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Old 05-12-2009, 01:38 PM   #1
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Remains found on Crow Rez may be Missing Family

BillingsGazette.com :: Remains may be those of missing family

HOW SAD!!!
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Old 05-12-2009, 01:41 PM   #2
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Published on Monday, May 11, 2009.
Last modified on 5/11/2009 at 10:41 pm
Remains may be those of missing family

By The Gazette Staff
UPDATE 10:44 p.m.:
Five months after a young family was reported missing near Fort Smith on the Crow Reservation, investigators on Monday found human remains of two adults as well as adult and baby clothing in a rugged ravine west of the Bighorn River.

About 9 a.m. Monday, law enforcement officials called family members related to Teddy Little Light, 30; his wife, Juliet Toineeta Little Light, 28; and their 3-month-old son, Wyatt, to tell them about the discovery.

“Even though it’s not apparently good news, we wanted to know where our family was. It’s just like an opportunity for closure,” Juliet’s aunt, April Toineeta of Lodge Grass said Monday afternoon.

Law enforcement would not confirm the Little Lights’ identities, however they are the only three people reported missing in that area.

By mid-evening, the FBI was briefing the family again.

“We’re pretty certain it’s them,” Toineeta said. “Now it’s finding out what happened. Why were they out there? We’re giving each and everyone us the support we need and making sure this doesn’t happen to any other family.”

The remains were taken to Big Horn County Coroner Terry Bullis’s mortuary in Hardin where it is possible identification could be made with dental records. No information about cause or manner of death was released Monday, however autopsies are scheduled today.

Teddy Little Light was last seen Dec. 23 when he dropped off his older son, Teddy Jr., at his mother’s house in Crow Agency. Only when Juliet failed to show up for her grandmother’s funeral in early January did the family sense trouble.

On Jan. 5, searchers found the Little Light’s pickup truck six miles up Grapevine Road between Fort Smith and Highway 91 which runs north to St. Xavier.

April Toineeta said the pickup was backed up 30 feet off the road across the creek from some branding corrals on a bitterly cold, snowy night. Another truck and trailer had been pulled out of a snow drift in that area about the same time the Little Light’s vehicle was found, according to George Siemion, who ranches just east of where the truck was found.

Teddy Little Light would have been familiar with the area because he hunted there with his uncles, April Toineeta said. He also would have known that by the corrals there was a small cabin with wood and food just across Grapevine Creek, a two-jump stream.

The remains were found approximately two miles north of the truck. They were scattered over a large area in the rugged terrain. Warming weather and predation may have an affect on fully recovering remains. Those of baby Wyatt were not immediately located, however it is possible that some remains could be identified as those collected Monday are examined during the autopsies, officials said.

Crow Tribal fish and game department officials conducted one of the first searches shortly after the pickup was found.

“They did a grid about a 6-mile radius from here,” April Tonieeta said, pointing to where the truck was found. “The weather was pretty bad when they first started to search. The snow was deep.”

Law enforcement searched the area on foot several times during the winter and early spring and flew the area twice, said Matthew Pryor, special agent in charge of BIA Office of Justice Services’ District 5. As late as last week there was snow covering the area where the remains were located.

“We did cover what we could see,” Pryor said.

Adding to the early mystery of what happened to her niece’s family was the state of the truck.

“The FBI said when they tried to get the truck to Billings, it started and it had half a tank of gas. Half a tank,” she said.

Eric Barnhart, supervisory senior resident agent for the FBI, said agents inspected the vehicle and the FBI and BIA have followed hundreds of leads since the family went missing.

“From the beginning of our involvement, we have conducted a logical and thorough missing persons investigation, now we are conducting a logical and thorough death investigation,” Barnhart said. “We are hoping that by tomorrow we will know whether the two are linked.”

April Toineeta and her older sister, Kim Not Afraid, didn’t just sit home and worry.

As soon as the initial searches turned up no clues, the aunts took leave from their jobs, and spent the next five months getting up before dawn to drive from Lodge Grass to Fort Smith to search.

The women said they drove and walked much of the red scoria rock country, as well as following tips for searches off the reservation. The search got easier as spring arrived, but by then hope had dimmed.

