Please note: This story contains reference to someone who has died.
The remains of a young Aboriginal man have been found in the Gwydir River near Moree in New South Wales.
Remains found in the river were identified as 22-year-old, Gomeroi man Gordon Copeland.
Copeland was last seen alive near the river in Moree after being pursued by NSW Police in the early hours of July 10.
Copeland’s family will remember him as a happy young man and loving father.
“Gordon was deeply loved. He was a son, father, partner, brother, cousin and nephew,” said Lesley Fernando, Gordon’s aunty, speaking on behalf of his mum Narelle, partner Josephine, and other family members.
“He was excited to welcome another child into the world later this year and we are devastated that his kids will grow up without their dad.”
Copeland’s body was found by the police on October 7, three months are he was declared missing.
The family had been continually fighting since he went missing, calling on the police to “ramp up the search”.
“Police told the media they never stopped searching for Gordon, but we don’t believe that’s true,” said Fernando.
“Meanwhile, our family and supporters were forced to search the river ourselves. We spent over $8,000 on wetsuits, boats, cameras and other expenses.”
In a statement, NSW Police said a “further search” was commenced on October 6 by New England Police District.
“The search was assisted by officers from Marine Area Command, Police Rescue, Western Region Operation Support Group (OSG), the Dog and Mounted Unit, general duties officers, both small boat and drone-trained officers, and the NSW State Emergency Service,” they said.
NSW Police confirmed that on October 7, around 10:30am, police divers “located human remains in the Gwydir River near Billa Street, Yarraman”.
The remains were found approximately 500m from where Copeland was last seen.
“Investigators are continuing to prepare a report for the information of the NSW Coroner,” said NSW Police.
The family will be represented by the Aboriginal Legal Service NSW/ACT (ALS) at the coronial inquest.
Fernando said the family hope the inquest will answer questions they have about Copeland’s final moments, including how he entered the river, what the police response was once he was spotted and why they’ve been denied access to bodycam footage of the events.
“We hope the coronial inquest will give us the answers we deserve. We are looking forward to seeking justice for Gordon.”
Nadine Miles, ALS Acting CEO said the organisation is “deeply saddened and furious” that another Aboriginal person has been “ripped from his family”.
“Gordon’s life mattered. He is one of 17 Aboriginal people (who died either in custody or in a police operation) whose coronial inquests we are currently acting in,” she said.
“We don’t want this work to be necessary. No one should be suffering senseless, lonely deaths in rivers, on streets, or in prison cells.”
Copeland is one of at least 12 Aboriginal people have died in custody this year alone, three of which were involved in interactions with NSW Police.
Victorian Greens Senator Lidia Thorpe took to social media to express her condolences to the family.
“After sustained pressure from family, NSW Police renewed their search 84 days after he went missing. 84 days,” she wrote.
“No grieving family should have to be coordinating their own search efforts and organising protests to make the police do their job. Devastating.”
Copeland’s family extended their thanks to many people and organisations who were involved in the search effort.
“We thank the Moree Gomeroi community and our supporters; A/ Inspector Stephen Caldwell; the State Coroner; our employers who have given us time off during the search; local businesses like Woollies who pitched in; and the not-for-profits who have stood by us,” Fernando said.
By Rachael Knowles