The deaths of a Canadian woman and her American boyfriend who had been missing for days in Belize are being investigated as homicides after they were found strangled, the local police said Tuesday as the pair’s friends and families were struggling to come to grips with their loss.
The bodies of Francesca Matus, 52, of Toronto, and Drew DeVoursney, 36, from Georgia, were found Monday afternoon in a sugar cane field in the country’s Corozal district.
Police said Tuesday the bodies were found in an “advanced state of decomposition” with duct tape around their right wrists. An autopsy was conducted Tuesday at the Northern Regional Hospital in Belize and police confirmed the deaths were due to strangulation. Police added they continue to collaborate with the U.S. embassy and Canadian consulate in Belize and the investigation is ongoing.
WATCH: Belize police provide update after bodies of Canadian woman, American boyfriend found
The pair had been missing since last Tuesday when they were last seen leaving a local bar around 11 p.m. Dozens of Canadian and American expats were involved in the search, scouring the beaches, waterways and the bush.
On Sunday afternoon, Matus’s car was found in a sugar cane field about 15 kilometres from the bar.
READ MORE: Francesca Matus: What we know about the Canadian found dead in Belize
Belize police Det. Zamir Noh said the bodies were discovered late Monday afternoon in another sugar cane field “nowhere close to the truck.” He said autopsies were being conducted Tuesday, but declined to offer further details.
“Our thoughts are with the loved ones of the Canadian citizen who passed away in Belize. Consular services are being provided to the family during this difficult time,” Austin Jean, a spokesman for Global Affairs Canada, told Global News Tuesday.
“Canadian consular officials continue to liaise with local authorities to gather additional information.”
The Canadian government has not issued a travel advisory for Belize, but instructed Canadians earlier this year to “exercise a high degree of caution due to a high rate of violent crime throughout the country.”
WATCH: Belize police say discovery of Markham woman and her American boyfriend being treated as homicide investigation. Catherine McDonald reports.
Friends and family said Matus and DeVoursney had been dating for several months.
Matus was scheduled to return to Canada last Wednesday, but when her friend, Joe Milholen, arrived at her house to take her to the airport, her car was gone and the house locked up. Milholen said he later found her packed suitcases, passport and travelling money inside the house.
Matus had been in Belize since December, said her cousin Ivana Pucci, enjoying life on her waterfront property. She used to spend winters in the central American country and return to the Toronto area for summer and fall to be with her mother and her two twin sons, aged 22, Pucci said.
READ MORE: Missing Canadian woman and boyfriend found dead in Belize
“She loved it there and felt safe,” Pucci said. “She did tell us it was lawless there, but she felt safe in her little community.”
Her boys, brother and mother are grieving together in the Toronto area, Pucci said.
Matus grew up in Sault Ste. Marie as part a sprawling Italian-Canadian family, Pucci said. She moved to Toronto after college and became a mortgage broker, which she still did for half of the year. She loved the water and boating in Belize, she said.
Francesca Matus’ cousin/family spokesperson Ivana Pucci tells Global News “we are gutted” on the discovery of Francesca’s body in Belize
— Catherine McDonald (@cmcdonaldglobal) May 2, 2017
“She was 52 in a 35-year-old body,” Pucci said. “She really was such a beautiful person – both inside and out – and she did not deserve this,” Pucci said. “Nobody does.”
Pucci didn’t know much about Matus’s relationship with DeVoursney, but said she appeared to be happy.
In Georgia, DeVoursney’s mother, Char, said she learned about her son’s death from the U.S. embassy in Belize. They told her the pair had been murdered and found with duct tape around their wrists, she said.
“I’m not able to really do anything, kind of just sit and think and cry and that’s all I’m capable of at the moment,” she said.
Her other son, David, was at the Atlanta airport Tuesday morning with DeVoursney’s best friend, Brandon Barfield, waiting to board a flight to Belize.
“He’s going to go bring my boy home,” Char DeVoursney said through tears.
Drew DeVoursney was a big man with a big heart and a big smile, his mother said. The six-foot-six former marine had overcome post-traumatic stress disorder while serving two tours in Iraq, she said.
About four years ago, he bought a piece of property with Barfield in Belize – with nothing on it – and went down in December with the idea of starting his own dive company, his mother said.
“He’s a real adventure boy, that’s what I call him, my adventure boy because he’s done so many different things,” Char DeVoursney said.
DeVoursney went to college in North Carolina on a soccer and academic scholarship, but never finished.
“Then 9/11 happened and he went straight into the marines,” she said.
He ended up going to Afghanistan for two years after he left the marines as a contractor to help soldiers learn how to use technology on the battlefield.
“I’ve dreaded news of his death, but that was when he was in Iraq and Afghanistan,” Char DeVoursney said as she sniffled.
She said her son was having trouble getting work in Belize, so he decided to return home.
“He was supposed to come home next week and was signed to start school with his brother where he was going to learn to operate heavy machinery,” she said.
“Now he’s coming home in a way I’ve always dreaded.”
