EDMONTON—Seven years after RCMP said they recovered the skull of Amber Tuccaro, her family has filed paperwork to exhume the remains due to doubts that they actually belong to her.
Amber, a member of Mikisew Cree First Nation from Fort Chipewyan, disappeared from the Edmonton area on Aug. 18, 2010 after travelling from Fort McMurray with her son and an acquaintance for a short vacation.
The 20-year-old woman’s last confirmed sighting was before she left the Nisku Place Hotel late that same night to reportedly go get food. She never returned.
In a recording released by RCMP two years later, Amber can be heard speaking for the last time in a chilling phone call where a man’s voice can be heard in the background. He says they’re driving into the city as Amber fearfully asks where they are going. A skull was found by horseback riders on Sept. 1, 2012 in a rural area south of Edmonton.
Last week, the family applied for a permit to exhume the remains in order to get a DNA test.
Her brother Paul Tuccaro told Star Edmonton the family has had doubts since Day 1 as to whether the remains are actually Amber’s.
He said while he has seen autopsies take days, weeks and even months, his family was told the remains belonged to Amber the same day they were found, which made them suspicious. Furthermore, Tuccaro said they noticed discrepancies between Amber’s dental records and the skull’s dental fillings.
“If this is what we’ve got to do to make sure it’s my sister, then we’re going to do it,” he said. “We’ve been thinking about it for some time, because we never got answers.”
They hope to test the DNA against a sample from her son Jacob to see if they match.
In July, Alberta RCMP Deputy Commissioner Curtis Zablocki publicly apologized to the Tuccaro family for failures in her initial missing person investigation. The RCMP also released a new poster for Amber’s ongoing homicide investigation.
Since then, an RCMP spokesperson said they have received about 30 tips and are still eager to speak with anyone with information about Amber’s case.
After the apology, Amber’s mother Tootsie said she wasn’t accepting it because she felt it was forced — the public apology was one of 17 recommendations in a report that came as a result of her complaint to the RCMP’s Civilian Review and Complaints Commission in 2014.
She said she was also angry that Zablocki left midway through the news conference to attend another appointment.
A 120-page report into Leduc RCMP’s investigation of Amber’s disappearance found that a multitude of miscommunications, lack of oversight and failure to follow proper policies and procedures resulted in numerous errors and compromised the missing persons investigation.
On Aug. 28, 2010, eight days after Amber was reported missing, Const. Brad Golinsky recommended Amber’s case be closed and that she be removed from a national missing persons database after someone reported they had seen her and another person said she had been active on social media.
But the report says Golinsky took no steps to verify the accuracy of the reported sightings and did not confirm Amber was responsible for the online activity. The report states it was “unreasonable” for Golinsky to remove Amber from the missing persons database, and to wait nearly a month before putting her back in the system, and then only after “repeated intervention” by another officer.
It also says Golinsky did not properly consider Amber leaving her 15-month-old son with an acquaintance for an extended period of time at the hotel as suspicious, despite her mother saying it was completely out of character for her.
Golinsky was serving as acting watch commander of the Leduc detachment at the time. He is now a sergeant with the Strathcona County RCMP.
Three months after her disappearance, a failure to follow proper protocol when it comes to seizing, tagging and storing evidence resulted in police accidentally destroying a suitcase that contained Amber’s belongings. Although officers later said they didn’t think the luggage had significant investigative value, Tootsie said the suitcase had tremendous sentimental importance to the family.
The report further says several officers involved in the investigation failed to take proper steps to locate and interview the woman who was with Amber.
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When Amber’s mother initially reported her missing two days after her disappearance, Const. Evan Collier told her Amber was maybe “just out partying or forgot to call or whatever,” based on her having gone missing once before and living a “high-risk lifestyle.”
The family has long believed that the reason police did not take Amber’s disappearance seriously and failed to act quickly was because she was an Indigenous woman.
The report said the commission could not find evidence of conscious or unconscious racial bias from the officers. But all of the officers said Amber’s lifestyle was a “critical” factor in the decisions they made.
The report says the officers’ assumptions about her lifestyle minimized the significance of her disappearance.
“The members formulated the opinion that missing persons with these lifestyle indicators are more likely to go missing and to later return. The focus should have been on the fact that people with these lifestyle traits are more likely to come to harm,” the report reads.
Tuccaro said the family wants to confirm that the found remains are in fact Amber’s because they no longer trust or have faith in the RCMP.
“The bottom line is my sister’s not here,” he said. “So why are we going to tiptoe around the RCMP?”
The family says they’ve received the cold shoulder from RCMP since the public apology on July 25, which has added to their frustration.
“We’re p-ssed off, more so now because after they did a public apology, and it was so screwed up, now since then, they’re not returning calls or emails, nothing,” Tuccaro said. “Far as we’re concerned, they’re done with us.”
Alberta RCMP spokesperson Fraser Logan could not speak directly to the communication between officers and the family, but said his understanding was they have a positive relationship.
“If there’s really any specific concerns, I’m happy to bring it up with them,” Logan said.
A spokesperson for Vital Statistics, the Alberta government department that handles permits for exhumations, said the process usually takes about two weeks for remains to be returned.
“It’s either going to be my sister or it’s not,” Tuccaro said. “If it is, then it is, then we have peace of mind. But just imagine if it’s not … If we sit back and do nothing, nothing’s going to happen.”