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Long After Tragic Mysteries Solved, Native Families Kept In The Dark

It was the winter of 2021 when Philbert Shorty’s family found his abandoned car stuck in the mud near the Arizona-New Mexico state line and reported him missing. They searched for Shorty for two years, hiking through Navajo Nation, placing radio ads and posting all over social media, but found nothing. They remained unaware even as U.S. prosecutors finalized a plea deal last summer with Shiloh Aaron Oldrock, who was charged in connection with Shorty's death as a result of a separate investigation into the killing and beheading of Oldrock's uncle, reports the Associated Press. Shorty’s story is one of many across the United States and Canada, where high rates of missing persons and unsolved killings involving Native people have captured the attention of policymakers at the highest levels. Shorty's family “had been left in the dark about what happened,” U.S. Attorney for the District of New Mexico Alexander Uballez acknowledged.

Uballez said Oldrock's convictions were part of the U.S. Justice Department's duty to bring answers to tribal communities, but that vow of transparency is what has Native American families frustrated. Many say authorities regularly fail to communicate about the status of pending cases. In Shorty's case, unanswered questions about whether there were any remains recovered have left his family guessing. The handling of Shorty's case doesn't surprise Darlene Gomez, an Albuquerque attorney who has represented dozens of Native American families. “The FBI does this all the time," she said. “They don’t even talk to the family until there is an indictment. And very often they don’t say anything at all.” Shorty’s family still hopes to have a funeral, but are still waiting on investigators.


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