What happened to Tatyanna Harrison? Mother of 20-year-old found on yacht says police investigation failed her

·5 min read
'She deserved a life and we deserve to have her,' said Natasha Harrison, mother of Tatyanna Harrison, an Indigenous woman whose body was identified in August. (Ben Nelms/CBC - image credit)
'She deserved a life and we deserve to have her,' said Natasha Harrison, mother of Tatyanna Harrison, an Indigenous woman whose body was identified in August. (Ben Nelms/CBC - image credit)

WARNING: This story discusses violence against Indigenous women and girls and may affect those who have experienced it or know someone who has.

When Natasha Harrison's 20-year-old daughter Tatyanna stopped answering her texts, Harrison made the drive from Langley to Vancouver to file a missing person's report and search the streets herself.

For months, she combed through downtown Vancouver, checking women's shelters and SROs, and stopping strangers on the sidewalk. She sent every lead and tip to the Vancouver Police Department.

"I found the friends and I found the ex-boyfriends," she said, speaking from her sunny backyard in Langley. "But I could never find her."

On May 2, Richmond RCMP found a woman's remains on an older, 40-foot yacht that was in dry dock at a marina in the 6900 block of Graybar Road in Richmond. But although Harrison had provided police with a DNA sample, it wasn't until three months later, on Aug. 5 that police confirmed the body was her daughter's.

A coroner's report found that Tatyanna, who is Cree and Métis on her father's side, died from "fentanyl toxicity." Harrison said her daughter had suffered from addiction since 2021, and she long worried for her safety.

But she said she's haunted by the details of how her daughter's body was found, and unsatisfied with the police finding that her death was not suspicious.

"You find her wearing only a shirt and no clothing — no pants, no underwear, no socks, no shoes, and you call that non-suspicious and you don't do a rape kit on her?" she said.

"What happened to her? Did someone hold her there against her will? You know, I can accept her passing away from an overdose. It's a lot easier than accepting what it really looks like."

Vancouver Police Department
Vancouver Police Department

Harrison said she has no idea how her daughter ended up on a boat that is not accessible by public transit, without her clothes, and without personal identification. No drugs were found on the boat with her, and a coroner's report did not determine how the drugs that killed her were ingested.

"You guys can't tell me how she got in and out of a 24-hour surveillance shipping yard with $40-million yachts?" she said.

"You don't take your own clothes off and overdose on a boat. None of it makes sense."

Case passed between jurisdictions

Harrison said she's horrified it took so long for her daughter's remains to be identified, and that there were major discrepancies in the description of her body and her age. But she said her concerns with the investigation into her disappearance began long before her daughter was found.

Harrison said Tatyanna moved from Surrey to Vancouver in early February with her boyfriend.

When Tatyanna stopped responding to her texts, Harrison filed a missing person's report with Vancouver police on May 3. But she said precious time was lost as VPD transferred the file to Surrey RCMP, where Tatyanna had previously been living.

VPD began their search 20 days later, eventually transferring the file to their major crimes unit.

Richmond RCMP, the detachment handling the case after Harrison's death, has since closed the case.

"With sensitivity, we have discussed our investigation and results with the deceased's next of kin. Our investigation is concluded. Should any new evidence arise, we will re-open our investigation," a statement from the detachment read in part.

Harrison said the handling of the case reminds her of the errors in the police investigation into serial killer Robert Pickton, where multiple police agencies were investigating the same crimes.

"How do you close the file without talking to VPD? Have we learned anything from Pickton? This doesn't work," she said.

"It drives me nuts to watch this play out again and again."

'They're found the same way'

Tatyanna Harrison's death is the fourth case of a young, Indigenous woman being found dead in the Lower Mainland in the spring and summer of 2022.

On May 6, Chelsea Poorman's remains were identified after being found in a Shaughnessy mansion following months of desperate searching by her family. The case was quickly labelled non-suspicious.

On May 1, 14-year-old Noelle O'Soup's body was found in an SRO on Heatley Avenue alongside the remains of another woman. She too, had died months earlier.

On July 30, 24-year-old Kwemcxenalqs Manuel-Gottfriedson's body was found just blocks away from that same Downtown Eastside SRO. Few details have been released about her death, but police are continuing to investigate.

Ben Nelms/CBC
Ben Nelms/CBC

"They're found the same way, in the same state around the same time. Like all of a sudden all their bodies turn up," said Harrison, who has regular conversations with the Poorman and O'Soup families, and is planning a joint vigil for the four women this coming Saturday.

"We brush all these things under the rug like these girls aren't being taken advantage of."

Harrison recalls Tatyanna as a chubby baby, and later, as a chatty, bright child who learned to read unusually early and could often be found devouring multiple fantasy novels in a day.

"Ever since she could speak, she didn't stop. Her words never stopped. She just literally had everybody wrapped around her finger because she's just so sweet and loving," she said.

"She deserved a life and we deserve to have her."