The body of a Native American teenager from Montana, who had been missing since disappearing from a highway rest stop on New Year’s Day, was found Monday, putting an end to a search that spanned across three states and involved the FBI.
Selena Shelley Faye Not Afraid, 16, was found dead at about 10:30 a.m. less than a mile southwest of the rest stop on Interstate 90 between Billings and Hardin during a "systematic grid search" of the area, Big Horn County Sheriff Lawrence C. Big Hair told USA Today in a statement.
“We brought our baby girl home. Now she can Rest In Peace. Jackie and I want to thank everyone for helping us bring our girl home,” Cheryl Horn, Selena’s aunt, wrote in a Facebook post.
An autopsy will be conducted to determine the cause of death. Authorities do not expect foul play.
The teen lived on the Crow reservation near Billings with her mother, Jackie Big Hair. She was among six people driving from Billings to Hardin when the car broke down and restarted, sheriff’s officials said. Four people left the rest stop in the vehicle and the driver called a relative to pick up Not Afraid and another girl left behind.
Only one girl was at the rest stop when the relative arrived. She told police Not Afraid had walked off into a nearby field. Not Afraid was insufficiently dressed for temperatures around freezing, The Associated Press reported.
Nearly 300 cases of missing Native American women and girls have been reported to authorities in Montana in the year 2019 alone, the AP reported.
"A large percentage of these missing girls are indigenous," Horn told Dateline in an earlier interview. "But this is not just an indigenous problem. This is a human problem. And right now, I have a voice. You have a voice. Those who are missing do not have a voice, and we need to be that voice for them."
Last November, Attorney General William Barr announced a nationwide plan to address the crisis of missing and murdered Native American women during a visit with tribal leaders and law enforcement officials on the Flathead Reservation in Montana.
The Justice Department’s Missing and Murdered Indigenous Persons Initiative would invest $1.5 million to hire specialized coordinators in 11 U.S. attorney’s offices across the U.S. with significant Indian Country caseloads. The coordinators would be responsible for developing protocols for a better law enforcement response to missing persons cases.
Native American women experience some of the nation’s highest rates of murder, sexual violence and domestic abuse. The National Institute of Justice estimates that 1.5 million Native American women have experienced violence in their lifetime, including many who are victims of sexual violence. On some reservations, federal studies have shown women are killed at a rate more than 10 times the national average.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.