Search for missing Native woman following AP story – Times-Herald

Tribal and local officials and volunteers from a Minnesota-based missing persons foundation will search the Yurok reservation in northern California for three days for Emmilee Risling, a 33-year-old Native woman who disappeared last October.

The search, which will involve more than 30 people, several boats and 10 dead dogs, was sparked by an Associated Press story published in February about Risling’s disappearance. It starts on Friday morning and ends on Sunday evening.

The mother of two, who has ancestry from three tribes in the region, fell through the cracks in both life and death. Her case was one of five cases since 2020 where Native women went missing or were killed between San Francisco and Oregon and helped prompt the Yurok Tribe to declare a state of emergency over missing Native women and murdered.

The Jon Francis Foundation will provide volunteers and helped round up another 20 searchers and 10 cadaver sniffer dogs, Yurok Tribal Police Chief Greg O’Rourke said. The Humboldt County Sheriff’s Office and Yurok Police will also provide a combination of several sheriff’s deputies, search and rescue personnel, two boats and four navigation officers, he said.

The search will cover a large area – around half of the reserve – as well as parts of the Klamath River and its banks.

“I am grateful that the foundation was able to use its contacts to provide additional resources so that we could answer the family’s questions and end the family,” O’Rourke said in a phone interview.

The vast expanse of land and river to be excavated made it difficult for the tribe and local authorities to complete the job on their own, he said. The AP previously reported jurisdictional issues in the case: Risling was a member of the nearby Hoopa Valley tribe but disappeared on the Yurok reservation. The Yurok Police Department is leading the investigation, but the Humboldt County Sheriff’s Office will decide when to declare the case closed.

“The tribe tried to organize their own volunteers, but it wasn’t a full law enforcement search and rescue,” O’Rourke said.

The search is under tribal authority but the sheriff’s office will provide three deputies, all-terrain vehicles and volunteers from their search and rescue group, agency spokeswoman Samantha Karges said.

David Francis, who founded the nonprofit in 2007 after his son disappeared while hiking in Idaho’s Sawtooth Mountains, said he was first contacted by a member of the Yurok tribe living in San Francisco after the AP article was published. He then read the story and contacted the tribal police chief and Risling’s parents after learning about the missing and murdered Native women crisis, he said.

Francis’ group conducted 28 searches for missing persons after local authorities stopped searching and found bodies in 10 of those cases, he said. Her own son was found after more than a year of family-funded searches; it has been determined that Jon Francis fell more than 120 feet while hiking in the mountains.

“I went into investigation mode and said, ‘Can we help this family?’ Because that’s what we do,” Francis said. “In those cases, we don’t know what happened, we can’t find them and we can’t rest them and it’s very painful.”

Risling was an accomplished traditional dancer and graduated from the University of Oregon with a double major. She planned to go to law school, but found herself caught up in an abusive relationship and struggled with mental health and addiction after returning to the Hoopa Valley Tribe reservation.

Her parents and tribal law enforcement say she repeatedly fell through the cracks in a vast, remote area with almost no mental health services and limited law enforcement and treatment services. drug addiction.

She sometimes wandered naked in the reservations of Hoopa Valley and Yurok. Just prior to her disappearance, she had been released from prison for arson and failed to show up for her court date.

She was last seen in October shortly after crossing a bridge in a remote part of the Yurok reservation.

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