AGONY THE SAME... ONLY DIF­FER­ENT

It’s well past time for some un­com­fort­able ques­tions while Christine Wood’s an­guished par­ents wait for an­swers

Winnipeg Free Press - Section D - - UPCLOSE - BY MELISSA MARTIN

PAR­ENTS are al­ways there, in the news. Of­ten they are out of the frame, off to one side, im­plied by the shape of a story but not vis­i­ble. An ac­ci­dent, a tri­umph, a crime: em­bed­ded in these are ev­ery hope and fear par­ents have for their chil­dren.

It’s harder to watch when they’re right there, in the mid­dle of the pic­ture. Of­ten, that’s when some­thing has gone ter­ri­bly wrong. A par­ent’s tears de­scribe night­mares most of us can’t bear to imag­ine: an ab­sence and unan­swered ques­tions.

No­body wants to have ques­tions about their child they can­not an­swer. So as Ge­orge and Melinda Wood sat in front of the cam­eras this week, hold­ing up a pic­ture of their daugh­ter, their plea was one that ev­ery par­ent can feel in their gut. The plea does not need many words to fully ex­press its depth. “Christine, if you can hear me, please come home,” Melinda Wood said, sob­bing, shoul­ders shak­ing. “Come home, please, Christine... please, come home.” Be­fore all else, here is what we need to know: Christine Wood is 21 years old. She stands about five-foot-six and has brown hair. In pho­tos dis­trib­uted to me­dia, she has lively dark eyes and a wide smile that makes her cheeks glow. The last time her fam­ily saw her, on Aug. 19, she was car­ry­ing a white purse. She was wear­ing a green shirt with denim shorts, and a red Adi­das jacket with stripes; her clothes may have changed since then. But that’s the last her par­ents know. Then Christine walked out of her fam­ily’s ho­tel room near Sar­gent Av­enue and Berry Street on that Fri­day night, some­one must have seen her. The hope is that one of those peo­ple will re­mem­ber. When peo­ple van­ish, time is crit­i­cal. Mem­o­ries fade quickly. If we hap­pened to no­tice a young woman with a white purse on a Fri­day night, we might still re­mem­ber that on Tues­day morn­ing, es­pe­cially if a news head­line jogs our mem­ory. But as the days pass that mem­ory will prob­a­bly be gone, dis­carded into the cog­ni­tive trash can where our minds reg­u­larly de­clut­ter.

It’s not just the mind’s eye, either. Se­cu­rity cam­era video is of­ten erased over time.

At the time of this writ­ing, Christine Wood has been miss­ing for al­most ex­actly three weeks. It is pos­si­ble that by the time this story is printed, she will have been found, hope­fully safe and sound. That end­ing does hap­pen some­times.

I tried to un­der­stand how her dis­ap­pear­ance was re­ported. And un­der the hum­ble in­struc­tion that we should first mind the plank in our own eye be­fore point­ing to the speck in our brother’s, we can iden­tify in our own pages how this story un­folded.

The first story the Free Press ran about Christine’s dis­ap­pear­ance was on Aug. 26, a week af­ter she van­ished. The sec­ond one came 11 days later, the same day that Melinda and Ge­orge Wood sat down for that heart­break­ing press con­fer­ence.

A quick sur­vey of other Win­nipeg me­dia out­let web­sites showed al­most ex­actly the same pat­tern. One TV sta­tion also ran its first story on Aug. 26, and its sec­ond on Sept. 6. An­other one ran its first story two weeks af­ter Christine first went miss­ing.

With an ur­gency gen­er­ated by the tears of her par­ents, all these out­lets have since ramped up cov­er­age. This week, the ef­forts to find Christine were re­ported in de­tail; her name and photo be­gan to spread fur­ther across so­cial me­dia.

Still, it’s hard to avoid notic­ing how this pat­tern con­trasts with other re­cent miss­ing-per­sons cases in Win­nipeg. When Cooper Nemeth van­ished on the night of Feb. 13, lo­cal me­dia spent most of the next week re­port­ing the search in in­ten­sive and ex­haust­ing de­tail. The same is true of the dis­ap­pear­ance of Thelma Krull.

That is a good thing, to be clear. When peo­ple go miss­ing, it is right that the city should be plas­tered with their in­for­ma­tion. There are count­less cases where some­one was found be­cause of me­dia cov­er­age. Some­times, the mem­ory of a news story can help find them even months or years af­ter they van­ished, as was the case with El­iz­a­beth Smart.

Nor is this meant as a sim­ple in­dict­ment. Many fac­tors de­ter­mine what gets cov­er­age, and how much. These de­ci­sions are not made in a vac­uum: we in the me­dia may point pub­lic at­ten­tion in cer­tain di­rec­tions, but we also take cues from where the pub­lic is look­ing. If there is wide­spread in­ter­est in a story, re­sources tend to be in­vested ac­cord­ingly.

When peo­ple go miss­ing, cir­cum­stances vary widely. So in all of these com­par­isons, there is some rea­son­able ex­pla­na­tion as to why they rose so quickly to promi­nence where oth­ers did not. Nemeth, for in­stance, had a wide net­work of friends and team­mates, young and so­cial-me­dia savvy; they flooded dig­i­tal and asphalt streets on a mis­sion to find him.

Still, these ex­pla­na­tions can con­ceal a more pointed ques­tion. We can un­der­stand why Krull’s dis­ap­pear­ance shocked the city, even be­fore po­lice re­vealed the most alarm­ing ev­i­dence. It is ter­ri­fy­ing when a mid­dle-aged grand­mother goes out for a morn­ing walk in a quiet sub­ur­ban neigh­bour­hood and doesn’t come home.

But why is that same ex­pec­ta­tion of safety not ex­tended as quickly to Christine Wood? Why, when she walked out of a ho­tel room and did not re­turn, when she sud­denly dropped out of con­tact with the par­ents she al­ways called or texted, was this not met with the same im­me­di­ate and city­wide rush of worry and at­ten­tion?

Those are rhetor­i­cal ques­tions; I have my an­swers. It is likely the same rea­son that most me­dia out­lets in Win­nipeg re­ported Tina Fontaine’s dis­ap­pear­ance just once, five days af­ter she was last seen in Au­gust 2014. Her name and im­age was not fea­tured again un­til her body was car­ried out of the river.

Tina’s killing spurred one of the most hon­est reck­on­ings with race and inequal­ity that Win­nipeg has yet seen. That reck­on­ing can­not be com­plete with­out ac­knowl­edg­ing this: we cared most about sav­ing Tina only af­ter we knew that she could not be saved. This child was more vis­i­ble to us crum­pled in a garbage bag than when she might have still been alive.

Canada is haunted by the mem­o­ries of van­ished and mur­dered in­dige­nous women. It’s im­pos­si­ble to know whether any, or how many, might have been saved if mass pub­lic vig­i­lance had been more fo­cused and timely. It could be at least one. It would only need to be one, to make it all worth it. That means one set of par­ents who would have their an­swers.

For Christine Wood, I ache for a hap­pier end­ing. There is hope. Bear Clan is out in full force to find her, and her story is now widely known. So look at her face. Take note of her sit­u­a­tion. Ask your friends and neigh­bours if they re­mem­ber see­ing any­thing strange, or any­one who might fit her de­scrip­tion. Let’s help bring this beloved daugh­ter home.

WAYNE GLOWACKI / WIN­NIPEG FREE PRESS

Ge­orge and Melinda Wood, par­ents of Christine Wood make an ur­gent plea Tues­day to the pub­lic for their miss­ing 21-year-old daugh­ter.

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