On a warm September day, Chelsea Poorman travelled from her home in Burnaby to visit her mom and sister in Vancouver. They planned to go for dinner, but at the last minute Chelsea’s mom decided not to go.
“I thought, they’ll probably have more fun without me,” Sheila Poorman told The Tyee. “So I just let them go and have sister time.”
Chelsea and her sister, Paige Kiernan, headed to Granville Street, a few blocks away from the rental building in the Downtown Eastside where Sheila and Paige live together. After dinner, they visited a friend of Paige’s who lives at Granville and Drake streets.
Around midnight, Chelsea left the friend’s apartment without telling Paige where she was going. Later, she sent her sister a message saying she’d met “a new bae.” It would be the last time her sister saw or heard from her.
“I was trying to keep in contact with both of them, and then Paige phoned,” said Sheila, who works as a support worker with Lu’ma Native Housing Society. “She said she didn’t know where Chelsea was.”
Chelsea had gone missing before. The 24-year-old woman had moved from Regina to Burnaby in July and was living with her boyfriend, with plans of going back to school. But shortly after Chelsea arrived in the city, Sheila and Paige weren’t able to reach her for five days.
They reported her missing, but then Chelsea got back in touch with Sheila: she’d lost her phone, she said, and hadn’t been able to reach them.
When Chelsea went missing for a second time, Sheila had a feeling that this time it was different. The last time Sheila and Paige saw Chelsea was Sept. 6; on Sept. 8, Sheila contacted the Vancouver Police Department to report Chelsea missing.
“When I did make the missing person report, Paige and I both kind of felt that this time it was different. Like something was wrong,” Sheila said. “We kind of had that intuition.”
Seven months later, Sheila and Paige are still searching for Chelsea. They’ve raised money to offer a $10,000 reward and have hired a private investigator, but so far no credible tips have come in. The family is attempting to fundraise to increase the award to $20,000 and has organized a vigil walk from Granville and Davie streets to Victory Square on Friday afternoon.
Sheila said she wasn’t happy with the police response when she first reported her daughter missing. She questions why police waited 10 days, until Sept. 18, to put out a press release about Chelsea.
“They just didn’t seem like they were too interested in looking for Chelsea. At one point the police officers told my one daughter that they had more important things to do,” Sheila said.
“But once the homicide unit took over, they seem to have more resources. So they’re out there, taking it more seriously.”
The Vancouver Police Department’s missing persons unit is now investigating the case with the assistance of homicide investigators, although police say they don’t have any evidence that the case is a homicide.
“To date, police have taken numerous investigative steps, including interviewing several people associated with Ms. Poorman, reviewing relevant banking and cellphone records, conducting an extensive video canvass and collaborating with Saskatoon police,” Dale Weidman, an inspector with the VPD’s major crime section, wrote to The Tyee in an email.
“This investigation remains very active, however in order to protect the integrity of ongoing measures, I am unable to elaborate further.”
Simi Heer, a spokesperson for the VPD, said detectives take several factors into account before deciding whether to release information about missing people to the media.
“For example, if detectives are concerned about someone’s mental health and feel that the extra news attention would be detrimental to their personal safety (i.e. self harm), they will continue to pursue the case through investigative means,” Heer wrote in an email to The Tyee.
Sheila says Chelsea is a kind and trusting young woman who loves animals and music and wrote her own songs. But she is also highly vulnerable, she added.
Chelsea was in a car accident in 2014 and wears a brace on her left leg and a lifted shoe on her right foot. The accident left her with rods in her leg and arm, so she walks with a slight limp and can’t fully bend her left arm. She would have difficulty walking without her brace, Sheila said.
“I hope that she’s OK and that she’s coming home soon,” Sheila said. “Every day I think that she’s going to come home, somebody’s going to find her, or if someone has her, that she’ll escape."
On Feb. 14, Sheila and Paige took part in the Downtown Eastside Women’s Memorial March, an annual event to remember missing and murdered Indigenous women and call for action.
Indigenous women in Canada are murdered or go missing at a much higher rate than non-Indigenous women, a shameful national tragedy rooted in racist colonial policies.
The National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls, which issued its final report in 2019, called violence against Indigenous women “deliberate race, identity and gender-based genocide.”
The inquiry released 231 calls for justice. The federal government has not yet implemented those recommendations saying it’s working on a “national action plan.”
At the memorial march, Sheila and Paige, who are from the Kawacatoose First Nation in Saskatchewan, held posters with photos of Chelsea and the plea #BringChelseaHome.
Sheila is asking Vancouver residents to look for Chelsea.
“I would just like people, when they’re out doing their daily activities, running errands, on their way to work, just to keep an eye out to Chelsea,” Sheila said.
“Even if they think that it might be her, to just phone. Phone the Vancouver police and let them know. She probably met somebody and, who knows what happened from there.”
Anyone with information about Chelsea Poorman can call Vancouver police at 604-717-2500.