Selena Not Afraid was a missing Native American teenager described as a positive, loving 16-year-old who played basketball and loved riding horses. Selena, a member of two Indian nations, the Crow and Nakota, was last seen on New Year’s Day at a rest stop in Montana, authorities say. There was a massive search effort to find the teenager, who vanished in mysterious circumstances involving a van full of friends.
Tragically, Selena’s body was found “within a mile of the I-90 rest area where she was reported last seen,” Big Horn County Sheriff Lawrence Big Hair announced on January 20, 2020. He said in a press release that foul play was not suspected. The body was found by a Department of Interior search team. The death was later ruled an accident.
Selena died of hypothermia, an autopsy found. Big Horn County Undersheriff Eric Winburn told The Billings Gazette: “No broken bones, no bullet wounds, and no violence to her body.” Toxicology reports are still pending.
“It is with great sadness I announce that we have to report the body of Selena Faye Not Afraid has been found by searchers,” Big Hair said in a statement.
People took to social media to express their grief. “So heart broken right now ???? crying my eyes out! Our search is done with so many tears and broken hearts! Prayers to the family I love you all!” wrote one woman, expressing the feelings of many. “Our prayers were answered but our hearts are broken. We will always be stronger than the Hate thrown our way. We got Selena S. Bell that’s what we prayed for♥️#JusticeforSal,” her relative Cheryl Horn wrote.
The official story is that Selena ran off into a field near the Interstate rest stop and disappeared after being left there with another young Native American woman the family says was found with scratched legs from running through bushes and without shoes, hiding in a ditch. It almost sounds like the plot of the movie Wind River, which featured a missing Native American woman who runs without shoes in frigid weather; however, the family of Selena Not Afraid strongly believed she was still alive, and this missing person’s case was all too real. Tragically, it didn’t have the ending so many hoped for.
Cheryl Horn, a “blood sister” of Selena’s mother who watched Selena grow up and was actively involved in the search for the teenager, told Heavy in a lengthy interview before Selena’s body was found: “We believe she was taken. She did not get out and run.”
She said the family was told that a “man in a green car” may have tried to get the two girls to go with him, and they ran. She questioned why authorities have not issued an Amber Alert for Selena. “We’re having to be our own investigators,” she told Heavy.
On Facebook, family members and friends have posted extensively on the disappearance. They’ve been posting a Billings, Montana address where they say Selena was with other young people before she disappeared.
Selena’s name is given different ways by the news media and authorities. According to the Montana Department of Justice, her full name is Selina Shelley Faye Not Afraid. However, on Facebook, she goes by the name Selena Bell, and family members use the Selena spelling also. Many in the news media are calling her Selina Not Afraid.
Selena is one of far too many Native American women and girls who have been reported missing in the United States and in Montana, where a disproportionate percentage of the state’s missing people are indigenous women and girls. In fact, Selena shared a photo highlighting the missing and murdered indigenous women issue on her Facebook page in 2018 when her own sister, Tristen Gray, was tragically killed. It was one of multiple heartbreaking tragedies that have afflicted the family. Finding Selena is imperative to a family that can’t bear another loss. Selena also lost her twin sister and brother to tragic circumstances.
“There are so many missing girls, young Native girls,” Horn said. “It’s horrible in this area.” In fact, the Crow tribe’s chairman recently met with President Donald Trump in Washington D.C. when Trump signed an executive order to better investigate and prevent missing and murdered Indian women. “Operation Lady Justice,” it’s called. Horn is calling on Trump to get federal authorities to treat Selena’s disappearance with more urgency.
In 2019, the Associated Press reported that there were “nearly 300 cases of missing Native American women and girls reported to law enforcement agencies in Montana last year.”
The newspaper reported that Native Americans are 6.7 percent of Montana’s population but 26 percent of its missing people, with most of those women and girls (for the years 2016-2018).
Of Selena Not Afraid (Bell), a man with the same last name wrote on Facebook: “Two days in a row devastating news had been shared with me. At this time early morning dawn I pray the great mystery watch over this young relative and all Lady Folk as the morning star comes about throughout Indian Country. (‘Wana´ Anpo wicahpi win wocakea yunkaga´’) aho!” Many people are praying for the safe return of Selena Not Afraid.
Here’s what you need to know:
1. Not Afraid, Who Was Described as a ‘Positive, Loving Girl,’ Was Last Seen at the Rest Area Along I-90, Say Montana Authorities
Horn described Selena as “one of the most positive, loving girls you’d ever come around, she plays basketball rides, horses, and has so many friends. She’s only 16 and these kids were in their 20s. She doesn’t do this; she doesn’t not come home.”
She said the family has done its own investigating because they don’t believe authorities were doing enough. Of the van ride from the home in Billings to the desolate rest stop, they were told that “my niece didn’t go willingly,” she said.
After days of searching around the rest area, Horn said the family believes that Selena isn’t in the surrounding area. “We didn’t feel the heaviness,” she said. “We didn’t feel her. We still feel she’s alive.” She thinks “someone took her.” The prevailing story, she said, “doesn’t make sense.”
She said that, although authorities have a small command center at the scene, “the general public and tribal employees” are doing most of the searching. She referenced the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women movement and said, “They don’t do it. We have to look. We don’t have these cops walking in the ditch. Regular people are looking.”
