Derek Favell pleaded not guilty to 2nd-degree murder in death of Simpson, whose remains were found in 2021
For Ashley Simpson's father, Monday marks an important but heartbreaking milestone in the 7½-year-long nightmare he has been living since he last heard from his vibrant and strong-willed daughter.
John Simpson and other family members will be at B.C. Supreme Court in Salmon Arm for the first day of the trial of Derek Favell, who was charged with Ashley's murder after her remains were found outside the Shuswap city more than five years after she went missing.
In 2016, 32-year-old Ashley Simpson disappeared from the rural property near Salmon Arm — a southern Interior community around 75 kilometres east of Kamloops, B.C. — where she was living with Favell, her boyfriend.
According to Ashley's father, in spring 2016 she told her family in St. Catherine's, Ont., that she was planning to hitchhike back to her home province. But she never arrived.
Over the next half decade, Simpson says he and members of his family made multiple trips to B.C.'s Shuswap region to look for Ashley in ground and drone searches.
"I got on a plane and met my [other] daughter and her friend in Salmon Arm to start a search," Simpson recalled of his actions after learning Ashley was missing.
"That is where it all began. Every year we came down for a week, as that's all we could afford, and started grid-searching for our daughter."
Ashley was one of five women reported missing in the North Okanagan-Shuswap region between 2016 and 2017 — a fact that, along with her family's dedication, kept Ashley's story in the media over the years despite little word of progress from RCMP investigators.
In late 2021, police announced a huge development in the case — a tip had led investigators to Ashley's remains, which were located in a wooded area outside of Salmon Arm.
A week later, Ashley's boyfriend at the time of her disappearance, Derek Favell, was charged with second-degree murder. Favell has pleaded not guilty.
Shortly after Ashley's remains were located, RCMP investigators flew to Ontario to deliver the news to her family, John Simpson said.
"[Favell] was arrested the day they handed over Ashley's rings — the rings we had given Ashley. That is when we finally realized that she wasn't coming home," he said.
Favell's trial in B.C. Supreme Court will be before a judge alone.
And although Ashley's family say they're relieved the trial is finally starting, they also don't expect to learn much beyond what has already been revealed in Favell's bail hearings and a preliminary inquiry.
"It's exhausting. It's under a publication ban and so [the family] can't talk to anybody," said Rose Simpson, one of John's cousins, who has been writing a blog about Ashley's case.
"It's been hard. John said to me, 'How many times do I have to listen to how my daughter died?'"
John and other family members are flying to B.C. for the court proceedings, while Rose plans to attend the trial virtually from her home in Ontario.
The Simpsons say they are hopeful the public will find out the truth of what happened to Ashley.
"If he gets justice — there is not enough justice in the world right now, when you look at all the terrible things happening — this might give some hope to all of the missing women [from the region] that have not been found yet," Rose said.
In 2021, RCMP said they believed Ashley's case was not connected to any of the other missing women in the region.
As of fall 2023, three of those missing persons cases remain unsolved. The remains of 18-year-old Traci Genereaux were discovered on a rural property south of Salmon Arm in 2017, but no arrests have been made in connection with her death.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Brady Strachan is a CBC reporter based in Kelowna, B.C. Besides Kelowna, Strachan has covered stories for CBC News in Winnipeg, Brandon, Vancouver and internationally. Follow his tweets @BradyStrachan
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