A search for a missing young hockey player that brought hundreds of volunteers into the streets of Winnipeg has ended in tragedy, with the discovery of a concealed body and the laying of a second-degree murder charge.
Danny Smyth, Deputy Chief of Winnipeg Police Service said in a press conference Sunday that a body believed to be that of 17-year-old Cooper Nemeth was found hidden in a bin not far from where he was last seen alive, leaving a house party a week ago.
The disappearance of Mr. Nemeth, a popular player with the River East Marauders, triggered a massive search, with volunteers walking back alleys and going from yard to yard in the city hoping to find him.
"It is with sadness that I'm here to report that a body was discovered on property on Bayne Crescent, not far from the party where Cooper was last seen. Investigators believe this is Cooper's body although this still needs to be confirmed by medical examiners," said Mr. Smyth.
"On behalf of the Police Service our thoughts and prayers go out to the Nemeth family," he said. "Based on the preliminary examination of the injuries on Cooper's body, investigators believe he was murdered. Investigators also believe that Cooper's body was concealed in a sheltered area of the property on Bayne Crescent."
Mr. Smyth said Nicholas Bell-Wright, 22, who had been questioned last week about the disappearance of Mr. Nemeth, was arrested at 4 a.m. Sunday, after he was found in a stolen car. He was charged with second-degree murder.
Mr. Smyth said the investigation is ongoing and declined to go into details, but did give a hint of motive, saying there appeared to be a drug connection to the case.
"I don't know exactly what happened but I think it's fair to say this is drug related," he said. "I want to be sensitive to the investigation and that kind of detail will come out in due course."
Mr. Nemeth has been described by one of his coaches, Bradley Rochelle, 19, as "a funny guy" who was a pleasure to be around in the dressing room.
"High-spirited, he's a good hockey player, he's polite," Mr. Rochelle told local media as he took part in the search last week.
Mr. Nemeth's family, who had been thanking volunteers for their efforts throughout the week, gave the first hint the search had ended in tragedy when Laresa Sayles, his aunt, sent out a tweet at 2 a.m. Sunday.
"There will be no search tomorrow," she wrote. "There will be a release from the family in the next few days. Thank you."
She followed that with a tweet of a photo of Mr. Nemeth in his hockey gear, with the simple message: "#ripcip".
Cip was Mr. Nemeth's nickname.
The family had earlier told media that Mr. Nemeth had had "a tough year" after being diagnosed with ADHD, depression and anxiety.
During the week, the family issued public pleas for him to come home.
Mr. Smyth said the first big break in the case came Friday after homicide investigators joined what had been treated as a missing person's case up until then.
"When the homicide unit became involved they started to re-interview many of the witnesses that had first provided information, and they just found some inconsistencies in the information and really started to dig," said Mr. Smyth.
He thanked members of the Winnipeg Police Service for pouring themselves into the investigation and praised volunteers.
"Throughout the week, hundreds of people came together and mobilized throughout the city in an effort to help. It was a remarkable effort," he said. "This is not the outcome that anyone wanted and our hearts go out to the Nemeth family."
Constable Eric Hofley said the show of public support meant a lot to the police officers who worked long hours trying to find out what happened to Mr. Nemeth.
"We saw hundreds and hundreds of volunteers out each day looking for Cooper. These are family, friends, teammates. These were people that didn't know the family but understood the grief that they were going through. … Time and time again we see this in our city and we are so thankful for it," he said.
Mitch Bourbonniere, a member of the Bear Clan, a citizens' street-patrol group that joined the search, said confirmation of Mr. Cooper's death came as a blow. But he was relieved at least the family now knows what happened.
"Of course, Cooper became a focus of ours this week, but there's a lot of missing indigenous women, youth that are missing, men that are still missing," said Mr. Bourbonniere. "We see the agony of the families that don't know. The worst thing for us is to meet with a family that week after week, month after month, year after year doesn't know where their loved one is."