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Missing Teen's Case Puts Focus on a Troubling Issue

Selena Not Afraid is the latest Native American girl or woman to disappear
By Newser Editors,  Newser Staff
Posted Jan 20, 2020 10:45 AM CST

(Newser) – It has been nearly three weeks since 16-year-old Selena Bell, aka Selena Not Afraid, went missing. The Native American teen disappeared at a rest stop in rural Montana, and searches by police and volunteers have been fruitless. As the hunt continues, Selena's disappearance is calling attention to the larger issue of missing and murdered Native American women, particularly in Montana. Coverage:

  • Disappearance: Selena was last seen Jan. 1 at a rest stop on I-90 between Billings and Hardin, reports NBC News. She'd been in a van with five others returning to Hardin from a New Year's Eve party, but the details after that get a little murky. The van reportedly was having mechanical trouble, and police say the driver left Selena and another girl behind and called a relative to pick them up. When the relative arrived, the other girl said Selena had walked into a field. She hasn't been seen since.

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  • Investigation: The FBI and the federal Bureau of Indian Affairs have joined state and local agencies in the investigation, and Sen. Jon Tester last week asked for more resources and updates, reports the Billings Gazette. The Big Horn County Sheriff's Office is the lead local agency on the case, though police aren't saying much about their focus.
  • Bigger picture: Selena is the 28th Native American female to go missing in Big Horn County in recent memory, say local activists, per the New York Times. It speaks to a national problem in the indigenous community, and one that's particularly pronounced in Montana. Native Americans make up 6.7% of the state's population but account for 26% of missing persons, the AP reported last year. The Times notes it's only been in the last few years that social media and grassroots organizing have forced the issue into the national spotlight.
  • Undercounted? Last year, more than 5,500 indigenous women were reported missing to the FBI, though advocates say the issue still isn't fully reflected in national stats. Some victims are misclassified as Hispanic or Asian or "are lost in a jurisdictional maze over which state, federal, or tribal law enforcement agency bears responsibility for investigating," per the Times.
  • Selena's family: "We believe she was taken," an aunt tells Heavy.com. "She did not get out and run." Specifically, the family thinks someone in a passing car abducted her. Selena is a member of the Crow and Nakota nations, and her family is familiar with tragedy: Her brother was killed by police officers in Billings, a sister was fatally struck by a car, and another sister committed suicide at age 11.
  • Crowdfunding: A GoFundMe page is raising money to help in the search for her.
(Read more missing woman stories.)

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