Six days into their search for 16-year-old Selena Not Afraid, investigators with the Bighorn County Montana Sheriff's Department are treating her disappearance as suspicious.
Not Afraid, who is a citizen of the Crow Nation, is said to have been traveling eastbound along interstate 90 between Billings and Hardin with a group of adult friends on New Year's Day. Those adults told investigators that their van broke down at a rest stop near mile marker 474 along the highway, and that Not Afraid walked into a nearby field and didn't return. But investigators say that story isn't adding up.
"Some of their stories have been conflicting," Big Horn County Sheriff Lawrence Big Hair told the Billings Gazette on Friday.
By then, a search by volunteers, investigators from multiple agencies, detection dogs and a thermal drone hadn't turned up any trace of Not Afraid within a five mile area surrounding the rest stop. Police have since extended their search to include Billings and parts of Wyoming and South Dakota.
Not Afraid's aunt Cheryl Horn said that the family is not sure what to believe, but will continue to search until she is found.
"Since the [witnesses'] stories don't match up, we're not taking anything as written in stone," Horn said. "Searchers are everywhere, all around us. All the way into Sheridan. We're reaching out as far as we can along I-90."
Horn said family members twice spotted a light green Subaru station wagon with Wyoming plates at the rest stop on the day Not Afraid went missing, and that investigators believe the driver of that vehicle may have something to do with her niece's disappearance. She added that Not Afraid is one of many Indigenous girls and women who are currently missing from our region.
"And so I'm hoping, with all this searching, whether we find Selena or we find some clue to another girl, that something positive is going to come out of all of this. Whether it's for us or another family because we're not the only family," Horn said. "We just happen to be the ones that are on the news right now because it's fresh. But in a couple of days, it's not going to be fresh. We're going to be back in the pile with all the other girls."
Horn said the family believes Not Afraid is still alive and will continue to use the rest area on I-90 as a headquarters for the volunteer search party. She asked that people continue to share Not Afraid's photo and information on social media.
Not Afraid is 5'9", 130-135 pounds, has brown hair and eyes and was last seen wearing a black coat, gray sweater, blue jeans and gray ankle boots. She has a small scar near her mouth and a tattoo of a cross on her middle finger. Anyone with information regarding her disappearance is asked to contact the Bighorn County Montana Sheriff's Department (406) 665-9780.
Have a question about this story? Contact the reporter, Savannah Maher, at firstname.lastname@example.org.