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New information renews search for Cortney Lake

Members of the Central Avalon Search and Rescue group from Holyrood set out on Friday afternoon to resume searching in their assigned area of Smallwood’s Farm.
Members of the Central Avalon Search and Rescue group from Holyrood set out on Friday afternoon to resume searching in their assigned area of Smallwood’s Farm. - Joe Gibbons

Police and volunteers scour abandoned farm west of St. John’s

“Hopefully, we can bring her home today,” Harry Blackmore said Friday as searchers looked for Cortney Lake’s body in the Bellevue area west of St. John’s.

Blackmore, president of the Newfoundland and Labrador Rescue Association, spoke during a media update with RNC Sgt. Paul Didham, the RNC’s ground search and rescue team leader, and RCMP Sgt. Yannick Hamel, emergency manager and search and rescue co-ordinator for the RCMP “B” Division.

Eighty-nine members of five organizations searched 13 acres of land at the former Smallwood’s Farm property at Bellevue Beach, about a kilometre off the Trans-Canada Highway turn-off into Bellevue.

“This is a continuation of a current ongoing criminal investigation that the RNC has in relation to the disappearance of Cortney Lake,” Didham said. “We did receive some new information recently which has bought all the search teams together to search in this area, and we can’t release that, as it is part of the ongoing investigation which is two-fold in looking for evidence and information to help us with that file, and it would be great to give some closure to the family.”

In a news conference in November, the lead investigator into Lake’s disappearance, RNC Insp. Tommy Warren, said her ex-boyfriend Philip Smith was the only suspect in her disappearance, determined by police to be a homicide.

Lake, 24, disappeared June 7 and police believe she was murdered. The last time she was seen was when she was getting into Smith’s pickup truck around 7:30 p.m. that night near her Mount Pearl home.

Smith’s body was found early on Nov. 1 in a wooded area behind his father’s cabin at Bellevue Beach. The 25-year-old committed suicide.


Large area

Searching Friday at the abandoned farm were members of the Central Avalon Holyrood Ground Search and Rescue, The Wolverines and Triple Bay Eagles, The Rovers Ground Search and Rescue and searchers from the Burin Peninsula.

Searchers on ATVs and other off-road vehicles were visible in the background as the three spokesmen reiterated the search was a joint effort between the RNC, RCMP and searchers.

“This is a large task and it can’t be done without the tireless volunteers that are coming out today to do this, and everybody has a huge effort in here with what’s going on, and we really appreciate what’s being done,” said Didham, adding that they want to make sure everything is covered in such a large area.

Blackmore, a retired St. John’s Regional Fire Department firefighter, told reporters, “We were contacted by the RNC to conduct a search out here for evidence to do with the Cortney Lake file which we’ve been working on all summer, but with such a large area to search, the association assembled five teams here east of Clarenville.

“We want to make sure we cover this area as methodically as we can to make sure that if there’s anything here to do with her disappearance, we find it. Right now were coming up with a lot of things, but nothing to do with her.”

On Saturday, another 125 searchers are expected to participate in the effort, Blackmore said.

Although the large area is a challenge, there are no obstacles to hamper the search, he said.

“It’s just take your time and go through it, as there’s a lot of area and basically you’re going through it inch by inch to try to get it done in such a wide area. Basically, (it’s) the same as raking your lawn, as you want to get every leaf and we want to make sure we step on every piece of ground and the only way we can do it is shoulder to shoulder. It’s a big area and we’re all volunteers. Winter is right upon us and we’re trying to get this done in an eight-hour period each day, and normally we’d do this in a day.

“Right now, what snow is in this area is not affecting us, as we left St. John’s (Thursday) afternoon to come out here and check, and if this had to be like what St. John’s got, there’d be nobody here (Friday). We wouldn’t be able to do anything, as we’re here to get this done before the snow hits.”

Sgt. Didham said there would be officers stationed at the site overnight Friday due to the large amount of logistical equipment there and to protect the scene.

The search was to resume at daylight Saturday.

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