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Stories of the MMIW: Jamie Lynette Yazzie - Murdered

The Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and People's movement has been gaining some traction. With new podcasts like We Are Resilient not only getting the stories out there, but actively advocating for victims, we're hearing much more about it now. There are also the many advocates, activists, and friends and family members of victims raising awareness. It seems as though the movement grows everyday. Sadly, this is because so many continue to go missing and turn up dead. We can't deny the fact that the red hand print has become a symbol for the victims of this silent epidemic. Just the same, we can no longer ignore the blatant issue in our country with the handling of these cases and the representation of the victims in the media. This silent epidemic is gaining a voice, and it continues to grow louder.

According to People Magazine, Jamie Lynette Yazzie was 31-years-old at the time of her disappearance. She was a proud member of the Navajo Nation and was a resident of the community of Pinon in Arizona, about 125 miles northeast of Flagstaff. AZ Central states that she was a loving mother to three boys, who were under the care of her mother at this time in their lives. Jamie was a nurse's assistant, working in the pediatric center of the Pinon Health Center. Friends and family describe her as a loving, helpful woman that could instantly make friends with anyone. She was a great help to her family as well as others in her community. Her disappearance was quickly noted by community members that knew her from the health clinic she worked at. She was very much loved at her job, not just by her co-workers, but by her patients and their families.

Her grandmother, Mary K. James, noted a change in her granddaughter just after she started dating a man named Tre James. She just knew that something wasn't right. These feelings were quickly validated by other women in the community that had been victimized by Jamie's new boyfriend. Multiple women came to her family with warnings of how dangerous he could be. Tre was also from the Pinon area and had family living there as well.

Oxygen True Crime reported an argument between the couple over infidelity on the night of June 30, 2019. That night Jamie's brother and his girlfriend were at the couple's house in Pinon. It was a blue house that Jamie and Tre were living in with Tre's grandmother, according to the AZ Mirror. The group drank together until about 2:00 on the morning of July 1. That night, Tre's grandmother was not home. It was found through interviews with his family that he had been seeing other women while he was dating Jamie. She was also seeing other people at the time.

As the drinks flowed, Tre began showing off a handgun. This information comes from an interview conducted by authorities with Jamie's brother. It was either a .45 caliber or a 9 millimeter that he had received as a birthday present that he was proudly showing. As he displayed the firearm, Jamie told their guests that her boyfriend had pointed that gun at her and shot at her on one occasion. Of course, Tre denied her claims, saying that it was all an accident and a misunderstanding. Though it was their argument about infidelity that prompted the other couple to leave that morning, they didn't feel that Jamie was in any kind of danger. It's an awkward situation many of us have found ourselves in when hanging out with a couple. It's entirely too uncomfortable to stick around when they begin to argue.

Just hours before Jamie went missing, she sent a chilling Facebook message to her boyfriend's sister. She said that Tre had already fired two rounds from his gun and had chased her back into the house with it. After this message, Jamie goes silent. One previous text is known to have been sent on June 30. She asked a co-worker for a ride to work the following day. She would never catch her ride, or show up to work, causing her employer and co-workers to worry. Jamie was not the type to skip out on work without notice.

Her mother, Ethelene Denny, filed the missing persons report on July 5, 2019 with the Chinle Police Department. By this point, a co-worker of Jamie's had already gone to the police with concerns of her own. For five days her phone went straight to voicemail and she made no contact with her mother and sons whatsoever. This definitely wasn't like her at all. She had a very close relationship with her family and was known to check in with her boys daily.

On July 1, Tre began acting very strangely. He was making no attempts at contacting Jamie while everyone else was trying to find her. He also left his home and spent several days with his aunt. During this time he was seen by family members with a handgun, acting "aggressive, nervous, and paranoid," according to their statements to authorities.

It was three days after the missing persons report was filed before the last place Jamie was known to be was searched. The blue house in Pinon that she had shared with her boyfriend and his grandmother had suddenly burned down in the short time between her disappearance and the first of two searches conducted. Evidence was still available for collection, though. I find it odd that no one seems to have questioned whether or not Tre set the fire to conceal his crime. The timing is awfully convenient and nowhere has it been stated how the fire started, or when.

What appeared to be blood was found on the drywall and baseboard of Tre and Jamie's bedroom. More was found in the hallway and on the front porch. A white substance that appeared to be a cleaning agent of some sort was found on the bedroom floor as well as a spent 9 millimeter shell casing and a spent .22 shell casing. Forensic evidence was sent to the FBI's crime lab. Results didn't come back until more than two years later, on September 7, 2021. Since the FBI didn't have any of Jamie's DNA, they used her family's to create a profile for her. The blood found inside the burned up house was Jamie Yazzie's.

As though the evidence found in the house didn't look damning enough, Tre's own family weren't painting him in a very flattering light, either. They described the relationship between he and Jamie as being "tumultuous" and called him "dangerous." Though everything pointed right in his direction police didn't make any kind of contact with him until later in July 2019 on a completely unrelated call. During this contact, they never asked him the first question in relation to Jamie or her disappearance. It would seem that though the Navajo Nation Division of Public Safety Criminal Investigation Services, Navajo Nation Police, Bureau of Indian Affairs, Navajo County Sheriff's Office, and the FBI were investigating the case, no real investigation was actually taking place. Most of the interviews don't appear to have been conducted until 2022.

