GRIC recognizes MMIP Awareness Day, addresses new important issues
May 5, 2023
Gila River Indian News
It’s been two years since the Gila River Indian Community signed an official proclamation in 2021, declaring May 5 as Missing and Murdered Indigenous People Awareness Day.
“Today, as a Community, we reflect on the past three years as we honor the MMIP victims and survivors,” said Lt. Gov. Monica Antone, “On this day, Gila River established our own MMIWP task force, which is led by our Office of General Counsel, Gila River Police Department, Tribal Social Services, Crime Victim Services, Behavioral Health, and many others who work together and understand that we all have a part to play, but it’s not easy.”
She shared that one of the biggest challenges has been jurisdiction and working with other law enforcement agencies, local towns, and cities.
In March 2023, Arizona Governor Kattie Hobbs signed an executive order to enact an official state task force to address this issue further.
“Prior to the executive order, it was an ad hoc, which retrieved statistics on unreported missing persons jurisdiction with law enforcement agencies and compensation to victims and families,” said Lt. Gov. Antone, who served on the committee.
She added, “The Gila River Indian community is actively working with multiple outside agencies to address all of these issues in order to stop this growing epidemic.”
She referenced photos she keeps nearby her office desk of three young girls who have fallen victim to this crisis; Monique Pesqueria, Ashlynne Mike, and Rhia Almeida.
Ashlynne Mike was 11 years old when she was kidnapped, sexually assaulted, and brutally beaten. She was left to die in a remote desert area on the Navajo Nation Reservation. Rhia Almeida, seven years old, was also sexually assaulted and brutally murdered.
Both Mike’s and Almeida’s murderers were caught and convicted. Pesqueria’s case remains unsolved and suspects remain at-large.
“We bring awareness to the crisis affecting all of us in Indian country.” Lt. Gov. said, “The crisis has escalated with the recent discovery of fraudulent sober living homes where Indigenous people have been targeted, exploiting and go missing.”
GRIC recently issued a fraud alert, giving awareness and attention to Community members and individuals from other tribes who have reported being approached in their communities by individuals and recruiters from facilities commonly known as sober living homes and group homes.
Community members report being offered transportation to these facilities and often have difficulty returning to their homes or contacting family.
“During this time, the victims are subject to criminal activities in these fraudulent facilities,” said Lt. Gov Antone, “What we know about these scammers is the recruiters may offer the following that you need to be aware of: regular meals, a place to stay, like shelters, transportation, and other monetary items.”
She said some warning signs are direct in-person solicitation and unfamiliar or suspicious vans or vehicles with people looking to recruit.
Lt. Orlando Ramirez is currently working in the Criminal Investigations Division of the Gila River Police Department.
“As a lieutenant I supervise three police sergeants who supervise violent crimes, general crimes, and child and sex crimes units,” said Lt. Ramirez.
He explained what to do in the event of a missing person or runaway, “In the case that you do have a missing or runaway loved one, you would contact police immediately. There is no waiting period for that. The sooner you call us then the faster we can respond.”
Officers will ask general questions about whom the person is, age, physical description, last known location, and who they were with. Once officers obtain all the necessary information, an officer will contact the reporting party.
“It’s a checklist but they will fill out a form that will have all the pertinent information, depending on the circumstances of how this person went missing.” Lt. Ramirez explained.
The officer’s primary role is to gather that information and pass it along to dispatch, who provides it to the National Crime Information System and the Arizona Crime Information System.
“Basically, what that does is it puts a flag on that person so if any other agencies, any other police agencies come in contact with this person, it’ll hit that they’re a missing person, they’ll contact us and then we will get in touch with them,” said Lt. Ramirez.
Investigators utilize NamUs (National Missing and Unidentified Person System), a national clearinghouse and resource center for missing and unidentified and unclaimed person cases across the U.S.
It is available to law enforcement, medical examiners & coroners, and families of missing persons. Investigators, as well as the public, can input information in there on missing loved ones.
Ramirez added, “It’s a tool that empowers family members of missing persons to enter and search case information. But it also connects the family with the criminal justice professionals to assist in the search.”
“Gila River, we’ve always had that stigma of going off the Community or working with other agencies, and nowadays the things have changed,” said Ramirez, “So now we actually work very well with them. They’re reaching out to get assistance from us and we do the same in turn.”
If you or a loved one need services or would like to report any information about MMIP, you may contact the following:
Gila River Police Department (520) 562-4511 or 911
GRPD Silent Witness (520) 562-7144
Crime Victim Services (520) 562-4106
GRIC Crisis Line
On Eagles Wings Domestic Violence Shelter 855-203-5849
GRHC SANE Forensic Nursing (520) 562-5151
GRHC Behavioral Health Services (602) 528-7100