Search continues for Hardin girl as community rallies around the family

Thursday, January 9, 2020
Search continues for Hardin girl as community rallies around the family

Photo courtesy of BHCSO

Selena Not Afraid

Search continues for Hardin girl as community rallies around the family

Photo by Rusty LaFrance

Crow Tribal Chief of Police Terrill Bracken speaks to a volunteer Friday at the command post in the search of 16 year-old Selena Not Afraid, who went missing the afternoon of Jan. 1, after walking away from a disabled vehicle. She reportedly walked toward a nearby hayfield.


Ever since news of Selena Not Afraid’s disappearance broke on New Year’s Day, individuals in Big Horn County have come together to offer support to the family.

Several people have made the journey to the county rest area along eastbound I-90, the incident command post for the search. They bring with them supplies such as food, water, hats and gloves and help.

There were roughly 120 people in the search party on Jan. 1, the day Not Afraid was reported missing.

Friends, family and other volunteers joined the search party along with Big Horn County Sheriff’s deputies, Bureau of Indian Affairs Law Enforcement officers and the Crow Tribe’s Abandoned Mine Lands staff.

Crews searched through the night until about 2:30 a.m. on foot using dogs from the Yellowstone County Sheriff’s Department and a drone from BNSF Railway, said one volunteer.

The search for Not Afraid and the circumstances surrounding her disappearance have some family members and search party volunteers wondering what exactly happened the afternoon of Jan. 1.

According to numerous posts on social media, Not Afraid and several friends attended a house party on New Year’s Eve at a residence on Miles Avenue in Billings.

Numerous news outlets have reported that the following morning, Not Afraid caught a ride with two men and two women, who were on their way back to Hardin.

According to the missing persons advisory released on Jan. 1, the van experienced mechanical problems near mile marker 476, just east of the Yellowstone County line and pulled off the road at the rest area around 2 p.m.

Reportedly, while the group was parked at the rest area, Not Afraid walked away from the vehicle with an adult woman into a field behind the building for reasons still unknown. The remaining passengers stayed in the vehicle while another passenger worked to get it started.

What happened next is ambiguous as search party volunteers told BHCN staff they were instructed to not speak to media and calls to the Big Horn County Sheriff’s office have gone unreturned.

According to Billings news outlets and social media, it is unclear if Not Afraid actually walked away from the rest area on her own, or if she left with the woman.

It is also unclear why Not Afraid left the van to begin with, there are several theories circulating in the community about Not Afraid’s intent, but there has been no conclusive story released by law enforcement officials.

 

The search

The family of Not Afraid reported her missing when she failed to return to her Hardin residence. Not Afraid’s aunt Cheryl Horn took to social media as early as 4:50 p.m. that same day to request help searching the rest area. The search continued in the early morning hours of Jan. 2.

Five hours later at 8 a.m. Thursday the search continued, this time with two helicopters. One on loan from the Kehler family and the other from the Yellowstone County Sheriff’s Department.

BIA Land Services brought four all terrain vehicles and AML brought five horse back riders and other personnel for foot search..

As the investigation continued into Monday the search area was expanded 15 miles east past the Toluca exit 484 to mile marker 491, an area known to county residents as “the washout.”

The search also extended west into Billings and the residence on Miles Avenue.

Big Horn County Sheriff Lawrence Pete Big Hair told KTVQ the witnesses from the van were interviewed and their stories started to conflict, prompting him to call the case “suspicious.”

“If I was confident, I wouldn’t be having them to go back and revisit with them,” Big Hair told Q2 reporters of his detectives re-interviewing the witnesses. “From conflicting stories from the original interviews and then the second interview, that led us to re-interview them again. When they left the second time they stalled. She could’ve maybe got out (near the washout). So that’s why we’re checking that area, just to make sure because these are the two areas that they stopped before they got to Hardin.”

“How do you piece stories from six, seven, eight people that have changed two, three times?” Horn said in an seperate interview with Q2. “Just keeping Selena’s name, picture, poster, this picture of the rest area in case somebody drive by and remember things. We’re still searching. We’re still actively positive she’s alive and we still believe she was removed from here. Some how she did leave the rest area and at some point she was picked up again. That’s what we believe."

 

#Hope4Sal

Not Afraid represents the third Crow tribal member to go missing in the county in under a year.

Hub Binion Williamson was reported missing last April. Family and friends have continued to search independently from law enforcement’s investigation, but despite their best efforts there have been no major developments announced in his case.

Not Afraid is the second female Crow teen to go missing for an extended period in the last five months.

Several teens are reported missing in the county, but the majority of them return home or were erroniously reported as missing,

Kaysera Stops Pretty Places, on the other hand, was reported missing in late August a few days after her 18th birthday. Two days later on Aug. 29 her body was found in plain sight along the fence line near the intersection of Mitchell Avenue and Rangeview Drive in Hardin.

There was no public outcry or search parties when Stops Pretty Places was reported missing. The case remains open and supporters organize monthly protests in front of the Big Horn County courthouse.

The protest on Wednesday was held in solidarity for Not Afraid.

The disappearance of Not Afraid has been reported throughout Montana, Wyoming and the Dakotas and by national newspaper USA Today and the hashtag #Hope4Sal has surfaced.

Support has come from all over Big Horn County.

The peers of Not Afraid at Hardin High School also came together to support the family by designating a special day to wear red, the color of the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women movement, to raise awareness and hope for Not Afraid’s case.

In an effort to give hope to the family, a second grade classroom at Hardin Primary School decorated their door with red handprints with good wishes for Not Afraid written on them, while a fourth grade classroom at Wyola Public School, wore red shirts in solidarity for the missing 16-year-old.

On Tuesday morning, 120 HHS students journeyed to the rest area to support the family of Not Afraid and left posters to remind volunteers and passersby of Not Afraid.

Horn spoke to the Billings Gazette reporters about the high school students who came to support them in their time of need.

“It felt so good,” she said. “We needed those kids and their vibes. We need them to see this, too.”

The Hardin Bulldogs boys’ basketball team and coaches also wore red shirts during their game on Saturday to remind spectators of the case. And, although Not Afraid attends school in Hardin, the boys basketball team at Lodge Grass High School tied red ribbons to their shoes vowing not to take them off until Not Afraid returns to her family.

In a social media post, Horn implored anyone following along with the search to try and extend their efforts to Wyoming and South Dakota gas stations and security cameras.

After the search entered its seventh day, an FBI team from Denver specializing in child abduction and a search dog team from Texas came in to assist in the investigation.

Wednesday afternoon, a report from the Sheridan Press detailed a potential sighting of Not Afraid at a gas station in Sheridan, Wyoming, but upon further investigation it was proven to be a case of mistaken identity.

Not Afraid is 5 foot, 9 inches tall, 133 pounds, with black hair and brown eyes. She was wearing a black coat, gray sweater, blue jeans and grey ankle boots. She has a scar near her mouth and a tattoo of a cross on her middle finger.

Anyone who has information is advised to call the Big Horn County Sheriff’s office at 406-665-9800.

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