The Governor's Taskforce on Missing and Murdered Indigenous Persons released their first state wide report on the epidemic on January 7, 2021. It states that out of the 8,431 missing persons records to be entered into NCIC in Wyoming between 2011-2020, 15% (1,254) were Indigenous. According to a study performed by Wyoming Survey and Analysis Center, their cases aren't even reported the same way in the media as those of White victims. While 76% of White victims have their stories published while they're still missing, only 42% of missing Indigenous victims have their stories released to the public. More disturbingly, 23% of White victims stories describe them being found alive and brought to safety, while 0% of Indigenous victims are ever found alive. Negative character framing is also too common among articles on missing or murdered Indigenous victims, making up 16% of the stories printed on their cases. This is never found in stories of White victims, with 43% of stories found going the extra mile to assert positive character framing instead.
Nicole Wagon is a determined and dedicated mother. When one hears of the mother-bear, they need only think of Nicole. Not only is she a loving and fierce mother-bear, she's also a member of the Northern Arapaho tribe and an advocate for the MMIW movement. Day and night, her phone rings with desperate people looking for a missing loved one. They turn to Nicole to aid in their search and their fight. She has a reason for her crusade. Within just a year, Nicole lost two of her own daughters to the devastating statistics that are crippling the already small numbers of Native Americans across the US.
It was January 5, 2019, when Nicole lost her oldest daughter, Jocelyn Cherese Watt, also known by her Indian name, Niihoni'hi'sei, or Yellow Bird Woman. She'd given birth to Jocelyn on January 28, 1988 in Rinteln, West Germany. Nicole had her first little girl with her husband at the time, Darryl Davis. Jocelyn lived in West Germany with her parents until she was 2-years-old, then moving to Albuquerque, New Mexico for another two years. The family moved to Riverton, Wyoming, where Jocelyn started Ethete Headstart. As the family put down roots and grew, Jocelyn grew and progressed as well. She went on to attend the Arapaho Grade School before moving on to Riverton High School, where she graduated in 2007. After graduation, she attended Southwest Indian Polytechnic Institute in Albuquerque.
Jocelyn would live in Albuquerque for five years before coming back home to Riverton to settle down at the Wind River Reservation she'd grown up at. She had come back home to lay down roots just eight years before her death. After moving back, she'd worked at the Red Willow Restaurant inside the Wind River Casino as a server. She was loved by the people that she served, as well as by her friends and family. It can truly be said that Jocelyn made a positive impression everywhere she went. She was an amazing singer, that sang with the SandCreek Band outside of work. When she sang Happy Birthday to customers at the restaurant on their special day, she made it all the more special. She was such an impressive singer that she was selected as part of the SandCreek Band to sing the National Anthem at the INFR Qualifying Finals Rodeo in 2018.
Nicole remembers her daughter's compassion and how she was always there in difficult times for everyone in the community. She was known to sing at funerals for the members of her tribe to show her respect and honor those in the community that had passed on. Her selfless act took a toll on her, according to her mother's interview with Insider. She normally sang the song "Dancing in the Sky," almost seeming to leave a little piece of herself on the stage every time she walked away. Nicole told Insider that Jocelyn's gift was her voice, and she shared it with everyone around her. Jocelyn seemed to be the type of person that treated everyone she met as family, and family always came first, according to her obituary.
While Jocelyn practiced her Native traditions, she was also a baptized Catholic. She was a faithful and loyal member of the St. Stephen's Catholic Church. While Sundays may have been for church, Monday nights were undoubtedly devoted to football, as she was a loyal New England Patriots fan as well. She had been to numerous games throughout her life. At her heart, Jocelyn really was a fun-loving tomboy.
As family always came first, Jocelyn never missed a family event or get-together. She was also present for any community events as well. Crowds didn't seem to be a problem for the girl at all the public gatherings. She was a fun person to be around, no matter where she was or what she was doing. Being very active in her community, she was well known by everyone and remembered as someone that was always there with a helping hand.
An avid outdoors-woman, Jocelyn loved going to the lake with her sisters. They would go fishing together and enjoy the peaceful, serene background that is Wyoming. Ever the adventurous soul, she never shied away from trying something new. It didn't matter if she was working, singing, fishing, praying, or watching the Patriots win or lose, she did it with a genuine smile on her face. Her dream had been to go into a career in Optometry, but her dreams were tragically cut short. Her obituary also states that aside from her love of singing, she loved to cook, too.
