Ashanti Billie was a beautiful, young Black woman with a beaming smile. She was a hard worker. She would wake up before sunrise and head to the naval base and start her job. At night, she attended culinary classes at the Virginia Beach Art Institute. She had hopes and dreams and aspirations, and she was passionate about life and brought that positive energy to everyone who met her.
Mr. Speaker, 1 year ago today, early in the morning, I met with local constituents, Kimberly Wimbush and Michael Muhammad; the Billie family–parents, Tony and Brandy; and Dyotha Sweat from the NAACP.
Being military veterans themselves, the Billie family didn’t understand how this could happen. They were confused and very much worried. Their young daughter, Ashanti, was missing, abducted from the Little Creek naval base.
Mr. Speaker, I knew right then that fateful morning, in my gut and in my heart, that this family would soon receive some tragic news. I knew this family and these friends needed my help. My heart and my team’s hearts were with them.
Mr. Speaker, there are no words, no wishes, or no whispers that can bring back or ease the Billie family burden. But make no mistake about it, no amount of darkness can ever keep out a bright light.
I may have met with a shaken family that day, but on this day, they sit before us today, in this Chamber, strong, determined, and ready to solidify Ashanti’s legacy.
Today’s vote on Ashanti’s legacy will give law enforcement all across our great Nation a new tool to bring resources to bear to locate missing adults who may be in danger, and will, no doubt, save lives.
Mr. Speaker, I encourage my colleagues’ support.
According to the Bismarck Tribune, the disappearance and death of Olivia Lone Bear prompted an examination of the circumstances of Silver Alerts as applied to tribal jurisdictions.
Lone Bear went missing from the the Fort Berthold Indian Reservation in October 2017. Her body was found in a pickup truck submerged beneath Lake Sakakawea in August 2018. Because of the limited resources of law enforcement, much of the search for Lone Bear was organized by her family and relied on volunteers. Not everyone who offered to help was useful and it resulted in some conflicting reports. Lone Bear’s brother, Matthew, who was at the forefront of search efforts, said the family hopes to develop a comprehensive protocol for tribes to use in missing person cases.
Scott Davis, executive director of the North Dakota Indian Affairs Commission, said his office plans to discuss drafting missing persons guidelines for tribes and other ways to improve searches, such as expanding the state’s Silver Alert program. “The biggest thing for Indian Country is that … there is not a template out there to follow,” Davis said. “I think we recognize that and we’re trying to craft a template, if you will, for missing persons.”
Davis said his office was asked by Three Affiliated Tribes Police to assist in the search for Olivia Lone Bear. His office helped coordinate bi-weekly conference calls with the various federal, state and tribal entities involved. “It was a multi-agency effort, make no doubt,” Davis said.
The case proved there is a need for a better protocol to help tribes with missing persons searches. In a couple weeks, Davis said his office will “debrief” with tribal leadership to determine what can be improved.
“We had to debrief on this stuff: What did we do well, what didn’t we do well, what resources did we have, what resources do we need, is there a policy that prevented us from doing something?” he said.
He said he would also like to look at ways to expand the state’s Silver Alert Notification system. Currently, Silver Alerts only cover elderly and vulnerable adults and minors with developmental disabilities who have been reported missing to law enforcement. Davis said he hopes it could used for all missing persons, on and off-reservation.
If some type of alert had been issued in Olivia Lone Bear’s case, Davis said he believes the outcome may have been different.
Read more about this case in the Bismarck Tribune.