VANCOUVER—The family of a missing Indigenous woman says a “clerical error” led police to say she had been found — when in fact she had died and her body was decomposing in a downtown Vancouver public housing unit.
The body of 34-year-old Lila Moody-Ogilvie was discovered March 10 in the Marble Arch Hotel, the single-room occupancy hotel she lived in. According to her family, she was last seen alive around Feb. 22.
For two weeks, Lila’s family and friends frantically searched for her, putting up posters around town and knocking on doors. Her father, Bruce Ogilvie, said he reported her missing to the Vancouver Police Department (VPD) on Feb. 28.
On March 3, Bruce said, a staff member at the VPD told him over the phone that his daughter’s case had been removed from the missing person’s list because “an officer would have contacted her.”
Three days later, he said, a police officer called and apologized for a mistake on her file, saying Lila was still missing and had been put back on the missing persons list.
“He said this was through a clerical error, she’d been taken off and now she’s back on and they were doing everything they could to find her,” recalled Bruce, 68, a retired federal civil servant.
Four days after that, she was found dead in the room next door to hers on the top floor of the Marble Arch Hotel, Bruce said.
When Bruce arrived at the hotel, there were two police cars, an ambulance and a fire truck stationed outside.
Bruce thought, “‘I have to be the one to tell her mother,’ so I called her right then,” he said. “‘I said ... ‘Who’s in the house with you? Grab that person and hold.’ I said, ‘Our baby girl is gone.’”
Lila leaves behind a five-year-old son who is being looked after by Lila’s mother.
VPD media relations officer Sgt. Jason Robillard said he could not confirm Bruce’s account or otherwise speak specifically to Lila’s case because the file is now with the provincial coroner’s office.
Asked for information on Lila’s death, the BC Coroners Service said it was notified March 10 of the death of a woman in her mid 30s in the 500 block of Richards St., where the Marble Arch Hotel is located. The coroner’s office confirmed she died some time in February.
The hotel is managed by Atira Women’s Resource Society, a non-profit that offers services to women struggling with violence, substance use or other problems. Janice Abbott, Atira’s executive director, said her organization followed its policies by filing a missing persons report 48 hours after staff last had contact with Lila.
She said staff at the Marble Arch Hotel canvased the building looking for her, but Vancouver police did not.
Abbott said Atira’s policy is to ensure tenants are seen at least every 24 hours. If someone is not seen in that time, staff will do what’s called a “health and wellness check.” This includes knocking on a tenant’s door and, if no one answers, staff will enter the room.
The only time health and wellness checks are not done on a unit is if the tenant has notified staff they will be away, Abbott said.
Bruce said he believes someone lived in the room where Lila’s body was found but doesn’t know whether the occupant was away at the time.
Asked why Lila’s body was undiscovered for at least 10 days, despite being next door to her own room, Abbott said she could not comment without breaching the privacy of her organization’s clients.
“I can tell you ... this is the first time anything like this has ever happened,” Abbott said.
Lila’s boyfriend, Shane Amendt, was an office co-ordinator at the Marble Arch Hotel. He left the job March 4, saying Atira “completely failed her.”
Lila’s cousin Christina Ogilvie has her own beliefs about what happened.
The police “clearly did not look,” Christina said.
“It should have been a case that was solved in a day. Just go to the places she regularly goes ... They didn’t take it seriously. A clerical error? Yeah, right.”
Sgt. Robillard said that, in general, the decision of whether to canvass a building following a missing persons report is left up to the assigned investigator.
He said the VPD receives more than 4,000 missing persons reports every year and only “a select few” urgent cases go to the specialized missing persons unit. The rest are initially dealt with by patrol sergeants, then an investigator.
Bruce says his frustrations with the VPD started the day he tried to report his daughter missing. He went to a police station in person but was told he would have to use a phone in the lobby to call in the report, rather than speak to an officer directly. Sgt. Robillard confirmed that is VPD policy.
When Bruce tried to use the phone, he said, his hearing impairment made it difficult. He called back numerous times, sometimes getting a busy signal and other times getting lost in a confusing series of extension numbers. When he went back to the desk clerk a third time, he said, he was told to try to flag down a patrol officer by himself.
“I said, ‘I’ve been here 20 minutes and I just want to talk to someone and report my daughter,’” Bruce said.
Bruce said he has filed two official complaints with the force: the first over how difficult it was to get Lila’s missing persons report filed and the second over the “clerical error” that caused his family so much pain.
When Bruce Ogilvie and his former wife married in 1991, they adopted Lila at age six.
Lila suffered from severe fetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD) due to alcohol consumed by her biological mother when she was pregnant, Bruce said, adding that the disorder caused her to have difficulties focusing, controlling her emotions and interacting with others.
Lila, who was always an “independent spirit,” was raised in East Vancouver with two other adopted daughters.
“When she (Lila) gets into her teens, late teens, she gets very rebellious, she ended up moving out on her own,” said Bruce.
Christina said that while she and Lila were technically cousins, Salish tradition means they were actually more like sisters.
“She was such a sweet, kind, beautiful person,” Christina said.
When they were kids, Christina said Lila was “overly trusting” and would often be teased about her FASD.
“She got made fun of a lot,” Christina said. “I stood up for her as much as I could, but that was really hard for her.”
Lila’s condition presented challenges through to adulthood, Christina said.
“She had a learning disability. She would say ‘I wish I could go to school, I wish I could get a job,’ but she couldn’t. She felt stuck,” Christina said. Lila lived on disabilities assistance.
That frustration led her into drug use and ultimately addiction, Christina said. According to Amendt, Lila’s boyfriend, there were needles and other drug paraphernalia present in the room when her body was found.
Through it all, Christina said, Lila maintained her childhood spark.
“People are often really judgmental of addicts, but they they’d see Lila and she would pull at your heart strings,” she said.
A vigil is being organized in Lila’s memory for March 30. Christina said the family expects at least 100 people to carry candles and blow bubbles to represent her “bubbly personality” as they march through the Downtown Eastside, the community where so many knew and loved her.