For the couple of days leading up to the discovery of her daughter's body, Nicole just had a bad feeling. Not checking in sooner has haunted her, but not slowed her down in helping others to find their own lost relatives and friends. On January 5, 2019, Nicole received the call that no mother wants to hear. Her oldest daughter had been found shot to death alongside her boyfriend, Rudy Perez in their downtown Riverton home inside the Wind River Reservation. Jocelyn was only 30-years-old at the time. Although the investigation was always described as ongoing, there seemed to be little to no movement for more than two years. The 2.2 million acres of reservation at Wind River is only patrolled by six officers. They're severely undermanned for an area described by medium.com as the seventh largest reservation by land area and the fifth largest by population.
It was at this point that Nicole Wagon joined the MMIW crusade alongside another of her daughters, Jade Wagon. The two joined in searches and marches as they made their voices heard among the sea of others crying out for help in their loved one's cases. Like many others, the two not only rallied for Jocelyn's case, but for all the other missing and murdered still out there in need of a proper investigation. Jade even marched at the capitol in Wyoming on behalf of her older sister and all the other older sisters out there that hadn't come home.
Jade Kelilee Wagon was born on February 3, 1996, in Riverton, Wyoming to Tracy and Nicole Wagon. Her Northern Arapaho name was Cedar Tree Stands Alone, beautifully ominous considering her story. Her Northern Cheyenne name was White Buffalo Calf. She was raised in Riverton, where she attended school mostly in that area. Jade would also attend school in Lander before graduating from St. Stephen's Indian High School in 2014. Shortly before her disappearance she'd been preparing to go to Wind River Job Corps. Her hope was to obtain a career in the medical field after learning a trade to land her on that trajectory.
Like her older sister, Jade was also a baptized Catholic that regularly attended St. Stephen's Catholic Church. She was also a member of the St. Margaret's Catholic Church. Though devout in her faith, Jade was still a very traditional girl in her ways. She faithfully practiced the traditions of her elders as well as her Catholic faith. The young girl attended sweats, she fasted, and would also seek out guidance, likely from the elders of the community. Her obituary describes her as having a strong faith that no one could take from her.
She loved to laugh and terrorize her sisters, as her obituary also states. Jade will always be remembered for a "cute, silly laugh" that could be heard even from the largest crowd. The warm, yet silly young woman had a unique sense of humor that will surely be missed by all that knew her. A creative soul, Jade enjoyed drawing, writing, and many different genres of music. She also shared a love of the outdoors with her sisters, especially the mountains. Hunting and fishing were among her favorite activities, but she generally just enjoyed being outdoors, no matter what the excursion. An avid traveler, Jade had already visited Utah, Montana, Colorado, South Dakota, New Mexico, and Florida in her short 23 years.
Jade's silly, entertaining character made her perfect for motherhood. She had two children named Raphael and MaeLeah. There was absolutely nothing she loved more than being a mom and watching her children progress as they grew. The young mother was dedicated to her children, even taking the privilege of staying at home with the kids for a while at the age of 19. More recently before her disappearance, she'd began working at the Wind River Casino. As much as she enjoyed staying at home with her children, she wasn't afraid to get to work and get her hands dirty if she needed to for her family.
As stated before, Jade had become very active in the MMIW movement after her older sister's murder. When she didn't show up for a memorial service being held for Jocelyn and Rudy a year after their deaths, Nicole knew something was wrong. Their family was not only very close, Jade and Nicole had been very active in keeping Jocelyn's case, and others, in the media. A memorial service for Jocelyn and her boyfriend was not something she would just let fall by the wayside. Nicole rushed to report her daughter missing on January 2, 2020, almost one year to the day that her oldest daughter had been shot. A three-week long search ensued with Bureau of Indian Affairs Officers finding her on January 21. Jade's body was recovered in a field 30 miles from the casino she'd last been seen leaving after work. A witness had seen her getting into a car with an unknown person or persons that night.
Nicole believed then, and still believes now that Jade was murdered. The FBI quickly ruled her death as accidental, though. According to their report, Jade Wagon died of hypothermia due to exposure and drug intoxication. They claim she had enough methamphetamine in her system to cause irrational behavior and confusion. Nowhere does her family ever state that Jade used drugs of any kind. By all accounts, she was a devoted mother, employee, and member of her community, church, and family. Unfortunately, there are not enough details made public for anyone to make a positive assertion as to whether or not Jade was murdered. I will say the fact that she was last seen getting into a car with someone only to be found in a field three weeks later is very odd, to say the least.
As the family was left to grieve, Nicole continued to fight. Now she not only had one daughter to fight for, she had two. The unwavering mother-bear pushed to convince authorities that Jade had been murdered while also pushing to get Jocelyn's case solved. Sleepless nights and days fueled by nothing more than a mother's need for justice, Nicole's resolve is not only admirable, it's encouraging for all the others struggling with her. Though she could never get anyone to budge on Jade's case, she would at least get a sense of relief in Jocelyn's.
