Lisa Lake struggled to hold back tears Tuesday as she spoke about losing her daughter, Cortney.
“The last five months have been nothing but a living hell for our family,” she said.
Lake addressed the media during a news conference at RNC headquarters, where police updated reporters in the Cortney Lake homicide investigation.
The 24-year-old disappeared June 7 and police believe she was murdered.
“The day we found out Cortney had been murdered brought us to our knees,” her mother said.
“Some mornings I wake up and think, is this real? How is it possible that Cortney is gone forever?” she said, breaking down in tears.
“Sometimes I don’t know if I can breathe, not knowing where she could be.
“Cortney is missed in so many ways. A very important part of our lives is gone. She was my only daughter. … All of our family feel like someone has cut a piece out of us, a piece that will never heal.
“Since she’s been gone, her son celebrated his birthday without his Mommy.
“We had Thanksgiving dinner without her beautiful face around the table. Cortney loved her Nan’s Sunday cooked dinner,” Lake said, again becoming emotional. “She also loved butterflies and the colour purple. Christmas was her favourite time of year. This year will be very difficult. I don’t know how I’ll be able to celebrate Christmas without her.”
Lake paused to wipe tears and gather herself.
“The only thing that can ease our heartache is to find Cortney and give her the dignity of a proper burial,” Lake said, her voice quivering. “My daughter deserves that. We need that. I would love to be able to place flowers on her grave, to sit and talk and tell her how much I miss her and how much I love her.
“I am begging today for anyone, anybody who can help us find Cortney, please, please come forward. As Cortney’s mother, I cannot accept that we may never find her. I cannot accept that her son will never know where his Mommy is.
“Please, I beg everybody and anybody to help us.”
As she stepped away from the podium, she got hugs from family members, who sat and held photos of Cortney.
Before Lisa Lake spoke, lead investigator Insp. Tom Warren told reporters that Phillip Smith was the only suspect in the investigation.
Smith, who was Lake’s former boyfriend, was found dead in the woods at Bellevue Beach behind his father’s cabin on Nov. 1. He committed suicide.
Warren wouldn’t say what exactly led police to believe Smith was involved in the murder.
The last time Lake was seen was 7:54 p.m., when she was getting into Smith’s GMC Sierra pickup truck on Mitchener Avenue near her Mount Pearl home. Police had released the CCTV footage showing her getting in the passenger side.
Warren said Smith’s pickup was distinctive, as it had a decal in the back passenger side window.
However, besides the CCTV footage that had already been released, there was additional footage of Smith obtained by police, Warren said.
He said after Smith picked Lake up, the next known sighting of the pickup was on Ridge Road in the east end of St. John’s at 8:30 p.m. that night.
Police then placed Smith in his vehicle at the Ultramar service station on Higgins Line the morning of June 8. After he pumped gas, Smith went inside the service station wearing a pair of green rubber boots. He paid for his gas, returned to his vehicle, went east-bound on Higgins Line and turned left onto Portugal Cove Road heading towards the direction of the airport, Warren said.
He said they got word from the RCMP on Nov. 1 that Smith’s body had been found at Bellevue Beach.
Warren said in the course of the investigation, officers conducted more than 100 interviews.
“I’m satisfied to say that based on my review and speaking to my investigative team, I’m of the belief that some of these persons that have been interviewed have withheld information,” Warren said.
“I’m also of the belief that persons who have been identified in our investigation have not spoken with my investigation team.”
He said some of the evidence he has received from some of the people interviewed has been “contradictory to factual evidence.”
Warren said there is no additional information in the investigation at this point.
He wouldn’t say why they believe Lake was murdered.
“However, I will state that as of 7:54 p.m. on June 7, Cortney Lake has basically went off the grid,” Warren said.
“Ordinarily, if she was away for a period of time, she would reach out to family and friends. Since June 7, there’s been absolutely no contact or communication with any known family members or friends. There’s been no access to cellular devices, her social media accounts and financial institutions.”
Warren also said that in early August, at provincial court, in an agreed statement of facts, Smith admitted he picked up Lake on June 7.
Warren said no evidence was found at the scene of Smith’s body to help officers in the investigation or to lead them to Lake’s remains. He can’t release information about whether or not he had contact with anyone else.
Warren said he hopes that with Smith’s death, somebody who may have felt apprehensive about coming forward with information when he was alive will come forward now.