The epidemic of missing and murdered Indigenous people here in Colorado is not new, however the problem has gained more attention from law enforcement, the public, and lawmakers in recent years. Today, we’re looking at how a new bill aims to finally bring closure — and hopefully reunions — to impacted Colorado families.
In this Denver7 360 In-Depth, you will find details including:
- An outline of the bill and exactly what it will do if it passes
- Why this problem needs addressing
- How families of these missing people feel about the bill
(Quick note: MMIR is mentioned often here. It stands for Missing and Murdered Indigenous Relatives.)
Let’s first break down what this problem looks like in statistics before we bring you the very real, human stories and detail the new bill.
The National Institute of Justice reports that more than four out of every five Indigenous people in the United States experience violent crime, which is a significantly higher rate than other people in the country.
The murder rate for Indigenous women is almost three times higher than white women, and is the third-leading cause of death for Indigenous women and girls between the ages of 15 and 24, according to the National Congress of American Indians Policy Research Center.
The good news: A new bill in the Colorado legislature, if passed, aims to help.
The bill, introduced Tuesday, would create an office to focus solely on the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Relatives (MMIR) epidemic in the Colorado, something that advocates say is a long-time coming.
The bill acknowledges the unique challenges that stem from these cases, which includes poor and inconsistent reporting, lack of interagency cooperation, and misclassification of racial identity. This has, as a result, meant less coverage in the media.
Here’s a brief breakdown of how the bill would help:
- Create an Office of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Relatives
- CBI would create a secure database on missing Indigenous people
- Creation of a MMIR alert system
- Upgrade systems for reporting a missing person
- Improve interagency coordination
- Revisit cold cases
- Law enforcement education on best practices
- Improving the relationship between Indigenous people and law enforcement
- Increase public awareness about MMIR
Click here to read more on the bill.
Now, we’d like to introduce you to the families of Rashell Hammond and Kim Lertjuntharangool. After all, the statistics you read above represent a missing person, and families and friends who are desperately searching for their loved ones.
Rashell and Kim are two of 14 of indigenous people in the state who are currently missing, according to CBI records from December.
Rashell, who went missing in August 2019 at the age of 30, is part-Cherokee. She left home for a walk that afternoon and has not been seen or heard from since. Her mother has talked with Denver7 several times, telling us this week that she is still waiting for closure.
Kim was last seen and heard from on March 20, 2021 at the Belleview Light Rail at E. Union Avenue and I-25 near Greenwood Village.
After her disappearance, her brother told us that his family, who are members of the Pueblo of Laguna, have tried to stay positive but as the one-year mark approaches, it’s becoming more and more challenging.
The family members say the creation of an office dedicated to MMIR would fill a massive void.
"To hear that a state has taken that approach, and that intentional approach to support families that are in a similar situation to me — I can't even put into words how happy that makes me and how supportive of those families an approach like that would be," Kim’s brother Todd told us this week. "It's going to be invaluable to those families who are impacted by the missing and murdered Indigenous people epidemic that's really happening across the country, and specifically there in Colorado."
If you have any information on Kim's or Rashell’s whereabouts, here’s who you should contact:
- For Kim: Det. Carr with the Greenwood Village Police Department at 303-486-8236
- For Rashell: Alamosa County Sheriff's Office at 719-225-5824 with case #190963
The Rashell Hammond and Kim Lertjuntharangool cases were reinvigorated, along with other cases of MMIW, during the nationwide search for Gabby Petito, a 22-year-old influencer whose remains were found on Sept. 19 after she was reported about a week earlier.
Monycka Snowbird of the Haseya Advocate Program, a Native women-led urban response team helping Indigenous survivors of gender-based violence, summed up what many advocates said in the wake of the Petito search.
Her words still stand strong.
“That's the response that should be the standard for every time someone goes missing. And it's not,” Snowbird told us in September. “For Indigenous people, women of color, across the board — there's obviously disparities on that.… It shouldn't take a white woman dying for native voices to be uplifted.”
Denver7 will follow the bill as it progresses and will keep you updated with the latest.
Denver7 is dedicated to digging deeper into the issues that matter to help you find solutions to everyday problems. Check out more Denver7 360 In-Depth coverage here.
Editor's Note: Denver7 360 stories explore multiple sides of the topics that matter most to Coloradans, bringing in different perspectives so you can make up your own mind about the issues. To comment on this or other 360 stories, email us at 360@TheDenverChannel.com. See more 360 stories here.