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Father charged with first-degree murder in daughter’s death

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  • The alarms rang out in the middle of the night, triggered by a mother’s urgent pleas to police to save her daughter hours after she celebrated her 11th birthday.

    Many jolted awake by the ringing of an Amber Alert hoped Riya Rajkumar, who was last seen with her father, would be found safe. Those hopes were dashed Friday when police found the child’s body in the home of her father, who was later charged with first-degree murder.

    “It’s very heart-wrenching,” said Peel regional police Const. Danny Marttini, making particular note of the mother’s pain. “We have to remember that this is a family, and she’s now moving forward without her daughter.”

    Riya had just celebrated a joint Valentine’s Day birthday with her mother before being dropped off at a gas station in Missisauga, Ont., on Thursday afternoon for a visit with her father, Roopesh Rajkumar, who did not live with them.

    When he failed to return Riya home at the scheduled time, Marttini said the mother became concerned. That anxiety morphed into something more serious after Rajkumar, an ex-boyfriend, allegedly indicated to the girl’s mother that he planned to harm both himself and their child, Marttini said.

    “She came in already fully concerned saying, ‘this is what he’s saying to me, I’m concerned for the well-being of my daughter, I need some help,'” she said.

    Marttini said police began investigating the situation right away, but did not immediately have grounds to enter Rajkumar’s home, where Riya’s body was found roughly five hours after she was reported missing.

    “We need extenuating circumstances to force entry into somebody’s residence,” Marttini said. “To do a door-knock? No problem. But if nobody answers, that’s sort of as far as we go … As the investigation unfolded, they did receive information that they did believe she was in the residence. As soon as they had that information, they proceeded.”

    Shortly before entering the home, however, police had issued an Amber Alert in Riya’s disappearance. The alert, released just after 11:30 p.m., was issued via the national Public Alerting System on cellphones across the province.

    That bulletin, police said, directly led to Rajkumar’s arrest.

    Ontario Provincial Police Staff Sgt. Carolle Dionne said a motorist driving on Highway 11 in Oro-Medonte, Ont., shortly before midnight noticed Rajkumar’s vehicle, which had been described in the Amber Alert.

    “As a result of the Amber Alert, they observed the vehicle and gave us the coordinates,” she said. “Thankfully … we were able to apprehend this man.”

    When Peel police took custody of Rajkumar from the provincial force, Marttini said officers became aware of an undisclosed “medical condition” that meant he required treatment at a trauma centre. Rajkumar remained in hospital under police custody on Friday evening.

    Police declined to offer details on the cause of either Rajkumar’s condition or Riya’s death.

    As news of the girl’s death spread, several people stopped by the area around Rajkumar’s home to leave flowers and pay their respects.

    Emmanuel Okafor, who lives nearby, paused near the home, clasped his hands and said a silent prayer.

    “I pray to God the family lives through this,” he said. “No family should ever go through this … It breaks my heart.”

    Okafor said he followed the situation closely after the Amber Alert was issued.

    “It’s senseless,” he said. “We were really hoping last night she would be found alive, not knowing this morning we’d have this tragic news.”

    Jennifer Fuller, who has a daughter around the same age as Riya, laid flowers on a snowbank near the home. 

    “It’s sickening and it’s sad,” she said.

    Grief and shock were also setting in at Meadowvale Village Public School in Mississauga, Ont., where Riya was a Grade 5 student.

    The school issued a statement expressing shock at the girl’s “tragic” death, announcing flags would be lowered to half-mast, and outlining supports available to students.

    “Riya was a well-liked student, and her death is deeply felt by everyone at the school,” Principal Stacy Service said. “Even students who did not personally know Riya will also be affected.”

    Mississauga Mayor Bonnie Crombie called Riya’s death “senseless,” and Brampton Mayor Patrick Brown called the alleged killing a “horrific act.”

    Both Peel and provincial police said they continued to deal Friday with another form of fallout from the Amber Alert — people calling to complain about the late-night alerts or repeat broadcasts that were issued after Rajkumar was in custody.

    Dionne lamented that some people valued their own convenience over the safety of a child, a sentiment echoed by Marttini.

