Ashley Loring HeavyRunner disappeared from the Blackfeet Indian Reservation in Montana in 2017.
Her sister Kimberly Loring has searched relentlessly for four years.
Before she disappeared, Ashley wanted to help missing Indigenous women, Kimberly said.
It has been over four years since Ashley Loring HeavyRunner disappeared from the Blackfeet Indian Reservation in Montana. Her sister Kimberly Loring said that when she last spoke with her sibling, Ashley talked about wanting to get involved with the movement shedding light on the high prevalence of missing and slain Indigenous women.
"Ashley came up to me, and she said she wanted to help these women. She told me about what's going on with these women, that over in Canada, that a lot of girls are going missing," Kimberly told Insider. Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women is a broad movement in the US and Canada led by Indigenous activists seeking to raise awareness and stop the high rate of missing and slain community members.
"And just a few months later, Ashley became one of those women," Kimberly said.
In light of the travel vlogger Gabby Petito's disappearance and killing, and the heavy national spotlight on her case, there has been a renewed focus on missing and slain Indigenous women.
Ashley went missing on June 5, 2017, according to NBC News. At the time, she was a 20-year-old studying environmental science at Blackfeet Community College.
Kimberly last spoke with her sister on June 5. That night, Ashley posted on social media that she needed a ride to a party, according to NBC News. Later, Kimberly said that Ashley asked her for money, and Kimberly asked Ashley if she was doing all right.
Ashley's family became concerned during a string of days in early June. Her father was hospitalized for liver failure, and Ashley did not return texts or phone calls. She was last seen in Browning, Montana.
"We do whatever we can to find Ashley, and that's our lives right now," Kimberly told Insider, adding that since the first day she vanished, she has been searching for her.
And according to the Montana Missing and Murdered Indigenous People Task Force, between 2017 and 2019, over 3,000 Indigenous people were reported missing in the state; 80% were under the age of 18, and many have been reported missing multiple times. The state's task force said in that time frame, 97.7% of reported missing people were found.
"Gabby's story is not unique. It's the very same as thousands of other families, thousands of other girls that have gone missing," Kimberly said. "You tell her story, you're telling thousands of other stories."
"I believe as a people, we need to keep standing for our missing so that one day that we will be seen as the same - as important - because everybody is important," Kimberly said.
Kimberly described the search effort as a largely solitary process that eventually received aided from community members and a tribal reporter who brought Ashley's story to light.
"The community, before, they didn't know how to search, but just recently, now we have three people that are missing on the reservation," Kimberly said. "They fully understand now a lot more than they did four years ago when it was just Ashley missing."
There are also multiple law-enforcement agencies involved in Ashley's case: the FBI, the Bureau of Indian Affairs, and local law enforcement. Kimberly said there was confusion for Ashley's family in terms of who was taking the lead.
A spokesperson for the FBI's Salt Lake City office, which is actively investigating Ashley's disappearance, told Insider that there was no new publicly available information related to Ashley's case.
"At the request of the Bureau of Indian Affairs, the FBI has agreed to investigate the disappearance of Ashley Loring Heavyrunner of Browning, Montana," the FBI said in 2018. "Ashley disappeared in June of 2017. The FBI has offered our assistance in the case and has access to additional resources that can be devoted to the investigation.
"This remains an active investigation and no further information will be released at this time,"
The Bureau of Indian Affairs did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Experts previously told Insider a lack of media coverage and lopsided law-enforcement help had created an environment where "missing white woman syndrome" persists and the cases of missing people of color do not gain the same attention.
Payne Lindsey, the host of the true-crime podcast "Up and Vanished" is trying to raise more awareness of the case. Lindsey is working closely with Kimberly at the reservation as her family tries to find answers.
"By telling her story, I believe that my sister was able to help bring more awareness to missing and murdered Indigenous women, and how Ashley wanted to help these women," Kimberly said. "And in a huge way, she was able to do that."
Read the original article on Insider