On August 19, 2017, 22-year-old Savanna LaFontaine-Graywind disappeared in Fargo, North Dakota. The upstairs neighbor immediately was a suspect: she had been acting strangely and texted LaFontaine-Graywind earlier that day. Savanna was eight months pregnant, with swollen feet. Her car was in the parking lot, her wallet was at home: wherever she went, she wasn’t planning to go far.
Eight days later, her body was found in the Red River. Her baby had been cut from her womb.
Two months earlier, Ashley HeavyRunner Loring vanished from the Blackfeet Indian Reservation in Montana. A witness later reported seeing Ashley running from a vehicle on Highway 89.
The two cases are part of storm of domestic abuse and murder hitting Native American and Alaska Native women. Statistical surveys are thin, but the numbers out there indicate that Native American women are murdered at a rate 10 times the national average.
In Montana alone, more than twenty-four Native Americans–most of them women–went missing in 2018, Senator John Tester said at a Senate Indian Affairs hearing last month. “We have an epidemic on our hands.”
The law enforcement response often is tepid.
“Law enforcement did not take Ashley’s case seriously, as well as other girls that have gone missing and been murdered in Indian country,” Ashley’s sister, Kimberly Loring, told Congress.
Days after Savanna’s disappearance in Fargo, a deputy sheriff told a local news outlet that there was “nothing to suggest criminal activity.”