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Farmington Missing and Murdered rally draws families, officials, support organizations

National Day of Awareness rally brings together those involved in MMIP awareness
Members of American Indian Movement Diné Territory attended the rally to promote awareness of missing and murdered Indigenous people. (Ann Willow/Tri-City Record)

Family members of missing and murdered relatives gathered May 5 in Berg Park to continue their push for justice and honor their loved ones during the second annual Farmington rally for National Day of Awareness: Justice for Missing and Murdered Indigenous People.

Speakers included Jaymie Begay, Ms. Indigenous San Juan College 2022-23. Her cousin, Cecilia Barber, disappeared in 2019, and was found murdered in Las Vegas in 2021.

Begay said she attended the rally to “raise the voice and awareness (of MMIP issues) because nowadays it’s all over social media … and we have a voice now. … Please, if you know (about missing or murdered persons), tell!”

President Joe Biden officially declared May 5 Missing and Murdered Indigenous Persons Awareness Day in 2022, when he signed into law the Violence Against Women Act Reauthorization Act of 2022.

The event opened with music by DJ Phish, followed by a welcome from event organizer, Vangie Randall-Shorty, director of Northwest New Mexico Crusaders for Justice, a support group for families of victims.

Albuquerque attorney Darlene Gomez co-organized the event, but was out of the country. Gomez represents families of MMIP on a pro bono basis.

Randall-Shorty introduced state Rep. Anthony Allison (D-San Juan County), who gave a statement of support for MMIP. Allison, with council members from Gallup and Crownpoint, and Channel 7 News from Albuquerque, left soon after the opening ceremony to travel to Window Rock, Arizona, to make a statement at the MMIW Honor and Remembrance Walk taking place there.

San Juan County Rep. Anthony Allison spoke in support of MMIP work. (Ann Willow/Tri-City Record)

Among the many relatives in attendance was Celeste Henderson, who spoke about her husband, Candrick Begay, who was killed April 5 with Anthony McCants at their place of employment, Highway 64 Auto Salvage in Farmington. Their case is still under investigation by San Juan County Sheriff’s Office.

Becky Martinez, sister of missing person Calvin Martinez, tried to hold back tears as she spoke. She said, “I didn’t want to get out of bed today.”

Martinez tearfully described her brother as someone who “may have built your house … (or) picked you up at the side of the road.” She pleaded with attendees to “help me to find where my brother Calvin is.”

Shanna Nez’s brother, Jevon Descheenie, disappeared Oct. 25, 2021, and was found dead Nov. 12, 2021, with his hands handcuffed behind his back.

Georgiana Harrison is the sister of Ranelle Rose Bennett, who disappeared from their Hogback home June 15, 2021. “Somebody loves us out there,” Harrison said of missing relatives.

Germaine Russell’s missing relative, Leon Hayes, was last seen Feb. 2, at Mesa Farms.

A man sitting on the grass, preferring to remain anonymous, said his daughter, TT, a high school senior, went missing five years ago on her way to school. He wears her ring on his pinkie finger.

The father of missing person “TT” wears her ring on his pinkie finger. (Ann Willow/Tri-City Record)

Other participants included George Cordero and his son Chris Cordero, council members of 4 Directions Brotherhood, an organization that helps U.S. and Canadian Native families in times of crisis. They traveled from Cisco, Texas to provide security for the event.

Christian Johnson, president of AIM Diné Territory, said the organization is grassroots-based chapter of American Indian Movement, with several certified search and rescue team members.

Johnson said the teams conduct searches, even crawling “into little caves … and are now able to search underwater” in recovery efforts to find missing relatives “no longer on this earth.” Johnson said they, unfortunately, have never found anyone alive.

“Keep an eye on each other when you’re in town … keep your eye on each other’s kids,” Johnson said.

AIM Diné Bikéyah Chapter was also present. Both AIM chapters work together on MMIP issues.

Andrea “Mussy” Denetso of Missing and Murdered Diné Relatives, said MMDR and her purpose for attending the rally was to create a “sense of cohesiveness among families (of MMIP) so they know they’re not alone.”

Speaking on behalf of Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham was Lashawna Tso, deputy secretary for New Mexico Indian Affairs Department.

“As of today, there are an estimated 200 missing Indigenous New Mexicans. I say ‘estimated’ because that number is likely an undercount and the result of years of discrimination and inadequate collaboration between law enforcement agencies,” Grisham’s official May 5 proclamation stated. “This is a state that will continue to fight to interrupt this pattern, working closely with sovereign nations.”

Tso vowed to continue the search for justice on behalf of the state’s 23 nations, tribes and pueblos that have lost loved ones and are seeking closure.

Kimberly Multine, representing Mobile Victim Advocate of the Shiprock division of Utah Navajo Health System, said the focus of her work is on victim advocacy “as a liaison between families and law enforcement.” UNHS Behavioral Health Victim Services also aids families in searches for missing loved ones.

San Juan County Partnership, an organization focused on homelessness and substance abuse prevention, “supports the community in all efforts to amplify the issue (of MMIP),” said Dionna Comanche, program coordinator.

Also providing support to the rally and MMIP was Sara Holiday, victim advocate for Farmington Police Department Victim Assistance Program, Magic Roofing and Construction Co., State of New Mexico Indian Affairs Department, Totah Behavioral Health Authority, and Farmington Fire Department.

Detectives Alma Chavez and Daven Badoni, Sgt. Justin Anaya and Lt. Shawn Goodsell of the Farmington Police Department attended the rally to show their support of MMIP victims and families.

Red Eagle Wing drummers and dancer Nathan Largo honored families and those missing with sacred songs and dance.

The event closed with Randall-Shorty reading names of missing and murdered people from Farmington, San Juan County and the Navajo Nation, ending with a family march down Scott Avenue to San Juan Boulevard and returning to Berg Park pavilion.

“Remember their names, and say their names,” Randall-Shorty proclaimed.

Names of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Relatives
Joey Apachee
Corren Bedonie
Candrick Begay
Ella Mae Begay (suspect recently arrested, body not yet found.)
Ruben Begay
Ranelle Bennett
Marcus Bowman
Ashley Collins
Jevon Descheenie
Leon Hayes
Melanie James
Eugena K. Martinez
Calvin Martinez
Melissa Montoya
Anthony McCants
Pepita Redhair
Tiffany Reid
Abram M. Segura
Zachariah Juwaun Shorty
Laverda Sorrell
Derrick Tenorio
Shawna Toya
Jonathan Wacondo
Kaelin Woundedface
Jamie Yazzie

Anyone with knowledge of missing or murdered individuals is asked to contact the Farmington FBI office at (505) 326-5584. Tips may remain anonymous.