Justin Trudeau and his wife Sophie Gregoire Trudeau’s decision to leave the crumbling 24 Sussex empty, and instead move into Rideau Cottage, prompted a flurry of repairs and remodels – some cosmetic at the family’s request and others more necessary – including new electrical cable that cost so much ($15,000) it had one public servant wondering whether it was “made out of gold.”
Reams of documents obtained through Access to Information offer a glimpse behind the curtain, revealing the torrent of activity and emails the Trudeaus’ move touched off. One email, in fact, described the process as an “enormous undertaking” that was at times “hectic” and wrought with “difficult timeframes.”
WATCH: Take a look inside 24 Sussex in 1983, while Pierre Trudeau was living there with his sons
Before the newly minted prime minister announced he and his family would be moving to the 10,000 square foot, 22-room cottage, the Governor General’s secretary was living there. But still, there were some changes the family of five wanted before moving into the 150-year-old residence which was last renovated in 2013.
Some of the more cosmetic changes the family “needed” included installing dimmers “everywhere” (with labour costs estimated at close to $2,000), finding “nice looking baskets or ‘door bags’” for laundry, window screens in the bathrooms, bedrooms, basement, kitchen and upstairs living room, and “nice looking Kleenex boxes in every room,” according to the emails.
READ MORE: Repairs to 24 Sussex could reach $38M, according to a report
Among the documents were pages-long threads about the floral arrangements to be placed around the house in addition to the “welcome vase” from the National Capital Commission “made with red roses and accessory flowers.”
Two days after the Oct. 26, 2015, announcement of their immediate move to Rideau Cottage, the Trudeaus were hosting friends, requiring even more arrangements, according to one such email.
Rideau Cottage is seen on the grounds of Rideau Hall, Monday October 26, 2015 in Ottawa.
THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Gregoire Trudeau was looking for a larger arrangement in the entrance, smaller arrangements for the kitchen and bathrooms, as well as arrangements for each of the two living rooms, one guest bedroom, and the master bedroom, according to one email from Oct. 27.
READ MORE: Trudeau family to move into Rideau Cottage, not 24 Sussex
“Looking for freshness … natural looking bouquets … not too dark colourings,” the email read.
But before the family moved in, the National Capital Commission employee managing Ottawa’s official residences was grappling with a list of repairs including a potential gas leak, the emails revealed.
On Oct. 23, employees had to turn off the gas supply to a fireplace in “the front living room” because of a strong odour. By Nov. 4, they were still trying to get contractors cleared with security in order to work on the issue. An eventual “basic leak test” came up negative, but the gas supply stayed off until a “specialized contractor” was available.
READ MORE: 24 Sussex Drive in a sorry state — but will it ever get fixed?
At the same time, NCC employees were dealing with the house running out of hot water. With the family of five moving in, this was to be the “first time the domestic hot water [was] taxed to this level,” so it was a new issue for Rideau Cottage.
A view of the front of 24 Sussex Drive. The home is nearly 150 years old.
Handout photo/National Capital Commission
On the security side of things, the RCMP asked for some changes to the grounds following the Trudeaus’ announcement that they’d be living across the street from the traditional official residence of the prime minister.
The RCMP requested “the construction of a temporary access road” wide enough to fit one patrol car. The job required excavating a grassy area, pouring gravel, laying “geotextile” and removing trees believed to be Norway spruce and Norway maples.
WATCH: The official residence of Canada’s prime minister is a crumbling “embarrassment,” says HGTV’s Bryan Baeumler.
The step away from 24 Sussex also meant the usual transition chores in that residence – carpet cleaning, painting, emptying and cleaning the kitchen and pantry, etc. – were thrown into question.
In the end, those managing the transition of Stephen Harper’s family’s move out of the prime minister’s official residence decided to only clean carpets and furniture on the first floor – one of which was so covered in cat urine, it was unsalvageable. (The Harper family included two cats, but wife Laureen also notoriously fostered dozens and dozens of furry felines while living at 24 Sussex.)
READ MORE: Stephen Harpers’ pets on the move too
A professional carpet cleaner took one such carpet from the residence in “an attempt to restore. But after numerous cleanings, he states that it is beyond salvageable,” an email read.
One public servant was unfortunate enough to find that carpet rolled up in her vestibule with the unenviable task of throwing it out. At least she was warned ahead of time via email.
Despite the confusion the Trudeau family’s eschewing of 24 Sussex created, 40 public servants involved in the Rideau Hall move received a note of gratitude from the director of official residences once all was said and done.
“With very little lead time, the official residences team was tasked with an enormous undertaking and your response was incredible,” Art Marcotte wrote in an Oct. 30 email.
“I know the last week has been extremely hectic, but somehow you were able to not only complete every task within difficult time frames, but it was also delivered to the highest standard of quality.”
Meanwhile, it’s not known how long the prime minister and his family will be living at Rideau Cottage – renovations plans have yet to be announced for 24 Sussex, leaving the project up in the air.
A coalition of educators and parents have started circulating a petition to demand Quebec change its history curriculum.
READ MORE: Quebec minister refuses to sign off on new, controversial history course
They say their main concern is an apparent lack of representation of the Anglophone community, as well as minorities and indigenous people in Quebec’s history books.