During the long and difficult search for Jamie, her family couldn't seem to get any answers, or even any courtesy. In August 2019, they sought legal counsel in navigating the rough waters ahead. Darlene Gomez of Gomez and Associates took on the case pro bono. The attorney minces no words in describing the oversights made by authorities as well as the lack of communication between law enforcement and the family. Authorities also seemed unwilling to recognize Gomez's role. Multiple attempts were made by the law firm to contact the FBI so they could coordinate communications on the case. All of these attempts were stonewalled and the FBI refused to even return any of their calls.

As authorities appeared to be dropping the ball, Jamie's family was actively searching for her while also holding walks to raise awareness for her case. They paid for billboards with her picture on them, asking the public for help and posted flyers as well. Through all of this they couldn't get any information on her case before the press. Even when Jamie's incomplete skeletal remains were found on the Hopi Reservation on November 23, 2021, the family wasn't notified. The reservation she was found at is located just seven miles southwest of Pinon. They continued to search for her into December, thinking she was still out there somewhere while the FBI had her bones. For a total of 876 days, they were left wondering as they were kept in the dark about every single movement in their loved one's case. Even through their grief and frustration, they held their composure and continued to battle for her until the end.

They held their first advocacy walk for Jamie on September 13, 2020. It was her birthday and just after the first anniversary of her disappearance. They walked all the way to the Navajo Nation Capitol in Window Rock and ended their walk with a birthday cake in honor of her special day. They sang birthday songs for her in hopes that at least someone would take notice of the fact that they weren't letting this go. Through their advocacy work, they managed to get her name out across the country.

Tre wasn't finally interviewed by investigators about the disappearance of his girlfriend until January 26, 2022, a whole two months after her remains were found. Law & Crime reports that in this interview he denied owning any guns or ever being "rough" with Jamie. He claimed that she had left the house with her brother and his girlfriend in the early hours of July 1.

Jamie's brother contradicted his statement when he said that Tre had been showing off a new gun he received for his birthday. The girlfriend told authorities a slightly different story, stating that she had seen several weapons. Among these were "knives, swords, and what she thought was a homemade shotgun." Reports from the alleged victims of Tre James reveal his "rough" nature with women. They also reveal that all of his victims have been Navajo women.

Using dental records, the FBI identified the skeletal remains as Jamie's on March 3, 2022. She was found to have died from a single gunshot wound to the back of the head. Her cause of death was ruled as a homicide. Despite this, Tre wasn't arrested until August 4. When he was arrested, Jamie's family wasn't even notified before the press release went out. They had no idea why he had been arrested, or what he was being charged with. Jamie's aunt, Marilene James, had to contact multiple television stations and newspapers to obtain the release. It was a slap in the face to the family that felt as though they had been doing much of the leg work.

Just days after his arrest, on August 9, a detention hearing was held to decide whether or not Tre should be held in custody while awaiting trial. Dozens attended the hearing, most of them members of Jamie's family. Nearly all of them wore red shirts in honor of Missing and Murdered Indigenous People, and many of these were emblazoned with Jamie's image. A victim of Tre's spoke out as well as Marilene James, speaking on behalf of her family. Jamie's aunt spoke about his lack of compassion for others, saying that he has verbally and physically threatened Ethelene and Jamie's three sons, who were just 16, 14, and 7. She described the void that had been left in their lives as Tre has continued to live his life, spend time with loved ones, and abuse three other women both before and after Jamie's disappearance.

Aside from the charges he faces for the murder of his girlfriend, Tre is also facing multiple charges for the three women he abused from 2018 all the way to 2021. He's accused of such acts of domestic violence as strangling, suffocation, kidnapping, and assault with a dangerous weapon. One of the victims gave her own statement over the phone during the detention hearing. As she relived the horrifying events of her life caused by Tre James, she became increasingly emotional. Through her sobs, she became harder to understand until it was nearly impossible to make out what she was saying. U.S. Magistrate Judge Camille D. Bibles gave the woman a moment to gather herself before continuing. The unnamed victim described Tre as "a monster," saying that "He deserves to be locked up."

It was all up to Bibles to decide whether or not Tre would be held in custody until the date of his trial. He had already pleaded not guilty to all charges, clearly thinking he was going to get away. It was the testimony of his nameless victim that moved the judge the most. Her traumatizing story had hit everyone in the room where it hurt, especially Tre. Stating that this woman's argument had been quite compelling, and noting the obvious flight risk as well as the risk to the community, Bibles ordered Tre James to be detained until his trial.

It's reported by the AZ Mirror that his trial was set for October 4, but gave no year. As there is no news about a trial having taken place, it was either scheduled for this year, or his legal counsel has been stalling. Either way the detention hearing was a major win for Jamie's family. They felt that they were closer to closure and starting on the path towards healing. They have been battling since 2019, first to find Jamie, then to find justice. It seems that their fight is nearing an end, but the family is not done. Marilene James has expressed her desire to continue advocating for the MMIW movement. It is her hope that Jamie's story can bring hope to other families struggling as they have.

Friends and family of Jamie Yazzie gathered outside the courthouse after the detention hearing in celebration. They held up signs with the names of other MMIW victims. They had also woven two flags. One with the seal of the Navajo Nation, and the other with the red hand print of the MMIW movement. With victory so close at hand and justice right around the corner, the feeling of vindication must feel much like triumph. Hopefully it won't be much longer before news is released of Tre James's indefinite incarceration. Until then all we can hope for is that he's receiving the kind of treatment he deserves from his fellow prisoners.

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