlander.” Holding candles and trying to keep warm, the group sang Amazing Grace – one of Ms. Saunders’s favourite songs. Her brother James was emotional throughout the event, holding up a handwritten sign that read Bring Home Daddy’s Girl. Below that was a picture of her and her father, Clayton.

A donation bin was passed around. The family is hoping to raise money for a reward – her brother Edmund had mentioned $20,000 – for information about his sister.

“We have had our ups and downs,” Ms. Terriak told a news conference earlier Tuesday. “We are not breaking. We are too strong. We are too strong to let this break us because we are getting her home. We are going to find her.”

On Valentine’s Day, Ms. Terriak’s usually chatty older sister sent her a surprisingly brief text – “Hey” was all it said. Then there was silence.

And Ms. Saunders’s boyfriend, Yalcin Surkultay, who was also at the news conference, was one of the last people to see her. She left his apartment on Thursday morning – the day before Valentine’s Day – and was heading to her Halifax apartment to collect rent that was owed her.

Later that night, according to reports, there were some curious text messages sent from her phone, suggesting she was locked out of her online banking and was having trouble remembering her mother’s maiden name.

The two who are charged – Blake Leggette, 25, and Victoria Henneberry, 28 – were subletting from Ms. Saunders. They were arrested near Windsor, Ont., and sent back to Halifax. Ms. Henneberry is to be in Halifax provincial court on Thursday.

However, the family was in court Tuesday morning, hoping to see Mr. Leggette, who was to appear on his charges. Instead, his lawyer showed up and a bail hearing was set for Friday.

“Everybody was disappointed that he wasn’t even in the courtroom. That was really frustrating,” said Cheryl Maloney, with the Nova Scotia Native Women’s Association. She said she is acting as an advocate for the family. “There was just part of us that wanted to see him see us. To see our pain, I guess.”

The missing woman is Inuk, from a close-knit family in Newfoundland and Labrador. There are eight siblings. Ms. Terriak flew from British Columbia, where she has been working at a resort for just a month, to search for her sister. Her eldest brother, Edmund, 37, a diamond driller in Labrador, and another brother, James, 24, are also in Halifax as is an uncle from Montreal and some of her friends.

Ms. Saunders had been living in Halifax for the past three years, studying for an honours degree in Criminology.

Ironically, just two weeks before she went missing, she met with her thesis adviser, Professor Darryl Leroux, to talk about her proposed thesis – she wanted to research and write about murdered and missing indigenous women in Canada, focusing on three from Nova Scotia.

He said she told him that she had been “personally impacted by the issue.” He didn’t probe. But Mr. Leroux added that she had talked enthusiastically about going on with her studies and sharing her research with other indigenous youth women and girls.

Dr. Leroux said he burst into tears Tuesday, thinking about his student and her passion for what she wanted to do. “To me knowing her personally and seeing how driven she was … when I think about her and what she wants to do, it just becomes heavier knowing the way in which forms of violence work against indigenous women, in particular.”

As for her family, they say they are hurting and miss her terribly. “She would want us to do this with strength and composure and to bring her home safe,” says her sister, Ms. Terriak.

With a report from The Canadian Press

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