"When they arrived, witnesses declared that someone had lit a silicone mannequin on fire," McConnell told reporters, adding the firefighters then requested assistance from the police.
"After discussions between the two departments, it was agreed that the mannequin would be disposed of in the container at the Sherbrooke police service, which cannot be accessed by members of the public," he added — that "container" being a dumpster behind the police station.
But at 2:15 PM that day, about four hours after dumping the "mannequin" in the trash, a man contacted the police station to file a missing persons report on his wife.
Police tracked her cellphone to her vacant car... which was parked near the location of the fire.
"A police officer who intervened earlier raised the coincidence insightfully," McConnell said. When officers fished the so-called dummy out of the trash, they realized to their horror it was actually the missing woman's charred dead body.
"We are obviously sorry about this situation and rest assured the family is being advised about every key detail of this investigation," McConnell said. "Our hearts are with the family, her partner and the kids in this very tragic situation."
Stéphane Simoneau, the head of Sherbrooke's fire department, said first responders had been badly psychologically impacted by the incident.
It is still unclear how the woman died, or who the second person witnesses saw at the scene was. The death is being treated as suspicious.
The police error and suspicious death are now being investigated separately.
Dr. Robert Nicholson, anatomical pathologist at Granby Hospital, explained to the broadcaster in grim detail that it wasn't an unreasonable mistake to make, as the human body was made up of around 60 percent water — and thus looks very different when burnt.
"So, a 150-pound person would be about 60 pounds," he said.
"You know the general outline of a human body; but without a close look it's very difficult to separate it from a very well done, burnt mannequin. It's not unreasonable in certain situations," he added. "Now there would be other situations where it would be ludicrous to misinterpret."