Preliminary reports: Selena Not Afraid died of hypothermia

Luella N. Brien — Yellowstone Newspapers
Friday, January 24, 2020
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Preliminary autopsy reports indicate Hardin teen Selena Not Afraid died of hypothermia, said Big Horn County Undersheriff Eric Winburn.

The 16-year-old went missing on Jan. 1. after the vehicle she was riding in reportedly experience mechanical problems. Not Afraid, witnesses said, walked into a field behind the county rest area located on eastbound Interstate 90.

Winburn confirmed to the Big Horn County News Thursday there are no signs that Not Afraid’s body was moved.

National Park Service trackers found her body at 10:33 a.m. Jan. 20, county officials said.

The body was located in thick sagebrush about 1.5 miles southwest of the rest area, Winburn said.

The sheriff’s office map that displays the areas covered by search and rescue teams does not indicate a search in the location Not Afraid’s body was found, he added.

Winburn said the U.S. Department of Interior brought in federal Fish and Wildlife and Park Service crews. Bureau of Indian Affairs officers from the Crow and Northern Cheyenne reservations, multiple FBI teams and the U.S. Attorney all helped with the search, as well as personnel from Mussellshell, Carbon and Yellowstone County law enforcement agencies, he added.

Cheryl Horn, Not Afraid’s aunt, told the Big Horn County News on Jan. 15 that the family was staying at the rest stop in case volunteer search crews made any discoveries. They suspended their efforts after multiple law enforcement agencies partnered with the county.

“We finally felt comfortable and moved from the rest area,” Horn said.

Deputies and other agency personnel are wrapping up the investigation. Once all reports are complete all the evidence associated with the case will be forwarded to the county attorney’s office, per the request made by Big Horn County Attorney Jay Harris.

Although the initial autopsy may not indicate a crime, Winburn said, charges could be filed due to the circumstances that lead to the teen’s death, but ultimately that decision is at the discretion of the county attorney’s office.

“We are finishing our reports now,” Winburn said. “It’s up to the county attorney’s office to press charges.”

Harris asserted in the press release on Jan. 21 that a full examination of evidence and all aspects of the investigation’s process are under prosecutorial review by his office.

According to the press release from Thursday, the autopsy was performed on Wednesday by the Montana State Chief Medical Examiner, Dr. Robert Kurtzman, at the Montana Crime Lab in Billings.

Although hypothermia was determined to be the cause of Not Afraid’s death, Harris wrote the official cause of death determination will not be made until the full toxicology report is reviewed.

Toxicology reports can take two or more weeks to complete.

Harris advised the sheriff’s office to not speak to the media unless his office was consulted first, he wrote in his Jan. 21 press release.

Crow Tribal Chairman Alvin “A.J.” Not Afraid on Wednesday requested Montana Attorney General Tim Fox investigate Not Afraid’s death.

Chairman Not Afraid wrote in a Thursday statement that unsolved cases of missing and murdered Indigenous people “can no longer be the result of segregated resources and divided communities.”

“A unified approach amongst our communities is long overdue – and it may be the only way to keep our children safe. Let us work together at every level, to bring closure and justice to our region,” he concluded. “Selena and her family deserve no less.”