“I think the hard part was when we were searching and coming to the realization we probably wouldn’t find them alive,” Not Afraid said.

Across this arid country, layers of red volcanic rock stand uplifted 45 degrees from the horizon. Slivers of late spring snow drifts still hug the north slopes as green grasses push through. And when boots kick up against yucca plants, last year’s blossom pods rattle.

Relatives eventually printed about 5,000 posters with a photo of Teddy, Juliet and Wyatt, as well as 6,000 business-card-size requests for information and plastered them all over the Billings area.

The Little Lights also were listed on the Montana Missing Persons Clearinghouse. Operated by the Montana Department of Justice, the clearinghouse is also the portal to the state's Amber Alert program. The circumstances of the disappearance did not initially qualify for an Amber Alert.

The aunts estimated that up to 30 relatives, plus volunteers, searched seven days a week for more five months.

The months of mystery and worry haven’t erased fond memories of their niece.

“It’s hard to say who her best friend was because Juliet was so social,” April Toineeta said. “All the people � related or not � were auntie or uncle and she was always hugging.”

Baby Wyatt looked like his father, she said, and Juliet was really attached to her baby. When the couple married in last September, the aunts laughed at her prowess.

“Juliet was pregnant, but she sure did a good dance,” she said. “She had the baby a couple of weeks later.”

On May 3 just before the family announced a $1,200 reward to help find the young family, April Toineeta said her daughter took her outside and asked her to pray.

“She said, �Juliet would never ever quit looking for us. No matter how hard it is. We can never stop looking until we find her,’ ” April Toineeta said.

Whatever happened, Toineeta and Not Afraid said their extended family wanted to thank all of the searchers, especially from the Crow Tribal fish and game department, who offered the family encouragement from Christmas into May.

“I just want to find out what happened to them once they find them,” April Toineeta said. “I want to make sure this never happens to any other family and I want people held accountable.”

UPDATE 5:10 p.m. :
The bodies were found approximately four miles west of Fort Smith along the Bighorn River in a roadless area.

The closest road was Grapevine Road, which was blocked today by a National Park Service ranger to aid the investigation.

As many as family members waited at the Crow Tribal Housing Authority in Crow Agency for more information about the discovery.

Three close family members waited along Grapevine Road, including April Toineeta and her sister, Kim Not Afraid, whose brother is Juliet Little Light’s father.

Juliet Little Light’s two aunts have searched daily for their niece, who the family reported missing Jan. 3. About 9 a.m.

Earlier today, FBI Special Agent Ernie Weyend called April Toineeta to say that some bodies had been found a couple of miles from where the family’s pickup truck was found.

"He just said he’d get a hold of us and asked us not to come out, but this is really hard," Toineeta said. "We always tried to maintain hope, but that was harder the longer that time went on."

The aunts were waiting by the checkpoint along Grapevine Road for further word from law enforcement.

"They said they should be done today," April Toineeta said.



UPDATE 2:50 p.m. :
Investigators have found the remains of two adults and located clothing belonging to adults and a baby.

The Bureau of Indian Affairs, FBI and Big Horn County Sheriff’s Office continue to search the area where the remains and clothing were found.



UPDATE 2:05 p.m. :
Earlier this year, searchers twice flew over the area where the remains of at least two bodies have been found near Fort Smith on the Crow Indian Reservation.

But, the area was covered in snow, Matthew Pryor, the special agent in charge of BIA law enforcement said this morning.

"We did cover what we could see," he said.

The bodies have not yet been identified.

Investigators have been searching in the area since Christmastime for the missing Little Light family. Teddy Littlelight, Julieta Toineeta Littlelight and their three-month old son Wyatt were last seen Dec. 23rd. Their truck was discovered two weeks later in a remote area between Fort Smith and St. Xavier.

Family members say the FBI told them the bodies discovered are those of an adult and an infant. BIA officials say a rancher found the remains Monday morning.

The mild weather today has been a help to investigators at the scene.

"Our people are slowly and methodically working the area to gather and preserve any evidence," Pryor said.


Copyright The Billings Gazette, a division of Lee Enterprises.
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Old 05-12-2009, 01:49 PM   #3
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How sad....my deepest condolences to the families of these young people.
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