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'Suspicious' death in Fort Resolution
Twenty-three-year-old woman found dead in wooded area

Paul Bickford
Northern News Services
Published Monday, May 27, 2013

The community of Fort Resolution is reeling after a 23-year-old woman was found dead on the outskirts of the hamlet. The RCMP is calling the death suspicious.

NNSL photo/graphic

Melissa Payne: Was originally from Trout Lake but had lived in Fort Resolution for four years. - photo courtesy of Facebook

The body of Fort Resolution's Melissa Payne was located at about 2 p.m. on May 22 in a wooded area by a search team made up of community members. Payne had been missing for three days and was last seen in Fort Resolution at about 6:30 p.m. on May 19.

Fort Resolution RCMP received a report on May 21 that Payne was missing.

"The circumstances around her death are being treated as suspicious," stated a May 23 news release from the RCMP's G Division.

The matter is under investigation by the RCMP's G Division's Major Crimes Unit; members of the Fort Resolution, Hay River and Fort Smith detachments; a number of support units; and the Office of the Chief Coroner of the NWT.

Last week, there were noticeably more RCMP officers in Fort Resolution.

"The investigation is still underway," said Staff Sgt. Brad Kaeding of G Division in Yellowknife on May 24. "At this point, no conclusions have been made that would lead the investigators to make a final determination one way or the other."

Kaeding said, in general terms, a death is considered suspicious if someone dies in circumstances that aren't immediately fully explainable.

Rosy Bjornson, a resident of Fort Resolution who knew Payne, said there is "devastation and shock" in the community because of the death of the young woman.

She said Payne was originally from Trout Lake, but had resided in Fort Resolution for about four years with her common-law partner.

"She was very nice, very polite," said Bjornson, who participated in the seach effort.

Bjornson was among a group of four searchers from the community who found Payne's body off a road leading to Mission Island. The site is about a half-kilometre from the entrance to the community's airstrip.

"We got together and decided that we were going to do a ground search," Bjornson said, adding other people were on the way to join them when Payne's body was found.

Bjornson said the body was discovered by Payne's common-law partner, who was in the small search team.

Bjornson heard shouting when the body was found, but said, "I didn't go in to see."

She is upset the RCMP itself didn't launch a ground search.

"I don't feel that they've done a good job," she said, adding the police looked around town and interviewed people about Payne's disappearance.

Kaeding said a ground search is very effective if there is a starting place to go on and "you know where to look.

"If you don't have a starting place, then how do you ever make a determination as to how to best use resources in terms of searching everywhere?"

Members of Payne's family arrived in Fort Resolution on May 23, but were not ready to talk to the media.

Friends and relations are sending their thoughts and prayers to Payne's family on a Facebook page. One person wrote, "My heart is so hurt."

On May 24, friends and family were organizing a walk around the community in memory of Payne. People were asked to wear blue, as it was her favourite colour.

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