A Montana child is dead. That terrible fact is certain in a tragedy with more questions than answers for her grieving family and her community at a time when our nation is just starting to recognize that Native American women and girls go missing and are found dead at an alarming rate.
Henny Scott, a freshman at Lame Deer High School, won’t celebrate her 15th birthday on Wednesday. She won’t play basketball again nor will she realize her aspiration to be a doctor.
Her petite body was found under the snow late in the afternoon Friday, west of Lame Deer on the Northern Cheyenne Reservation. Henny had been missing for weeks.
Her mother, Paula Castro, told a Gazette reporter that she had last spoken to her daughter by phone on Dec. 7 and told her to come home. The mother did not see her daughter again alive.
Paula Castro and Henny’s father, Nathan Stops, looked for Henny the next day at the all-Indian basketball tournament in Billings, but didn’t find her.
They are frustrated by how the Northern Cheyenne Bureau of Indian Affairs police treated them when they asked for help to find Henny and were told to conduct their own search. The parents went to Crow Agency and filed a missing person report with BIA police there. Later, Paula Castro said, she filled out a missing person report at the Lame Deer BIA office.
The Crow BIA reportedly entered Henny into the national missing persons database on Dec. 13.
But word of the missing girl wasn’t shared with area media until Dec. 26 when the Montana Department of Justice issued a Missing or Endangered Person Advisory for Henny at the request of the FBI. That advisory said the girl was last seen at 8 a.m. Dec. 13 in Busby, that she might have been headed toward Hardin and that she possibly was injured.
It is unconscionable that law enforcement response to this missing child was so needlessly delayed.
Federal law requires all U.S. law enforcement agencies to enter reports of missing children (under age 18) into the National Crime Information Center database. Why that wasn’t done in Lame Deer weeks before Henny’s disappearance made the news is one of the big unanswered questions.
When Northern Cheyenne tribal members organized a search for Henny on Dec. 28, volunteer searchers found the child’s snow-covered body that very day.
Much as Henny’s family and community need answers about how, where and when she died, that information is unlikely to be disclosed by authorities any time soon. Typically, federal agencies dealing with deaths or crimes on Indian reservations are slow to provide information.
They are not bound by state open government laws that require Montana law enforcement agencies to communicate with their communities and to make certain records available to the public.
We offer our deepest sympathies to Henny’s family. But sympathy isn’t enough. The parents and the public deserve answers.
The Billings Gazette (and The Montana Standard) regularly run reports of missing persons at the request of area law enforcement agencies. We are relieved when those people are found safe, and saddened when that doesn’t happen.
This is an especially sorrowful death, of a girl so young and a family that waited so long just to know that she was not coming home. Now BIA law enforcement must answer how this missing child report was mishandled. The FBI, which is investigating the death, should share information as soon as possible with the parents and the public. Much better communication is needed to restore the trust that has been severely shaken by Henny’s disappearance and death.
On Monday, at a walk to remember Henny, the acting president of the Northern Cheyenne Tribe, Conrad Fisher, said the tribal council should create a standard protocol for reporting people missing on the reservation and organizing searches. If Henny Scott's case spurs adults to make urgent changes, this young girl's death may save others.