    “We’re talking about a child that was missing,” Marttini said. “I feel for everyone, but given the circumstances, I think it did lead to the arrest of the individual. I think that’s what we have to focus on.”

    The Amber Alert that helped lead to Rajkumar’s arrest is a special bulletin issued when a child under 18 is abducted and believed to be in imminent danger. In order to meet the criteria for the alert, police must also have a description of either a suspect or a suspect vehicle.

    Michelle McQuigge and Shawn Jeffords, The Canadian Press





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    Environment

    The hard life of a wild Sable Island horse:’Eeking out a living on this sandbar’

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  • HALIFAX — Researchers studying the carcasses of Sable Island’s fabled wild horses have discovered many had unusual levels of parasites and sand, suggesting they are tougher than most horses, even as many died of starvation.

    A team from the University of Saskatchewan and Parks Canada performed necropsies on more than 30 dead animals during trips to the isolated sandbar about 160 kilometres off Nova Scotia in 2017 and 2018.

    “We showed up in 2017 not knowing whether there would be any dead horses to find,” said researcher Emily Jenkins.

    “Scientifically we really didn’t know anything about the causes of mortality in this population because the last work that was done was in the 1970s.”

    The horses have roamed there since the 18th century and become synonymous with the island’s romantic and untamed image.

    Jenkins said conditions on the wind-swept, 42-kilometre long island were particularly harsh in the early spring of 2017, and that had an effect on the horse population.

    “It was very hard on the horses,” she said. “When we got there they were taking shelter behind anything they could find.”

    With the help of Parks Canada, Jenkins said she and other University of Saskatchewan researchers were able to find 30 carcasses that were suitable for examination during their initial foray to the island.

    Jenkins said they estimated there were another 20 carcasses that were either unsuitable for examination or that were just too inaccessible to get to.

    She said the overall findings were “very similar” to a previous study carried out by graduate student Daniel Welsh in 1972.

    “The main finding was emaciation or starvation and hypothermia, especially for the young horses,” said Jenkins, who noted vegetation is sparse on Sable during that time of the year.

    The researchers found the yearlings in particular, had little or no reserves of body fat to rely on.

    “All of the young horses we looked at were just basically out of reserves,” Jenkins said. “They had nothing left, they were emaciated.”

    However, the adult animals, who would have higher social status and better access to the best grazing, were generally in better body condition and died of a combination of other causes.

    Jenkins said Sable Island’s omnipresent sand tends to grind down teeth, affecting nutrient intake, and also ends up in the horses’ system, blocking their gastrointestinal tract.

    “In several horses that we looked at there was quite a lot of sand. We were picking up the intestines and the stomach and saying ‘these weigh a tonne,’ because there was in many cases more sand than plant content.”

    Jenkins also noted that some pregnant mares had died while giving birth.

    The 2018 trip, meanwhile, focused more on looking for pathogens and diseases, and that’s where Jenkins said the researchers were able to find things such as respiratory and reproductive diseases including a parasite lungworm.

    She said, in fact, research over the last 10 years has turned up astounding levels of parasitic worms in these small horses, many of whom are no bigger than 14 hands long.  The average fecal egg count from the live horse study was 1,500 per gram.

    “I just about fell over because we call a high fecal egg count in a domestic horse 500 eggs per gram,” said Jenkins. “So the average Sable horse is walking around shedding three times more parasites than our domestic horses.”

    Jenkins said the horses’ genetic resistance to the parasites could render clues for horses in the domestic world, where veterinarians are “fighting a losing battle” to worms with a growing resistance to various treatments.

    The scientist said she believes domestic horses are dewormed too much to begin with, and the Sable research could help bear that out.

    “Look at what those guys are surviving with — massive levels of parasitism and no treatment. So we are probably overdoing it for most horses that are just companion animals.”

    Jenkins said the overall mortality rate in 2017 was about 10 per cent of the population, while the 2018 figure represented about one per cent, which is more the norm.

    She said the current population sits at around 500 horses, up from the 300 or so recorded in the 1970s.

