The body of a missing Aboriginal man has been found in the river he was last seen at almost three months ago.
His family said he was a passenger of a vehicle that was pursued by officers and has been critical of authorities’ attempts to find him.
The remains were sent for forensic examination, NSW Police said, and have now been confirmed as those of Mr Copeland.
Investigators are continuing to prepare a report for the information of the NSW Coroner, and the Aboriginal Legal Service (ALS) is preparing to represent his family at an inquest.
Mr Copeland has a three-year-old son, and his partner is expecting their second child.
His family said they will remember him as a happy and bubbly young man.
“Gordon was deeply loved,” Lesley Fernando, Mr Copeland’s aunt, said on behalf of his mum Narelle, partner Josephine, and other family members.
“He was a son, father, partner, brother, cousin, and nephew.
“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.”
Mr Copeland’s family have criticised NSW Police over its handling of the case and said they searched the river themselves, spending $8000 on “wetsuits, boats, cameras and other expenses”.
“We hope the coronial inquest will give us the answers we deserve. We are looking forward to seeking justice for Gordon,” Ms Fernando said.
Police initially searched the area in July for five days, and then followed up with a three-day search in August.
New England Police Superintendent Steve Laksa played down suggestions the family was unhappy with police search efforts last week.
But he did confirm an “independent investigation” by Oxley Police District was now underway “in relation to the circumstances leading to the disappearance of Gordon Copeland.”
The investigation by Oxley Police District would be independent, transparent and thorough, Superintendent Laksa said.
“Gordon’s life mattered,” Acting CEO of the Aboriginal Legal Service Nadine Miles said.
“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.
“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.”
Mr Copeland is one of at least 12 Aboriginal people who have died in custody and police incidents across Australia this year, the ALS said.
Mr Copeland’s family gave permission for media outlets to publish the photos included in this article.