The rate at which Indigenous women and girls go missing and get murdered in America is appalling. No state has a higher rate of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women than Montana. In an epidemic that's been quietly sweeping the nation since its beginning, thanks to authorities and news media, Montana seems to be the epicenter. At the dawning of 2020, Montana would lose yet another bright, sweet young girl to this deadly problem.
Selena Shelley Faye Not Afraid was born on June 8, 2003, to parents Jackie Big Hair and Leroy Not Afraid. She was born alongside her twin sister, Zoey. Their family was large, loving, and marred by tragedy. Selena grew up in Hardin, Montana and was a member of both the Crow and Nakota nations. Her obituary mentions her being survived by her adoptive parents, Johnathan and Misty Bright Wings. However, there is no mention of them, or when and how she would've been adopted by them in any report.
In 2014, when Selena and Zoey were only 11-years-old, Zoey died by suicide in Billings, Montana. She was the youngest person in the state to die by suicide in at least a decade. According to the girls' father, she'd been bullied in school. Zoey's untimely and tragic death would be far from the last blow this family would take. In the coming years funerals would start to seem as regular as birthdays.
In 2017, Selena's brother, Preston Bell, was taken too soon as well. He was killed by police, but there are no details to be found on his death. Nothing can be found about how he died or if an investigation ever took place. The family was left to grieve the deaths of a brother and sister that passed away just three years apart.
Just a year later, the family would lose another sibling. In August 2018, 22-year-old Tristen Gray was struck and killed in a hit-and-run accident. The suspect fled the scene and ran directly to his mother. The two called 911, but it's not clear which one as both were clearly heard on the call. Police identified the suspect, but never released his name to the public. They never pressed charges, either. The kids' aunt, Cheryl Horn, tracked the man down on social media and pressed the Yellowstone County attorney to file charges against him. Nothing was ever done and Tristen's killer was left unpunished.
Through all of this tragedy and death, Selena still seemed to push through as a well adjusted girl. She was described by those that knew her as a sweet, silly girl that had many friends. She loved beading, sewing, baking, and her horse, Wart. Selena had also been practicing to be a future Lady's Indian Relay Race riding champion for the River Road Team. An athletic girl, she played basketball and volleyball at Hardin High School. Shortly before her disappearance, she'd recently started jingle dress dancing at powwows again, a very difficult native dance traditional only to some tribes. This was an activity she'd previously enjoyed with her twin sister. As the ladies on the We Are Resilient podcast pointed out, jingle dress dancing is more of a sport than a dance in its difficulty.
Through all the trials and tribulations in her life, Selena seemed to be thriving. Most teenage girls that had already been through so much may not be as well adjusted. Selena, on the other hand, had a wealth of friends, was active in school sports, and was also active within her tribes. Her family really couldn't have hoped for better for the young girl. Her future looked bright and full of promise.
On December 31, 2019, an older friend of Selena's named Diandra Pitman invited her to a party. The party was located in Billings and plenty of alcohol was being served for New Years. According to Diandra's account, she passed out at some point during the party. When she woke up, Selena was already gone. She'd left in a car with five other passengers, traveling back to Hardin.
Along their way home the car broke down at a rest stop on I-90. The car eventually started back up and the group left, minus Selena and a friend of her's named Arlana. Conflicting accounts paint very different pictures as to why these girls were left behind that day. The driver of the vehicle stated that when the car started, the girls just stayed behind. He called his aunt to come get them as he drove off. Another girl riding in the car that day said that the girls were kicked out of the car with no explanation as to why. The same girl said that she'd last seen Selena running towards the trees in an open field, but again, offered no explanation. Regardless of what happened, Selena Not Afraid was last seen alive at that rest stop on I-90 at about 2:00PM on New Years Day 2020.
When the driver's aunt finally arrived to pick Selena and Arlana up, she didn't see anyone right away. She looked around until she found Arlana crouched down in a ditch, hiding. She was missing her shoes and had scratches on her legs. The strangest part of all is that she had no recollection of why she'd run or how she ended up in the ditch. Arlana was confused, but she seemed to remember Selena wandering off into a nearby field. This behavior was very uncharacteristic of Selena. She would've never just run off into an open field, especially if she knew someone was coming to get her.
It took no time for family, friends, and various tribal members, along with members of the general public to set up camp at the rest stop, looking for clues of any kind. They camped out for 13 days, not only searching, but making a statement that they would not give up until Selena was found. The search grew and intensified as the days turned to weeks. The FBI and a US Interior Department team had joined in the search with local and tribal law enforcement. A command post was set up at the rest stop as authorities and volunteers went over the area with a fine-tooth comb. High-powered drones, helicopters, and side-by-sides were utilized in the search. Searchers were combing the area around the rest stop on foot and horseback, without finding anything. The weeks-long search would end up spanning three states before its end on January, 20, 2020.
At about 10:30 that morning, Selena's body was found in an open area within a nearby field, only about a mile southwest of the rest stop where she was last seen. It was during a "systematic grid search" that she was found in a location that had previously been searched already, according to volunteers. Cheryl Horn stated that there was no impression of Selena's body in the earth beneath her. This would not be possible if she'd laid there for 19 straight days, no matter how frozen the ground. Cheryl also said that she'd seen tire tracks leading from the body, but authorities deny both of her claims. Her body was taken for an autopsy that her family thought would point to foul play. The results, in fact, stated that she'd died of hypothermia as a result of exposure to the elements. No toxicology report was ever issued, but accounts point to her still be intoxicated at the time of her disappearance.
Later the family would hear a story of a "man in a green car" that may have tried to get Selena and Arlana to go with them. There was even a Snapchat video recovered from that day. It appeared to be taken at the rest stop and featured Selena in the background as two males from the group were fist fighting. Furthermore, Selena's family was adamant that she would not have taken off by herself for no good reason in the middle of nowhere. Cheryl was quoted as saying: "Selena wasn't stupid. She's very smart. When that happened to her sister and to Preston, we spent all our time telling her about how to be safe. What to do, where to go, who to run to. So the fact that they tell me she ran into a field - - I don't believe that."
Her family struggled throughout the search for their sweet, silly loved one. With all the extra help they were supposed to have, it was still Selena's family, friends, and the Tribal Police that did the majority of the searching for her. There was never an Amber Alert issued for her, either. Her family members questioned police as to why they hadn't done this, but it seems that they didn't receive much of an answer.
On December 23, 2020, Diandra Pitman was charged with endangering the welfare of a minor. She was 20-years-old at the time she was indicted. This charge is just a misdemeanor in the state of Montana.
In honor of Selena and MMIW all over the country, a group of relay runners began a run from the Pine Ridge Reservation on January 24, 2020. Others joined in the run at the Northern Cheyenne Indian Reservation the next day, on the 25th. The group finally ran through the Crow Reservation and all the way to Selena's memorial service. They ran a total of 350 miles from start to finish.
For such a short life lived, Selena had an impact on those that knew her and remember her. She was a beautiful, kind, silly, girl. She was also the strongest girl anyone could've known. Selena Not Afraid powered through tragedy and loss and had only begun to grow up into a happy, healthy young woman. We may never know what really happened to her that day on I-90, but hopefully we can bring attention to the lack of reporting on cases like her's to prevent more.