Death of Manitoba woman with severe burns ruled a homicide: Winnipeg police

WARNING: This story contains details that may be disturbing.

The Winnipeg Police Service is asking the public for any information regarding the homicide of a woman who died of severe burns.

Melissa Cook, a 41-year-old woman from Sapotaweyak Cree Nation, died in hospital on Aug. 20. She had been living in Winnipeg since April.

Officers with the Winnipeg Police Service became involved in the investigation into Cook’s death on Aug. 25 after the Chief Medical Examiner’s Office ruled her death a homicide. Her death is the 41st homicide in Winnipeg this year.

Based on the investigation so far, police said that Cook was unhoused when she lived in Winnipeg and may have lived in encampments. She also spent time at Siloam Mission and in South Point Douglas.

Police said she likely got her burns in late June and early July. Officers added that in early July she told a shelter about her injuries and was taken to a hospital where she stayed until her death.

Police said they don’t know exactly where or when she sustained these injuries.

The Winnipeg police’s major crimes unit has been working on finding out information about Cook and her activities over the summer.

Officers are looking to speak to anyone who knew Cook, knew about her injuries, or anyone who has been similarly victimized. Cook is described as five-foot-three with a medium build, brown eyes and brown hair.

Those with information are asked to 204-986-6219 or Crime Stoppers at 204-786-8477.

“The audience that we’re hoping to target with this release is that of the unhoused community that she might have been residing with or anyone that works in and around shelters in the downtown, South Point Douglas area,” said Const. Jay Murray of the Winnipeg Police Service at a news conference on Monday.

“We want to know if she confided in her injuries to anyone, the source of injuries, or maybe a better timeline as to when exactly they happened.”

Murray asks the public to look at the situation with an empathetic lens and see the person behind the picture.

“Her family is grieving as a result of her death, her homicide. Her family wants to know more. They want to have justice and they want answers,” he said.

“I think we all have a civic duty to provide information if we have it and try to advance this investigation and provide them with the closure that they deserve.”

WINNIPEG’S HOMICIDE COUNT

This is the 41st homicide in Winnipeg this year. Murray said there’s been a general rise of violence in the city that hasn’t been seen before, which has translated into a higher homicide count.

“The reality is the nature of homicides is they can sometimes be crimes of opportunity, they can be random in nature. They can depend on how soon somebody is able to get medical attention.”

He noted there are other metrics, beyond using the homicide count, which can be more indicative of an increase in violence. However, he added the homicide number has an impact on police, as they require a lot of police resources.

“They’re very taxing on the service and 2019 was the record with 44. We have three months to go and we’re only three away from that number,” Murray said.

Winnipeg police said the information about Cook’s death can be disturbing, particularly those impacted by matters involving missing and murdered Indigenous women, girls, two-spirit, and gender-diverse people. Anyone who requires emotional assistance can call a national, toll-free crisis line at 1-844-413-6649. 

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