A group of teachers and parents are demanding changes in the province’s history curriculum. @Global_Montreal pic.twitter杭州桑拿/Nvy7GIH8Ly
— Billy Shields (@billyshields) May 2, 2017
“Children in school today don’t see themselves, their parents, or their grandparents reflected in the historical narrative,” said Carol Meindl, of the Quebec Federation of Home and School Associations.
“And yet, they have been there.”
READ MORE: New Quebec high school history course ignores minorities, says teacher
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Opponents of the curriculum, such as the Kativik School Board, have come out to say it “repeats a historical pattern of oppression.”
READ MORE: Anglophones, minorities excluded from new Quebec history course: teacher
Westmount High School teacher Robert Green also wrote that it “casts Anglophones in the role of comic-book villains.”
The province emailed, declining intv, adding that the current curriculum is a pilot project set to last until next month. @Global_Montreal
— Billy Shields (@billyshields) May 2, 2017
In a statement, a spokesperson with the Quebec Education Ministry told Global News the current curriculum is a pilot project slated to last until next month, and that Anglophone and Aboriginal groups consulted seemed happy with it.
READ MORE: Quebec students have ‘sad’ vision of province’s history
The coalition is demanding the province involve more stakeholders when it comes to consultations on future curriculums.
WINNIPEG —; The province is taking taking steps to use a public-private partnership to build four new schools in Manitoba.
On Tuesday, Premier Brian Pallister announced a request for proposals to build four schools using this funding model, which will cost more than $100 million.
“The P3 model has proved to be very successful across Canada and in Saskatchewan in particular for such projects,” Pallister said. “We have studied these approaches carefully and believe a similar innovative procurement delivery model could mean cost savings and better value for Manitobans.”
RELATED: Could P3 schools help solve Surrey’s classroom crunch?
The public-private schools would be:
Kindergarten to Grade 5 French immersion school in the Seven Oaks School Division, with a capacity of 450 students.Kindergarten to Grade 8 school in the Waterford Green subdivision, with a capacity of 600 students.Kindergarten to Grade 8 school in southeast Brandon, with a capacity of 450 students.Grade 9 to Grade 12 in Pembina Trails and Waverley West, with a capacity of 1,000 students.
“The schools will be owned by their respective school boards and will deliver education in the same manner as other schools,” Pallister said. “They will be designed to accommodate a child care centre with 20 infant spaces and 54 preschool spaces.”
RELATED: 2 Nova Scotia public-private partnership schools to be purchased by province
A request for proposal was issued to the Public Schools Finance Board, who will determine if the project is suitable for the public-private method.
The deadline for submissions is June 15, with a goal to break ground for all four projects during the 2019 constructions season.
We are pleased to announce a competitive RFP to develop a P3 business case for constructing four new schools #mbpoli #BetterTogether
LONDON – Rescue officials are hopeful that a surfer who was plucked from the sea after more than 30 hours adrift off the western coast of Scotland will make a full recovery despite severe hypothermia.
Matthew Bryce was being treated at Belfast Hospital in Northern Ireland Tuesday after an intense search the previous day ended with him being winched into a Coast Guard helicopter shortly before the light faded.
Coast Guard Operations Specialist Lawrence Cumming said the 22-year-old surfer is “making progress” after his ordeal.
“He was conscious and breathing but severely hypothermic,” Cumming said. “Lifting a hypothermic person from the water is hazardous, but it was done successfully, and he was then taken to the nearest big hospital, which was in Belfast.”
He said Bryce’s survival was greatly aided by his use of a thick wetsuit that includes boots and a hood. The surfer also managed to remain atop his board, lessening his exposure to the cold water.
WATCH: British coastguard say surfer lucky to have survived
Bryce said in a statement released by the hospital that he was “so grateful” to the rescue team.
“I cannot thank those enough who rescued and cared for me,” he said. “They are all heroes.”
His father, John Bryce, said the experience had been “an absolute roller coaster” with a happy ending.
“To get that call from the police last night to say that he was alive was unbelievable,” John Bryce said.
Bryce apparently suffered stomach cramps and was unable to paddle properly and was swept out to sea, said Steve England, editor-in-chief of Carve magazine, a surfing publication.
“It’s not mega-common but it has happened before,” England said. “He was really lucky. There are very strong currents up there. To end up off the coast of Northern Ireland, he was caught in a serious open ocean current. It’s so good that our rescue services were on it.”
England said Bryce seemed to be an experienced surfer with quality equipment.
“Lord knows how they found him,” England said. “It’s needle in the haystack stuff.”
The search was complicated because officials were only notified that Bryce was missing roughly 24 hours after the surfer entered the water, making it more difficult to predict his likely location.
“That meant it was a very, very large search area,” said Cumming. Lifeboats from Scotland and Northern Ireland scoured the waters as the helicopter searched from the air.
Bryce was spotted by the helicopter crew at about 7:30 p.m. Monday shortly before the light started to give out.
“We were moving toward twilight and then darkness,” said Cumming.