    From a scientific perspective, Jenkins said it’s fascinating to see a system of untreated and unmanaged horses living in what amounts to their ancestral conditions.

    “But there’s the little girl in me who has always loved horses who can’t believe these horses are eeking out a living on this little sandbar,” she said.

    Keith Doucette, The Canadian Press



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    Environment

    The hard life of a wild Sable Island horse:’Eeking out a living on this sandbar’

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  • HALIFAX — Researchers studying the carcasses of Sable Island’s fabled wild horses have discovered many had unusual levels of parasites and sand, suggesting they are tougher than most horses, even as many died of starvation.

    A team from the University of Saskatchewan and Parks Canada performed necropsies on more than 30 dead animals during trips to the isolated sandbar about 160 kilometres off Nova Scotia in 2017 and 2018.

    “We showed up in 2017 not knowing whether there would be any dead horses to find,” said researcher Emily Jenkins.

    “Scientifically we really didn’t know anything about the causes of mortality in this population because the last work that was done was in the 1970s.”

    The horses have roamed there since the 18th century and become synonymous with the island’s romantic and untamed image.

    Jenkins said conditions on the wind-swept, 42-kilometre long island were particularly harsh in the early spring of 2017, and that had an effect on the horse population.

    “It was very hard on the horses,” she said. “When we got there they were taking shelter behind anything they could find.”

    With the help of Parks Canada, Jenkins said she and other University of Saskatchewan researchers were able to find 30 carcasses that were suitable for examination during their initial foray to the island.

    Jenkins said they estimated there were another 20 carcasses that were either unsuitable for examination or that were just too inaccessible to get to.

    She said the overall findings were “very similar” to a previous study carried out by graduate student Daniel Welsh in 1972.

    “The main finding was emaciation or starvation and hypothermia, especially for the young horses,” said Jenkins, who noted vegetation is sparse on Sable during that time of the year.

    The researchers found the yearlings in particular, had little or no reserves of body fat to rely on.

    “All of the young horses we looked at were just basically out of reserves,” Jenkins said. “They had nothing left, they were emaciated.”

    However, the adult animals, who would have higher social status and better access to the best grazing, were generally in better body condition and died of a combination of other causes.

    Jenkins said Sable Island’s omnipresent sand tends to grind down teeth, affecting nutrient intake, and also ends up in the horses’ system, blocking their gastrointestinal tract.

    “In several horses that we looked at there was quite a lot of sand. We were picking up the intestines and the stomach and saying ‘these weigh a tonne,’ because there was in many cases more sand than plant content.”

    Jenkins also noted that some pregnant mares had died while giving birth.

    The 2018 trip, meanwhile, focused more on looking for pathogens and diseases, and that’s where Jenkins said the researchers were able to find things such as respiratory and reproductive diseases including a parasite lungworm.

    She said, in fact, research over the last 10 years has turned up astounding levels of parasitic worms in these small horses, many of whom are no bigger than 14 hands long.  The average fecal egg count from the live horse study was 1,500 per gram.

    “I just about fell over because we call a high fecal egg count in a domestic horse 500 eggs per gram,” said Jenkins. “So the average Sable horse is walking around shedding three times more parasites than our domestic horses.”

    Jenkins said the horses’ genetic resistance to the parasites could render clues for horses in the domestic world, where veterinarians are “fighting a losing battle” to worms with a growing resistance to various treatments.

    The scientist said she believes domestic horses are dewormed too much to begin with, and the Sable research could help bear that out.

    “Look at what those guys are surviving with — massive levels of parasitism and no treatment. So we are probably overdoing it for most horses that are just companion animals.”

    Jenkins said the overall mortality rate in 2017 was about 10 per cent of the population, while the 2018 figure represented about one per cent, which is more the norm.

    She said the current population sits at around 500 horses, up from the 300 or so recorded in the 1970s.

    From a scientific perspective, Jenkins said it’s fascinating to see a system of untreated and unmanaged horses living in what amounts to their ancestral conditions.

    “But there’s the little girl in me who has always loved horses who can’t believe these horses are eeking out a living on this little sandbar,” she said.

    Keith Doucette, The Canadian Press



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