ST. ANTHONY, NL – Her memory is still vivid in the businesses, homes and minds of the community.
Her family and friends are still searching and praying for answers.
On Nov. 30, it will be one year since the disappearance of Jennifer Hillier-Penney.
Shaken and holding back tears, her brother, Glen Hillier, says the days leading up to the anniversary have been extremely stressful for him and his family.
“The family is exhausted right now, everybody still can’t really believe it,” said Hillier. “For Jenny to go missing of all people, I still can’t believe it could happen.”
While rumours are plentiful, one year on the evidence needed to determine the truth about what happened to Hillier-Penney remains unclear.
It makes this anniversary particularly tough for everyone affected.
“Without closure, it is extremely difficult,” said Hillier. “There’s always that thought in the back of your mind that she could come back. If there’s no closure, that thought’s always going to be there.”
Recent searches and investigations
In recent months, the family has organized volunteer ground searches, as well as their most recent effort to bring a vessel into the area to scan the sea floor using sonar.
Hillier says the vessel searched for two days, but due to increasingly rough weather conditions, further work had to be postponed.
Glenn’s brother Gary, who organized the water search, is awaiting results from the vessel’s work.
Hillier says the RCMP’s major crime unit from Corner Brook also visited last month to do some additional questioning. Due to the ongoing nature of their investigation, no specific details could be revealed.
In a press release from RCMP dated Nov. 27, Inspector Bruce Singer, officer in charge of the RCMP’s major crime unit, spoke about the importance of reaching out to the RCMP with any information on Hillier-Penney’s disappearance, no matter how insignificant it may seem.
“We believe there are members of the public who have information about Jennifer’s disappearance who, for whatever reason, have not come forward,” said Singer.
In the press release, the RCMP says its officers have conducted relentless investigations and searches, and have interviewed more than 100 witnesses.
For now, Hillier and the family place their hope in this investigation, that it will uncover the truth about what happened to their sister that fateful day.
“We got to be patient. It’s hard as all hell but we got to be patient and trust that they (RCMP) are doing their job,” said Hillier.
“It would be a real Godsend if we could find closure before the one-year anniversary. It would be a real Godsend.”
Praying, searching and hoping
Hillier-Penney is the fourth unsolved missing person in the town of St. Anthony. For 15 years, the town has been shadowed by uncertainty and mystery surrounding these four cases.
But the disappearance of Hillier-Penney has been particularly difficult for the community. All her belongings, from shoes to car keys, were left behind, and it is the only case of the four the RCMP has deemed suspicious.
Hillier-Penney had been visiting St. Anthony to watch over her youngest daughter at the residence of Dean Penney, her estranged husband, while he was away duck hunting. Her daughter woke up that Dec. 1 morning to find Hillier-Penney was gone.
Initial searches yielded no results. The RCMP’s K-9 Unit did not pick up Hillier-Penney’s scent beyond Penney’s home.
When the snow began clearing after a rough and late winter for the Great Northern Peninsula, family, friends and volunteers across the area gathered together to raise money for future searches.
A bingo fundraiser was organized at the Polar Centre in St. Anthony. People from across the peninsula packed the tables to show their support and raised $22,500.
Some initial ground searches were conducted, along with use of the sonar vessel. It was a lengthy period between the searches, due to red tape and measures the family had to go through to get them underway.
“We don’t know where to look, it feels like we’re at the same point where we were when she first went missing,” said Hillier. “It feels like we haven’t made any progress, but we hope the major crimes unit is making progress.
“Hopefully with those interviews they have some leads.”
The family aims to see the work with the sonar vessel continue, but with winter well on its way they’re uncertain if the weather will ultimately cooperate.
On Saturday, Dec. 2 a balloon release will be held in memory of Hillier-Penney at 11 a.m. at Fishing Point in St. Anthony. Community members across the Northern Peninsula are encouraged to join.
Hillier wanted to personally thank everyone for their thoughts and prayers for Hillier-Penney at this time, and hopes to see the community come together at this time.