12.13.18

Family of missing Blackfeet woman, Ashley HeavyRunner Loring, taking case to Congress

A year and six months after her sister disappeared, Kimberly Loring will tell Congress what went wrong in the search, where law enforcement misstepped and why the nation needs to pay attention.

The cases of missing and murdered Indigenous women has become a crisis, she'll say.

Ashley HeavyRunner Loring, 20, disappeared in June 2017. Kimberly Loring has been looking for her ever since.

Ashley Loring is one of an unknown number of missing Native women and girls. The AP reported that no one knows how many are missing because the disappearances are sometimes unreported, aren't documented thoroughly and aren't part of a specific government database. There's "inadequate resources, outright indifference and a confusing jurisdictional maze."

"What I really want to get out there is to spread awareness about Ashley as well as the other missing and murdered Indigenous women out there, let them know about the mistreatment of the MMIW cases. It's been ridiculous," Kim Loring said. "I want to tell them we will stand up for our own who is gone."

As she talked to other families of missing women and girls, she heard the same stories. She'll speak for all of them.

She's frustrated with the Blackfeet Law Enforcement and BIA, which didn't seem to take the case seriously, she'll tell them. She'll say the FBI had to "basically start from scratch" when they took over the case nine months after Ashley disappeared. 

"This is wrong. We are important. Our girls and our people are important, and that's what I want to stress to them," she said.

U.S. Sen. Steve Daines announced Monday that the U.S. Senate Committee on Indian Affairs will hear from Loring on Wednesday, Dec. 12, at 12:30 p.m. (Mountain Time).

Daines and US Sen. Jon Tester requested the hearing, titled "Missing and Murdered: Confronting the Silent Crisis in Indian Country."

“We face tragedies from across Montana where tribal citizens, particularly women and girls, go missing without a trace,” Daines said in a press release. “We must do all in our power to curb the crisis of American Indians and Alaska Natives who disappear and whose cases never see justice. I’m glad to see that the committee is treating this issue with the seriousness it deserves.” 

U.S. Senator Jon Tester will lead the hearing, and his office noted more than 80 percent of native women have experienced violence—almost half within the last year, according to the National Institute of Justice. 

Wednesday’s hearing aims to bring together law enforcement agencies, tribes, and survivors to gather testimony on the sources of this epidemic and how to end it.

“We’re holding this hearing to hear from the survivors and families affected by this epidemic and grill the folks who are supposed to be ending it,” Tester said. “I plan on asking them the tough questions and getting some answers—because this is unacceptable.”

The women of the Blackfeet United Methodist Parish followed Ashley's case and shared information. They didn't know how else to help, until last week when they learned she and cousin Lissa Loring were heading to Washington, D.C. Women from the church contacted Kimberly Loring to see what they could do.

Sheri Hill, the pastor's wife, said they raised about $600 locally and then the United Methodist conference contributed accommodations and plane tickets. Methodists also will attend the hearing in support of the Lorings.

MMIW has been a cause of rising importance in the greater United Methodist organization, even incorporated into the recent celebration of 150 years of United Methodist Women.

"We thought, let's give Kim a call and see if she needs something, even a new dress. We thought since the Senate was asking her to talk, they would take care of everything. We could hear in her voice she was getting worried," Hill said. "We thought we could send the word out and maybe get some funding. We thought something would be better than nothing."

The Lorings had only a week to make arrangements. The church took care of everything in a day. 

"We weren't trying to overtake this. We weren't trying to get attention to what we were doing," Hill said. "We wanted to make sure Kim could get there with her cousin and to get the story out about Ashley." 

Lissa Loring said the family is thankful and the donation makes it possible for them to go.

"We didn't know how this was supposed to happen. We said, how can we go?" she said. "When they came it was an answer to our prayers. I'm so thankful to Creator for them coming through for us."

Anyone whowishes to contributeto the women's quest to find Ashley and share her story may donate through the church at bumpmission.com. Put MMIW in the memo line. 

The hearing will be streamed live at indian.senate.gov/hearing/oversight-hearing-missing-and-murdered-confronting-silent-crisis-indian-country

If anyone has information on the disappearance of Ashley Heavyrunner Loring, call the Blackfeet Law Enforcement at 406-338-4000, Homeland Security at 406-450-1922 or the Glacier County Sheriff at 406-873-2711. A reward has been offered.


By:  Kristen Inbody
Source: Great Falls Tribune