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Dozens of tips, no breakthroughs yet in FBI’s missing and murdered Indigenous people effort

After completing the first 90 days of data collection on Wind River Indian Reservation, agency reports out on conversations, tips and cases.

FBI Assistant Special Agent in Charge Leonard Carollo fields questions about a missing and murdered Indigenous persons data collection effort during a press conference in Fort Washakie on June 11, 2024. (Katie Klingsporn/WyoFile)

by Katie Klingsporn, WyoFile

FORT WASHAKIE—Though the Federal Bureau of Investigations received numerous tips in the 90 days since it kicked off a focused effort to collect data on missing and murdered Indigenous people in Wyoming, the agency hasn’t made any breakthroughs. 

“At this time, our outreach and collection efforts have not resulted in the identification of any previously unknown cases,” FBI Assistant Special Agent in Charge Leonard Carollo said at a Tuesday press conference.

The agency received 35 tips through a dedicated hotline and email account created for the MMIP initiative and heard from eight law enforcement agencies, Carollo said. FBI agents also worked with the tribal business councils for the Northern Arapaho and Eastern Shoshone tribes and held in-person sessions on the sprawling Wind River Indian Reservation in Fremont County, where more than 60% of the state’s Indigenous residents live. 

“All tips reported to us through these efforts were previously reported through appropriate law enforcement channels,” Carollo said. 

The effort is far from over, he continued.

“We will continue the dialogue among tribal communities and federal state and local law enforcement,” he said. “We have justice as our common goal and we will continue to investigate and advocate on behalf of the victims on the Wind River Indian Reservation.”

History 

Fewer than 3% of Wyoming residents are Native American. But about 12% of homicides were perpetrated against Native people in 2022, according to a 2023 Wyoming Survey & Analysis Center report

Momentum to address the MMIP crisis has grown nationwide in recent years, including in Wyoming, where local and state initiatives have ranged from a task force to reports to a missing persons website and a new alert system. Much of what has been identified as a barrier relates to jurisdictional issues. 

A crowd of people took part in a rally for missing and murdered Indigenous people May 5, 2021 in Riverton. (BJ Klophaus)

The FBI, which is the main agency investigating crimes of this severity on the reservation, in February launched its own initiative to gather more information on missing and murdered people in the state. The initiative set out to compile a complete list of cases involving Native Americans as well as solve cold cases. 

Thirty-five tips came in during the three-month rollout, though not all were germane to the initiative’s purpose, according to the FBI. 

Of the 35, four homicides and three missing persons cases were identified. All seven had previously been reported through appropriate law enforcement channels, Carollo said. He declined to discuss those cases in detail. 

“However, we are evaluating them to ensure they were thoroughly investigated,” he said. 

Challenges

At the press conference, Carollo brought up issues that complicate MMIP cases, including distrust of law enforcement.

“We acknowledge that in the past, tribal members have not always been comfortable working with law enforcement in general and with the FBI specifically,” he said. “We recognize these historical barriers, and the continued generational trauma that exists in tribal communities.”

Some investigations find a crime has not been committed. Even when the agency thoroughly investigates a case, he said, it can remain unsolved. And “sometimes, we believe we know who committed that crime, but not enough evidence exists for prosecutors to seek an indictment or file charges. Prosecutors have an ethical obligation to take such steps only if they believe they can convince a jury beyond a reasonable doubt, which is a high standard.”

Missing juveniles are often discovered to be runaways, Carollo said. 

Some 17 Fremont County individuals were listed as missing on Wyoming’s Missing Persons page as of Tuesday, the most of any county in the state. Six were juveniles. 

All of these situations are understandably hard for families, he said. 

Carollo considers the fact that people showed up, called and texted the FBI as evidence of the initiative’s success, he said. He expects it to take more time and work to continue strengthening the relationship between the agency and reservation community. 

“We want to receive whatever information anyone has,” he said. 

Anyone with tips regarding missing and murdered Indigenous people can reach the FBI via the hotline 307-433-3221 or email WYMMIP@FBI.gov.


This article was originally published by WyoFile and is republished here with permission. WyoFile is an independent nonprofit news organization focused on Wyoming people, places and policy.

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