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RCMP find remains of Shuswap woman missing for five years, former boyfriend charged

The news they’ve been praying for brings both happiness and sadness for Ashley Simpson’s parents

A beam of light brought comfort to the parents of a missing woman as they received the news they had been both praying for, and dreading.

On Friday, Dec. 3, five years and eight months after their daughter Ashley Simpson disappeared, Cindy and John Simpson learned from police her remains had been found.

An officer told them that when she found Ashley, she followed a single beam of light that shone through the clouds and directed the way to Ashley’s grave, explained John.

“I cannot tell you what a comfort that was to us.”

Two B.C. police officers working on the case travelled to Ontario so they could tell the Simpsons in person that Ashley’s remains had been found.

“We always had hope that, against all odds, Ashley would return to us,” said John following the news. “Last Friday, Dec. 3, our prayers were answered. Unfortunately, there was no storybook ending.”

The detectives told them that as well as finding Ashley’s remains, a suspect had been arrested.

Court records show that Derek Lee Matthew Favell, Ashley’s former boyfriend, is charged with second-degree murder for an offence which occurred on April 27, 2016 at or near Salmon Arm.

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John said, as a father, no one can be prepared for this news.

“But we are grateful that she will be returning to us so she can finally be laid to rest in a place where her family and friends can visit her. We would like to invite all to share that terrible day with us,” he said.

He added that the Simpson and Mcgean families would like to thank the many RCMP officers who were involved in the case. In particular, he said, they would like to thank Kim and Karla who worked tirelessly to find Ashley and bring her justice.

“Their support, sensitivity and encouragement has been a lifeline to my wife Cindy.”

One officer brought with her Ashley’s rings which were found at the scene, he said. Understandably, it was a very emotional meeting, both for the Simpsons and the two detectives who had been working on the case for years.

“Sometimes we forget that police officers are people, too. Though they never met Ashley, the officers have spent years doggedly running down every clue, even the smallest ones,” John said.

Ashley, then 32, vanished on April 27, 2016 from an area where she lived near Salmon Arm with her boyfriend Derek Favell in a travel trailer on Yankee Flats Road.

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John recounted the pain of learning she had vanished.

“It wasn’t like Ashley. She took to FaceTime every day to speak to my wife Cindy and her friends…We knew something was terribly wrong, and so a contingent of her family and friends hit the road in hopes of finding her. When we arrived, it was clear that no one was looking for her. She had only recently moved to the Silver Creek community, and local residents were distressed to find a small but vocal group of strangers converging on them, bringing the police to their doors.”

He said they encountered many roadblocks.

”Our team was inconsolable at the thought of returning to our home in Niagara-on-the-Lake without finding a trace of Ashley. But we never gave up, and returned to the area many times.”

During the past five years, he said his family has raised money to help others in similar situations, and he has dedicated his life to raising awareness about the epidemic of missing and murdered women in this country. He said Cindy has always been available to the media to answer questions in hopes someone would come forward to give them answers. She was also in regular contact with the RCMP and gratefully accepted their support.

John expressed deep gratitude.

“We want to thank the dozens of people who dedicated their time and energy to find our Ashley. We thank the media for always checking in on us to keep Ashley’s case alive. In particular, we want to thank the hundreds of people who are part of Ashley’s Army, an online community that has provided great support to us over the years, and to the Murdered and Missing Indigenous Women’s group who continue to call for justice for the many Indigenous women who remain missing.

“As well, we thank the volunteer members of the Wings of Mercy who continued to search for Ashley using ATVs and drones,” he said.

Ashley Simpson was one of five women who disappeared in the Okanagan-Shuswap region about five years ago. 2021 also brought the five-year anniversary of the disappearance of Caitlin Potts and Deanna Wertz, and four years for Nicole Bell.

Vernon’s Traci Genereaux, 18, was also missing but her remains were found in October 2017 on a farm in Silver Creek where Curtis Sagmoen was residing. He is currently facing charges of assaulting a police officer. No charges have been laid in connection with her death.

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From top left, clockwise, Caitlin Potts, Ashley Simpson, Deanna Wertz and Nicole Bell. With the remains of Ashley Simpson found in 2021, three women from the Shuswap and North Okanagan are still missing – Caitlin and Deanna for five years, Nicole for four. (Photos contributed)
From top left, clockwise, Caitlin Potts, Ashley Simpson, Deanna Wertz and Nicole Bell. With the remains of Ashley Simpson found in 2021, three women from the Shuswap and North Okanagan are still missing – Caitlin and Deanna for five years, Nicole for four. (Photos contributed)

“We sincerely hope, by finding Ashley, that this gives other families hope that their loved ones will be found and returned to them. There are hundreds of unsolved cases of murdered and missing women and children in Canada, and we must remain mindful that every missing person is someone’s child. No one deserves our ending and families deserve our respect, love and dignity,” John remarked.

The coming months will be difficult for his family, but they are strong, he said.

“We will attend every trial and push for the truth to be revealed. And we will never stop in our quest to fight for more and better resources to support the families and victims of these senseless crimes. We want to change things, and to be the voice for the missing. Our goal is to reunite more families, and support those who are left behind.”

John pointed out that since the beginning, their motto has been ‘Never Give Up.’

”And we never will,” he said. “We will continue to build Ashley’s Army, in the name of my daughter. It’s what she would have wanted. This is not the end. This is the beginning. We will not remain silent. Hear us roar.”

Read more: Five years pass with no peace for families of North Okanagan-Shuswap missing women

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Martha Wickett

About the Author: Martha Wickett

came to Salmon Arm in May of 2004 to work at the Observer. I was looking for a change from the hustle and bustle of the Lower Mainland, where I had spent more than a decade working in community newspapers.
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