The ongoing investigation seemed to move at a snail's pace. For two years, police investigated, but never appealed to the public. The amazing ladies of the We Are Resilient podcast read a truly shocking tweet found in regards to the case. The post states that in the more than two years that passed without their case being solved or even posted to social media, police had managed to post 24 missing dog announcements during that time. It's an absolute disgrace that missing dogs are getting more attention than the missing and murdered descendants of this Nation's First People.
Once the investigation entered its second year, police finally appealed to the public for help. A 24/7 phone line was established specifically for tips leading to solving the case that was growing colder by the second. Investigators from the Riverton Police Department, the Fremont County Sheriff's Office, the Wyoming Division of Criminal Investigation, and the FBI combined their efforts in solving the case. Finally after all the waiting, the fighting, and the tears, Nicole got the word she'd been waiting to hear for more then two years. In December 2021, they caught the boys responsible, and they were just that, merely boys trying to be men in all the wrong ways.
The details behind the senseless, horrendous murders of Jocelyn Watt and Rudy Perez were revealed by 17-year-old Patrick SunRhodes. The young boy sat down with a Wyoming Division of Criminal Investigation agent and spilled his guts rather quickly when pressed. According to Cowboy State Daily, Patrick told the agent that he'd been at his home in Fremont County when he was contacted by his friend, 18-year-old Korbin Headley. Korbin asked his slightly younger friend if he wanted to go out to pick up some alcohol. Patrick agreed and met up with Korbin and another of their friends, 24-year-old Bryce Teran. The trio went to a house at the Wind River Reservation, where they met 19-year-old Brandon Donald Monroe. They got into a car and drank together for some time before Brandon exited the vehicle, walking back into the house. When he reemerged, Brandon had a gun and some methamphetamine.
Brandon used the drug in front of his friends before putting on a pair of gloves. He told the three boys that he needed to "go take care of business." The boys drove to a residence near the City Park in Riverton. This would turn out to be the home of Jocelyn Watt and Rudy Perez. On the way to the house, Brandon told his companions that he'd bleached his bullets so not to leave any prints as he loaded his gun. Patrick asserts that he asked to go home at this point, but he was not allowed to leave. When they reached Jocelyn and Rudy's house, they parked the car in an alley nearby.
Brandon requested that Patrick accompany him inside the house. He went along, likely because the man requesting his presence was holding a loaded gun. According to the young boy's confession, Brandon hit the door with his shoulder several times before it broke open. I can only imagine the terror and confusion inside the home as the killer busted his way through the door. Patrick claims that he only followed him into the living room/kitchen area. Brandon continued into a bedroom, where Patrick then heard gunshots. He walked in to find Jocelyn lying face down on the floor beside her bed. Brandon was struggling with Rudy before shooting him in the head.
The deranged, drugged boy picked up a shotgun from the closet floor after committing double homicide. Patrick fled the house and ran back to the car, not knowing what else to do. Several minutes later, Brandon also ran back to the car before the four fled into the night. Patrick SunRhodes and Bryce Teran were each charged with two counts of felony murder, while Korbin Headley was charged with conspiracy to commit aggravated burglary. Brandon Donald Monroe was charged with two counts of felony murder and two counts of first-degree murder. The four boys had not even known Jocelyn or Rudy.
Nothing could bring back Jade, Jocelyn, or Rudy. At the very least, those responsible for Jocelyn and Rudy's murders were brought to justice, giving their families a small sense of relief. Nicole told Insider that while her heart goes out to Gabby Petito's family, she wonders if the same level of media coverage could've made a difference in her girls' cases. She understands their grief and loss more than anyone else could. It's truly sad that her girls cases couldn't get the kind of coverage they deserved, despite Nicole's crusade. The grieving mother points out to Insider, "Can you name any Native, from coast to coast, that received any kind of media?" She says that she's very grateful that the Gabby Petito case was able to shed some light on the epidemic, saying, "Native voices are being heard now." Though Gabby's story is a tragic one, it can be said that because of her case many MMIW cases finally made it onto the media's radar.
This family's story is tragic and senseless. They never should've had to bare the loss of two relatives just inside of a year. They especially should have never had to wait so long for one case to be solved, while the other was closed entirely too quickly with no real investigation at all. Though Jocelyn and Rudy's case did end up getting solved, the question stills hangs heavy on Nicole's mind. What really happened to Jade Wagon in 2020? Was it really an accident? Or was it something more and no one wanted to investigate? We'll probably never know the answer to that question, and that's the biggest tragedy of all in this story.