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Press Release

United States Attorney’s Office Joins in Recognizing Missing or Murdered Indigenous Persons Awareness Day

For Immediate Release
U.S. Attorney's Office, Eastern District of Washington

Spokane, Washington - U.S. Attorney Vanessa R. Waldref announced today that she will join with Federal, State, Local, and Tribal leaders in recognizing May 5, 2024, as Missing or Murdered Indigenous Persons Awareness Day. In doing so, U.S. Attorney Waldref called on all citizens and residents in Eastern Washington to support Tribal governments and Tribal communities’ efforts to increase awareness of missing or murdered Indigenous people.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Washington fully supports efforts to reduce violence and bring awareness to this important issue. As part of our efforts in this important cause, the Eastern District recently welcomed Bree R. Blackhorse as an Assistant United States Attorney dedicated to prosecuting cases involving Missing or Murdered Indigenous People (MMIP), in connection with the Justice Department’s MMIP regional program. AUSA Black Horse will work out of our Yakima Office, but she will serve throughout the Northwest Region – including in Washington, Oregon, Montana, Idaho, and California.

In recognition of MMIP Awareness Day, Attorney General Merrick B. Garland highlighted ongoing efforts to tackle the MMIP and human trafficking crises in American Indian and Alaska Native communities, and other pressing public safety challenges, like the fentanyl crisis, in Tribal communities.

“There is still so much more to do in the face of persistently high levels of violence that Tribal communities have endured for generations, and that women and girls, particularly, have endured,” said Attorney General Merrick B. Garland. “In carrying out our work, we seek to honor those who are still missing, those who were stolen from their communities, and their loved ones who are left with unimaginable pain. Tribal communities deserve safety, and they deserve justice. This day challenges all of us at the Justice Department to double down on our efforts, and to be true partners with Tribal communities as we seek to end this crisis.”

“Today is set aside to recognize and increase awareness of missing or murdered Indigenous people. To address this crisis, every day we are committed to reducing violence on Native American reservations, achieving justice on behalf of victims, and supporting members of our Tribal communities overcome centuries of generational trauma, impacted by violence and displacement,

,” stated U.S. Attorney Waldref.  Consistent with this increased focus, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern Washington continues to work diligently to support Native American communities and address the root causes of the MMIP crisis.   

In July of 2023, for example, U.S. Attorney Vanessa Waldref–alongside co-hosts from the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division (ENRD), the Office of Environmental Justice, and the Office of Tribal Justice – hosted Tribes from across the Northwest Region of the United States at a joint federal and Tribal Summit in Spokane, Washington focused on defending and strengthening Tribal homelands, climate adaptation, resilience and environmental justice. The purpose of the summit was to work with Tribal governments and other federal agencies to find “ways to address and incorporate Tribal concerns into the Department’s enforcement work.”

In October 2023, First Assistant Richard Baker met with the representatives of the Colville Trial Court, Prosecutor, Public Defender, Probation and Public Health Departments to discuss the MMIP Regional Program and public safety on the Colville Reservation.

In November 2023, U.S. Attorney Waldref and her First Assistant, Richard Barker, joined Federal, State, and Tribal law enforcement, community leaders, other stakeholders, and victims at the Washington State Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and People Task Force’s Second Annual Summit. During the Summit, U.S. Attorney Waldref addressed the group and provided an update on federal efforts to address the MMIP crisis.

U.S. Attorney Waldref testified in December 2023 before the United States Senate Committee on Indian Affairs about the growing fentanyl crisis in Native Communities, which is an underlying cause of the MMIP crisis. When asked during the hearing about examples of success in combating the fentanyl crisis in Native communities, U.S. Attorney Waldref highlighted a case where more than 100 pounds of illegal drugs, including 161,000 fentanyl-laced pills were seized. A significant portion of the drugs seized were believed to be destined for the Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation, as well as for other Native American communities and surrounding areas in Washington and Montana.

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Also in December 2023, U.S. Attorney Waldref, First Assistant Barker, Branch Manager Tom Hanlon, and AUSA Black Horse attended the ribbon cutting for a new Multi-Purpose Justice Center on the Yakama Nation. The center is the result of an incredible vision by the Yakama Nation for a consolidated facility that combines all the criminal justice programs at a single location. In 2019, The Department of Justice contributed funds to help make the vision a reality.

In January 2024, U.S. Attorney Waldref, alongside members of her office, and members of the Drug Enforcement Administration, met with Spokane Tribal communities regarding the dangers of Fentanyl.

In March 2024, U.S. Attorney Waldref and First Assistant Barker met with representatives and students at Whitman College for a round table discussion regarding MMIP and Fentanyl Awareness.

“I am grateful for the strong partnerships we have with the incredible leaders and community stakeholders from the tribes in the Eastern District of Washington. My office will continue to address the root causes underlying the MMIP crisis:  fentanyl, domestic violence, child abuse, illegal possession and use of firearms, illegal narcotics, and human trafficking,” stated U.S. Attorney Waldref. “The appointment of an Assistant United States Attorney dedicated to prosecuting MMIP cases in the Northwest Region, demonstrates the DOJ’s commitment to bring justice for the victims of this crisis and ensuring the safety and security of all indigenous people in the Northwest.”

“FBI Seattle is not only committed to building relationships with the 29 federally recognized tribes in Washington state, but also with our other law enforcement and community partners,” said Richard A. Collodi, Special Agent in Charge of the FBI Seattle field office. “When the FBI is called to investigate an MMIP case, we want to ensure trust with the community is already established so people feel comfortable providing us the information we need to bring justice for the victims. While every case is different, the one characteristic is always true: every victim leaves a space in that community which cannot be filled. They have friends and family who want them to come home safely, and their community wants accountability. We recognize the process can be lengthy and frustrating, but we assure everyone we serve the FBI and our partners are doing everything we can, and we will never stop pursuing justice for victims, no matter how long it takes.”

Representative examples of MMIP cases prosecuted by the United States Attorney’s Office include the following:

  • October 2018 homicide of Yakama Tribal member Rosenda Strong. 5 defendants were charged with crimes ranging from accessory after the fact, murder, and kidnapping resulting in death.
  • October 2022 double murder on the Colville Indian Reservation involving enrolled members of the Coville and Kalispel tribe. Following the murder, the suspected attempted to kill a federal officer.
  • October 2022 indictment of Steven Zacherle for a murder of a member of the Colville Tribe. Zacherle also allegedly harassed, threatened and assaulted his domestic partner before and after the murder. 
  • June 29, 2023 sentencing of Andre Pierre Picard to 5 years in prison for selling drugs linked to an overdose death of a woman on the Colville Indian Reservation
  • September 2023 sentencing of Dylan Swan for kidnapping, robbery and shooting of multiple Tribal members on the Colville Indian Reservation and in Spokane, Washington.
  • March 27, 2024 sentencing of Sundron Larsell Miller and Paula Eulojia Cantu-Lopez to decades in federal prison for violent carjacking and assault on the Yakama Nation.
  • April 2, 2024 sentencing of Silaz Elijah James to 20 years in Federal Prison for a murder and assault in Toppenish, Washington.
  • April 9, 2024 guilty verdict of 40-year-old Marvin Samson Butterfly. Butterfly was found guilty of assaulting and suffocating his partner, as well as Attempted Witness Tampering.

If you or someone you know has information about a missing or murdered Indigenous person, please contact the FBI Seattle Field Office by calling (206) 622-0460 or by visiting To learn more about the Department of Justice’s efforts to combat the MMIP crisis, click here.

An indictment is merely an allegation, and all defendants are presumed innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law.

Updated May 6, 2024

Indian Country Law and Justice