B.C. coroner concluded Tatyanna Harrison died of sepsis — months after police said fentanyl was the cause

Natasha Harrison has long raised concerns about the search for her daughter Tatyanna and the subsequent investigation into her death. (Ben Nelms/CBC - image credit)
Natasha Harrison has long raised concerns about the search for her daughter Tatyanna and the subsequent investigation into her death. (Ben Nelms/CBC - image credit)

The mother of a young Indigenous woman who was found dead on an unsecured boat in Richmond, B.C., says she has received few answers as to why her daughter's cause of death appears to have changed 10 months after her body was found.

The body of Tatyanna Harrison, 20, was discovered on May 2, 2022, on a 40-foot yacht at a marina in the 6900-block of Graybar Road, but she wasn't identified until early August.

On Aug. 6, 2022, the Vancouver Police Department (VPD) — which had been handling the investigation into her disappearance — told CBC News it had been informed by the coroner that her cause of death was fentanyl toxicity.

Richmond RCMP, which was investigating the discovery of the body, subsequently classified her death as not suspicious.

But now Natasha Harrison is going public with the coroner's report, which was completed in February 2023 and concluded that the cause of her daughter's death was in fact sepsis, a blood infection that can be fatal if left untreated.

The coroner told CBC News that the report confirming sepsis as cause of death was the only one ever produced. It would not answer a question about whether the information shared by the VPD was inaccurate, saying only that "any preliminary information that may be shared with a different investigative agency while an investigation is open is provided confidentially."

On Wednesday, the VPD told CBC News that the B.C. Coroners Service had informed them in August 2022 that "the preliminary cause of Tatyanna's death was fentanyl toxicity."

Vancouver Police Department
Vancouver Police Department

Toxicology report finds GHB

Harrison said a separate toxicology report also found small amounts of gamma-hydroxybutyrate, or GHB, commonly referred to as a "date rape" drug, in Tatyanna's system. The coroner told CBC News that toxicological findings are considered private medical information and it could not comment on the potential presence of GHB.

"An autopsy found no evidence of injuries which would have caused or contributed to death. Lividity was consistent with the supine position in which Tatyanna had been found," reads the report in part. "Lividity" refers to the bluish-purple discolouration of a person's skin after death.

"Tatyanna was noted to be markedly thinned with a significantly low body mass index. Microscopic examination of the heart and brain showed evidence of a systemic infection (sepsis)."

Toxicology testing also indicated a very low, non-toxic level of fentanyl in her system, and estimates she died between April 22 and May 1, 2022.

"I wasn't surprised because I know she didn't pass from overdose," Natasha Harrison said. "It was shocking to see sepsis. It felt like it confirmed something that I was suspecting already. But to see GHB on there was quite shocking."

Concerns about investigation

Harrison has long raised concerns about the search for her daughter since she was last seen in on April 22, 2022, and the subsequent investigation into her death.

She believes the investigation was delayed as police forces transferred the file between jurisdictions, and she questions why it took four months for investigators to confirm her daughter's identity, despite the fact she provided a DNA sample.

Harrison is also concerned by the coroner's estimated nine-day window during which her daughter may have died, given that sketches of her daughter after she was found did not show her in a state of decomposition.

She adds she has yet to receive an update from Richmond RCMP on the results of a rape test kit from November 2022, which would identify whether Tatyanna was sexually assaulted.

Richmond RCMP initially told CBC News that it was not in a position to provide further comment on the case, but later provided a statement saying they "conducted a thorough investigation, which included scene examination, interviews and the gathering of digital and physical evidence in order to assess whether there was any criminality involved in this person's death. Criminality has not been established to date."

Ben Nelms/CBC
Ben Nelms/CBC

The coroner's report says "efforts to identify Tatyanna took several weeks and included fingerprint comparison, engagement with local police departments and comparison to photos of women who had been reporting missing."

"At one point, coroners' service investigators and police compared the missing person photo of Tatyanna Harrison with images taken of the woman found on the boat, but concluded they were not the same person," it confirmed.

It also notes that Tatyanna had in the past experienced seizures and that her low body mass index "would be expected to have a negative impact on her overall health, including her ability to ward off infections. Additionally, those using drugs are at an increased risk of developing severe infections, including sepsis."

Because her cause of death is considered natural, the coroner did not make any recommendations.

'Basic human dignity'

Harrison says she believes the circumstances surrounding her daughter's death still need examining.

Tatyanna was found without personal identification, and no surveillance video of her entering the dry dock or taking public transit to the area has been found.

"I just wanted to know if she was moving freely. I still haven't seen camera footage of her moving in and out of that marina freely," Harrison said.

The coroner's report addresses the circumstances surrounding her death by writing, "despite investigative efforts by police, it remains unknown how Tatyanna came to be on the dry-docked boat in Richmond where she was discovered deceased. Her whereabouts after April 22, 2022, remain unknown, as do the circumstances of how she travelled to the boat, and whether she was in the company of others."

Harrison said she will continue to seek answers about her daughter's final moments.

"I have never put up such a fight in my life. All for basic human dignity for my daughter."