A First Nations woman from Nova Scotia missing for more than three months has been found alive in Tennessee.
Chrisma Denny, 24, left Canada in late August and was last seen in Tennessee on Sept. 19. Concern for her well-being increased as the months passed and she didn't make contact with her family. More than 1,000 indigenous women in Canada have been murdered or have gone missing over the past 30 years, and her family feared Ms. Denny might never be heard from again. But Cape Breton Regional Police announced she had been located "alive and well" early Sunday morning, around 1 a.m., by police in Knoxville, Tenn.
Ms. Denny's aunt, Elaine Denny, said Chrisma was in good spirits and had told family members by phone that she wanted to come home to Canada.
"She's doing very well," Elaine Denny said. "We're very happy. There's a lot of relief. We were just wondering and wondering if she was okay."
Ms. Denny was found at a women's shelter in the Knoxville area, her aunt said. The Denny family was meeting Sunday night, as was the Eskasoni band's chief and council, to plan Ms. Denny's homecoming. She doesn't have a passport and crossed the border carrying only her First Nation status card, Elaine Denny said. It's possible she'll travel to the nearest border crossing at Bangor, Me., where a family member could meet her with identification and help her across, or she may be allowed to travel directly to Cape Breton if it can be arranged with authorities, her aunt said.
Chrisma has been known to travel on her own, but never as far or for as long as this, her aunt said. She last saw her niece sitting on a bench outside the trading post on a gorgeous summer day in late August, she said, and they said hello and chatted for a few minutes as they always did.
Police, though, had information that Ms. Denny was in the Knoxville area at a shelter for women roughly four months ago.The Cape Breton Regional Police Service and the RCMP followed up on that lead earlier this month, sending officers to Knox County to meet with local law enforcement. Lacking new leads on where she might have gone from there, Canadian investigators returned from the United States on Dec. 5.
One of the last people to have seen Ms. Denny was Deputy Sheriff Keith Smith in Alabama's DeKalb County. Deputy Sheriff Smith had been called by an attendant at a rest stop along Alabama's Interstate 59, who had become concerned by the young woman who had been there for the better part of 24 hours, and was now asleep, slumped in a chair.
Ms. Denny, who had not yet been declared missing, seemed exhausted but was coherent, the officer said. She had no belongings to speak of, showed no signs of physical harm and said nothing about being in danger.
Deputy Sheriff Smith listened as the woman explained what led her to this part of Alabama: Back in Nova Scotia, a truck driver asked if she would like to join him on his route to Birmingham. She had agreed, and the pair made their way south until the driver abandoned her, just an hour-and-a-half from their destination.
Deputy Sheriff Smith, who spoke to The Globe and Mail before Ms. Denny was located, said he told her, "There's got to be somebody who's worried about you. Give me a number, I'll call for you.
"She said things like, 'My phone is dead' … She just wasn't interested in calling anybody."
He fed her sandwiches he snagged from the jail and gave her $10 in change he culled from his car's cup-holder. He tried to find a shelter that would take her in the middle of the night – he must have called 30 or 40 of them, he said. He gave her a blanket and let her sleep on an office bench. That was the last he saw of her.
Posters of Ms. Denny's face were affixed to rest-stop windows – a Petro Stopping Centre and a Flying J – at a major exit near where she was last seen.
Deputy Sheriff Smith said the RCMP, which spoke to him about his dealings with Ms. Denny, told him they understand she was transported by Dade authorities to Tennessee's Hamilton County. From there, she ended up in Knox County.