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FBI launches new state-wide project to learn more about missing and murdered Indigenous peoples

A bald, middle-aged man in glasses stands and speaks at a podium with a "Department of Justice" banner. Behind him is a backdrop with the "Department of Justice" seal repeated on a blue background.
Hannah Habermann
Wyoming Public Media
Assistant Special Agent in Charge with the FBI Leonard Carollo speaks to an audience at the press conference in Fort Washakie. The Agency announced a new project to collect more data on the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Persons crisis in the state.

At a press conference in Fort Washakie on February 8, the FBI announced a new initiative to gather more data about Native Americans who’ve gone missing or been murdered in cases that haven’t been closed. The agency is seeking tips from the public to better understand what the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Peoples (MMIP) crisis looks like in the state and what resources the agency can contribute to solving cases.

“Our goal at the FBI is to leverage our resources and expertise and work with our partners to achieve meaningful progress in identifying these cases,” said Leonard Carollo, the Assistant Special Agent in Charge at the FBI. “We want to assure the friends and families of the missing or murdered Indigenous persons that we will continue to seek justice in their cases.”

The FBI is the main agency that investigates these sorts of crimes on the Wind River Reservation. They’ve now set up a designated email account – WYMMIP@fbi.gov – to collect information from community members, like new details about already-existing cases or cases that were never reported in the first place.

Those with tips can also leave a message at 307-433-3221, and callers who leave a name and phone number will receive a return call. The FBI also plans to host in-person information-gathering sessions on the reservation in the next two months.

Data will be collected for ninety days, then the agency will research and investigate the tips. If the FBI does not have jurisdiction over a particular case, that information will be forwarded to the appropriate agency, according to the FBI’s press release. The findings will be presented, as much as possible, to the Eastern Shoshone and Northern Arapaho tribes, and then to the general public.

Eastern Shoshone Business Councilman John Washakie spoke at the announcement and encouraged anyone with information to come forward and share with the FBI. He shared the story of his niece, Abigail, who was murdered and found in a trash can in Riverton.

“I can tell you from personal experience about the devastation and loss that it causes to families when something like this happens,” Washakie said. “I come from a very big family, I have thirteen brothers and sisters, so you can imagine how many people were affected by the loss of Abigail.”

Northern Arapaho Business Council Chairman Lloyd Goggles said that, between 2011 and 2020, more than 700 Native people were reported missing in Wyoming alone.

“Native individuals in our state are also murdered at a rate approximately eight times higher than the general public. This is unfortunate and cannot be allowed to continue,” Goggles said.

Goggles, who previously worked as a patrolman, said the data collection project is an opportunity for accountability around tragedies that have impacted friends, families, and whole communities.

“[The project] is an important step because it also encourages healing. A lot of people here and throughout the country need healing,” Goggles said. “This is an opportunity to shine another light on the MMIP crisis…this is our chance to achieve a measure of justice.”

Special Agent Carollo, who oversees all FBI operations in Wyoming, said he recognizes that tribal members have not always been comfortable working with the agency.

“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,” he said, “I can't say that. We acknowledge that and we accept that.”

Carollo said that if those with information don’t feel comfortable reaching out to the FBI directly, they should talk to their tribal leaders or respected community members, who can then work with the agency.

“We recognize these historical barriers and want to do all we can to improve the flow of information,” Carollo said. “It takes time to build that trust and we're willing to be patient.”

Carollo thanked both the Eastern Shoshone and Northern Arapaho Business Councils, and said that their support and partnership are “crucial to our efforts on the reservation.”

The agency is also collaborating with law enforcement agencies across the state, the Wyoming Division of Criminal Investigation, the US Attorney's Office for the District of Wyoming, and researchers from the University of Wyoming. The project adds to ongoing local and state initiatives to address the MMIP crisis, like the Wyoming Missing Persons page, the Wyoming Missing and Murdered Indigenous Persons Task Force and the new Ashanti alert system, which sends out notifications about abducted, kidnapped or compromised adults.

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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