An Indigenous mom says if her 2 daughters’ deaths ‘even had half the coverage’ of Gabby Petito’s ‘maybe they would be solved’
Gabby Petito’s case has received nonstop media attention and tips from the public.
Nicole Wagon, a Northern Arapaho woman, said the same attention could have helped solve her daughters’ cases.
Indigenous people go missing and are murdered at higher rates than other groups.
The past two weeks, people across the US have been captivated by the story of Gabby Petito, a 22-year-old white woman who went missing while on a cross-country road trip in a van with her boyfriend, Brian Laundrie.
Local and national media ferociously covered the story. Police departments, the FBI, and search and rescue teams relentlessly chased down clues. Social media sleuths meticulously traced Petito’s digital trail. People who had seen or interacted with the couple flooded the FBI tip line.
And on September 19, just over a week after she was reported missing, Petito’s body was found near Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming.
Nicole Wagon, an Indigenous mother and activist who lives on Wyoming’s Wind River Indian Reservation, can’t help but wonder how the same attention might’ve affected her daughters’ cases.
“I believe if my daughters even had half the coverage, maybe they would be solved,” Wagon told Insider.
Wagon’s daughter Jocelyn was found murdered in 2019. About a year later, she reported another one of her daughters, Jade, missing. Jade was found dead weeks later.
Wagon, a Northern Arapaho woman, is still looking for answers and seeking justice for her girls, who represent just two of many Indigenous people who have gone missing or been murdered at higher rates than other groups.
A report from Wyoming found the homicide rate for Indigenous people from 2010 to 2019 was 26.8%, eight times higher than the homicide rate for white people. Over a similar time frame, 710 indigenous people, mostly girls, were reported missing in the state. The report also found only 30% of Indigenous homicide victims made the news, compared to 51% of white victims.
Similar findings have been recorded elsewhere. In Montana, Indigenous people make up 7% of the population but account for 26% of missing persons. In Minnesota, Indigenous people represent just 1% of the state’s population, but 9% of all women and girls murdered are Indigenous.
And yet, the issue has gone largely underreported. After pressure from activists like Wagon, multiple states and the federal government have established task forces to address the problem.
Wagon said she is now known all over Wyoming for her work. She attends marches, meets with government officials, hounds law enforcement, and hangs missing persons posters.
“I’m advocating to try and make a difference,” Wagon said. “What can we put in place to help this epidemic that is occurring for both genders on our reservation?”
‘My daughters counted and they mattered’
Jocelyn Watt, Wagon’s eldest daughter, and her partner Rudy Perez, both 30, were found dead from gunshot wounds in their home in Riverton, Wyoming, on January 5, 2019. The double homicide still remains unsolved.
About a year later, Wagon reported another one of her daughters, Jade Wagon, missing. On January 21, Jade, 23, was found dead on the Wind River Reservation. Jade’s death was ruled accidental, but Wagon said unanswered questions remain surrounding the circumstances of her death.
Jocelyn’s gift was her voice, according to Wagon. She would sing at funerals, often the song “Dancing in the Sky,” to honor those in their community who passed, even though it took an emotional toll on her.
“For me it was a blessing of, wow, look how many lives my daughter touched in a short period of time,” Wagon said, adding that Jocelyn made everyone feel valued.
Jocelyn’s younger sister Jade was a “beautiful, free spirit” who loved the outdoors, according to Wagon. She was respectful to her elders and deeply loved her grandparents, sisters, and children.
“You could hear her giggle out of any crowd, it was so unique and proud,” Wagon said.
Wagon said her “heart goes out to the Petito family. That mother, I know that pain too well.”
But she added it has been hurtful to see the swift action and overwhelming attention the case has gotten.
“Can you name one native, from coast to coast, that received any kind of media” similar to the Petito case, Wagon asked.
She is glad Petito’s parents were able to find their daughter and is grateful that the case has shed some light on others in Wyoming, adding “native voices are being heard now.”
But she wants people to know her daughters are not just a statistic.
“Their lives counted and mattered,” she said. “And nobody knows their story.”
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