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FBI hopes to build trust with new Missing and Murdered Indigenous Persons (MMIP) tip line and email

A man in an orange button-up shirt and beaded rose bolo tie stands behind a podium. The podium is draped with a blue cloth that reads “Department of Justice: Federal Bureau of Investigation.”
Hannah Habermann
Wyoming Public Media

On a Thursday morning at the Frank B. Wise Center in Fort Washakie, John Washakie stands at a podium, wearing an orange button-up shirt and beaded rose bolo tie. The podium is draped with a blue cloth that reads “Department of Justice: Federal Bureau of Investigation.”

“Abigail Washakie was my niece,” he said. “She had a family, a home and then she drifted off and became involved with a person and came up missing for a few days.”

The Eastern Shoshone Business Councilman was speaking at a press conference on February 8 about a new FBI initiative addressing the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Persons Crisis, also known as MMIP.

“She was murdered and put in a trash bin in Riverton,” he said.

Washakie said that while Abigail’s case was solved thanks to the FBI and other law enforcement agencies, it often doesn’t end that way.

“I can only encourage you today to come forward with information related to any unresolved cases or where you may know some missing person,” he said.

The FBI announced the new initiative to gather more data about Native Americans who’ve gone missing or been murdered in cases that haven’t been closed. This issue has been a crisis for decades – between 2011 and 2020, over 700 Native people were reported missing in the state.

The FBI is the main agency that investigates these sorts of crimes when they involve tribal members on the Wind River Reservation – and they’ve now set up a designated email account and tip line to collect new information from community members.

“I think [the initiative] was really born out of the thought that you have citizens who are talking about lost loved ones in these cases where they've never gotten resolution,” said Cara Chambers, the director of the Wyoming Division of Victim Services and the chair of the state MMIP task force.

In 2019, she had a conversation with the FBI Victim Services advocate at the time. The two realized that there was a need for more communication between the agency and community members.

“They're like, ‘Well, you know, they [tribal members] keep talking about these cold cases. But, you know, technically, any lead that we had was fully investigated,’” she said.

The FBI was saying there were no cold cases, but people on the ground were saying otherwise. Chambers said this new initiative gives families another chance to do a deeper dive to hopefully close that discrepancy.

“[It] gives the opportunity for these families who maybe didn't have the courage at the time or didn't have all the information to move forward,” she said.

The state task force just released an updated “Indigenous Victims of Homicide and Missing Persons in Wyoming” report on February 21st. Chambers said the FBI’s new initiative pairs well with two pieces of ongoing legislation the task force has worked on and recommended – a cold case database bill and a forensic genetic genealogy bill.

“Both of those bills are speaking to this desire to look into cold cases, to leverage any tools that are out there. The science is just getting better and more innovative,” she said.

Both bills have passed their second reading on the House floor.

Chambers said navigating the jurisdictional maze around MMIP-related crimes can be complicated. But, more collaboration will ultimately help more voices be heard and hopefully help more cases be solved.

“There's a lot of federal and state interaction, overlap and cooperation. I think our federal partners have really just embraced the work of the state task force,” she said.

Nicole Wagon is a Northern Arapaho MMIP advocate and serves on the state’s MMIP task force with Chambers. She said there’s a lack of trust in the agency on the reservation – which she said comes, in part, from a lack of visibility.

“How do we get that into our schools, that they're real and they do exist? People talk about it, but it's almost a figment of people's imagination if you think about it,” she said.

Wagon lost two daughters to the MMIP crisis and worked with state law enforcement to solve the murder of her daughter Jocelyn. She said she’s had friends reach out to her for support to share their stories and to contact the FBI.

“I'm grateful that [the FBI] is finally coming on board, and I think that’s something that should have happened a long time ago,” she said.

Wagon has helped organize local powwows and marches to raise awareness around MMIP, and worked to establish the Ashanti alert system in Wyoming. She said she hopes the new initiative will be another avenue for community members to find justice.

“This is right there in front of them, are they going to engage? I've been encouraging people, you're not going to know unless you try,” she said.

A man speaks behind a podium in front of a room of people.
Hannah Habermann
Wyoming Public Media
Northern Arapaho Business Council Chairman Lloyd Goggles speaks to the room at the press conference about the new FBI initiative.

Northern Arapaho Business Council Chairman Lloyd Goggles echoed that sentiment at the press conference in Fort Washakie. The former patrolman said he’s seen the mistrust first-hand.

“There is hesitancy amongst the public when they have the chance to divulge something. There's a need to protect their own,” he said. “I always encouraged accountability amongst the people.”

Assistant Special Agent in Charge Leonard Carollo oversees all FBI operations in Wyoming. At the conference, he recognized that tribal members haven’t always been comfortable working with the agency in the past.

“I would be remiss if I sat up here today and said that we've done everything correctly, that we have not made any mistakes. I can't say that. We acknowledge that, we accept that,” he said.

Three men stand in front of an FBI branded background
Hannah Habermann
Wyoming Public Media
Eastern Shoshone Business Councilman John Washakie, Northern Arapaho Business Council Chairman Lloyd Goggles, and FBI Assistant Special Agent in Charge Leonard Carollo.

The FBI hopes to build that trust by hosting in-person MMIP information gathering sessions on the reservation. They have yet to announce the specifics. Carollo said they’re also starting to partner with the tribes to put on youth outreach events, like a teen academy they hosted last summer at the local high school.

“It was a full day of just introducing them not just to the FBI and to law enforcement and some of the things that we do, but giving them some awareness briefings and talking to them about dangers that they will see in life,” he said.

After 90 days from the announcement, the FBI will start researching and investigating the tips they receive. But they will still look into tips they receive after that window. In Wyoming, there is no criminal statute of limitations, so any crime can be prosecuted in the state at any time.

“In situations where the FBI does not have jurisdiction, that information will be forwarded to the appropriate agency,” said Carollo.

The findings will be presented, as much as possible, to the Eastern Shoshone and Northern Arapaho tribes, and then to the general public.

Those with tips can email WYMMIP@fbi.gov or leave a message at 307-433-3221. Callers who leave a name and phone number will receive a return call.

Hannah Habermann is the rural and tribal reporter for Wyoming Public Radio. She has a degree in Environmental Studies and Non-Fiction Writing from Middlebury College and was the co-creator of the podcast Yonder Lies: Unpacking the Myths of Jackson Hole. Hannah also received the Pattie Layser Greater Yellowstone Creative Writing & Journalism Fellowship from the Wyoming Arts Council in 2021 and has taught backpacking and climbing courses throughout the West.

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