WINNIPEG —; A Metis teen who lost her cousin to suicide ran the equivalent of a marathon a day for 10 days to raise more than $10,000 for a volunteer group that helped find his body.
Kayleen McKay began her journey April 30 at the graveyard in Duck Bay on the west shore of Manitoba’s Lake Winnipegosis and finished Tuesday in Winnipeg.
Winnipeg search group Bear Clan Patrol gains national attention
Drag the Red to continue for second year in Winnipeg
Supporters greeted her with cheers and drumming just steps from the Red River where her cousin Shawn Nepinak’s body was found last summer by members of Drag The Red — volunteers who dredge the river searching for clues about missing and murdered loved ones.
RELATED: Winnipeg police process teeth found by ‘Drag the Red’ group
“I wanted to give back to them,” said McKay, 18.
“They could have easily turned their backs on us and been like, ‘No, we’re not going to help you. Leave it to the authorities.’ But they were there since day one.”
Drag The Red was formed after the body of 15-year-old Tina Fontaine was pulled from the river in 2014. Volunteers hoping to dig up clues about people who have vanished go out in boats equipped with hooks that comb the bottom of the river flowing through Winnipeg.
RELATED: 53-year-old man arrested in Tina Fontaine murder case
McKay’s aim was to raise $10,000. Donations are still coming in, but she has already exceeded her goal.
As she ran through western Manitoba, people would stop and give her money, she said. Many would tell her their own stories of loved ones who were missing or had been murdered. In the end, McKay said, she realized she was running for more than just herself or her cousin.
“It really touched my heart. Every time I heard a new story, I would just keep it in the back of my head. When I felt down, I would just think of them and their families. It gave me that push to keep going.”
Losing a cousin McKay considered a brother was not her first brush with tragedy. Her cousin, Carolyn Sinclair, 25, was murdered by serial killer Shawn Lamb in 2012.
Kimberley Kostiuk’s daughter was murdered 16 years ago. She joined Drag The Red three years ago as a way to channel her grief into helping others find closure.
The money McKay raised will help buy the group a much-needed boat, she said.
“It’s going to mean we’re going to be out there every day until we can’t go anymore.”
David Chartrand, president of the Manitoba Metis Federation, said McKay’s determination means other aboriginal youth have a strong role model at a time when many struggle with loss, despair and suicide.
“For change to occur, it has to happen in our own communities,” Chartrand said. “It’s going to take the youth to inspire the youth.
“She is obviously carrying the torch on this one.”