According to Horn, Selena was “very drunk and she was trying to get in another car” when she was allegedly “forced into that white van” that then journeyed to the rest stop. She said the family is surprised Selena was intoxicated because they believed she didn’t drink.
The Crow tribe posted a message about Selena on its Facebook page, saying that multiple jurisdictions are investigating Selena’s case:
“Chairman Not Afraid, along with acting COO Karl Little Owl are currently on site with Crow Tribe Police, Crow Tribe DES, Crow Tribe Security, Big Horn County, Billings Police Department, as well as Montana Highway Patrol, and volunteers assisting with search efforts. Federal authorities and the MMIW task force have also been contacted to assist in search efforts. All agencies are working together diligently to get Selena home safe. Anyone with information of Selena’s whereabouts, we are asking that you to contact authorities. Volunteers may report to; Big Horn County Sheriffs Office (406) 665-9780.”
The Montana Department of Justice issued a Missing Endangered Person Advisory on behalf of the Big Horn County Sheriff’s Office.
“Selina Shelley Faye Not Afraid, a 16 year old Native American female, was last seen at 2pm at the eastbound Interstate 90 rest area between Billings and Hardin near mile marker 474,” the alert says.
“Selina left a disabled vehicle at the rest area on foot walking into an adjacent field to the rest area. She is possibly intoxicated and is not dressed for the weather conditions. She was last seen wearing a black coat, grey sweater, blue jeans, and grey ankle boots. Selina is 5 feet, 9 inches tall and 133 lbs. She has a scar near her mouth and a tattoo of a cross on her middle finger. If you have any information on Selina, please call the Big Horn County Sheriff’s Office at 665-9780 or dial 9 1 1.”
People on Facebook are sharing a Snapchat video they say shows a man in an altercation with a barely visible Selena at the rest stop.
The Big Horn County website explains that Big Horn County is “the sixth largest county in Montana, at approximately 5,023 square miles, and with a population exceeding 13,000. The local government was established January 13, 1913. Hardin is the County Seat.”
The Montana Missing Person’s Clearinghouse gives this information about Selena:
Name: NOTAFRAID, SELENA SHELLEY FAYE
Aliases: BELL, SELENA
BIGHAIR, SELENA SHELLEY FAY
NOTAFRAID, SELINA SHELLEY FAYE
Date of Birth: 06/18/2003
Race: AMERICAN INDIAN OR ALASKAN NATIVE
Hair Color: BLACK
Eye Color: BROWN
Height: 5′ 9”
Weight: 133 LBS.
Date of Last Contact: 01/01/2019 (Note: this is an error on the clearinghouse site. Selena was last seen 1/1/2020)
Age Now: 16 YEARS
Other Reported Dates of Birth:
Investigating Agency: BIG HORN COUNTY SHERIFF,(406) 665-9780
The county’s website adds, “Big Horn County is a land made up of varying jurisdictions. As you drive across the Crow and Northern Cheyenne Indian Nations, be aware that each has its own unique regulations and law enforcement agencies. The National Park Service maintains jurisdiction at Little Bighorn Battlefield and the Big Horn Canyon National Recreation Area.”
2. The Family Has Suffered a Series of Heartbreaking Losses & the Missing & Murdered Indigenous People Issue Is Close to Selena’s Heart
On Facebook, Selena indicated that she had suffered several tragic losses. Due to what happened to her sister, the missing and murdered indigenous women issue – which has sparked a hashtag and a rallying cry for more media and law enforcement attention throughout the nation – appears to have struck a chord with her. Her Facebook profile picture shows her sister Tristen Gray and the acronym for the movement, MMIW, and it says, “Save Our Sisters.”
Sadly, Selena’s disappearance now also symbolizes this important issue, but her family and law enforcement have not given up hope that they will find her.
“My everything?Rest easy my sis….” Selena wrote with one photo. Her sister, Tristen J. Gray, who was also known as “Cedar Woman” and “Old Lady that Sings with the Eagles,” passed away July 28, 2018, according to her obituary. Tristen Gray was struck and killed by a motorist on a highway in Montana. She was only 22 years old.
The Billings Gazette article in 2018 reported that police were “asking witnesses to come forward as they continue to investigate the death of 22-year-old Tristan (sic) Gray, of Billings, who was struck and killed by a nighttime driver on Highway 3 in July.” She was described as a pedestrian. According to the blog Justice for Native Women, “Black skid-marks from vehicle tires were also found in the eastbound lane. Two vehicles of interest were seen leaving the scene: one was a white 2000s model Yukon or Suburban-style vehicle and the other a mid-1980s Chevy truck that was dark in color and was possibly towing a trailer. No suspects have been named and Tristan’s murder remains unsolved.”
Tristen was described in her obituary as having “many hobbies such as beading, going to Pow Wows, cruising, and loved to talk hair and makeup with everyone.”
Horn said the girls’ mother worked for the Crow tribe before suffering so many tragedies.
She said that Tristen was with friends at the Rimrocks, sandstone formations near Billings where young people go to hang out. After an argument with someone in a car, she started walking and then was struck and killed by a hit-and-run driver. No one has ever been charged, but Horn says the family did its own investigation into that death too and believe they have pinpointed the person who did it. But they say they are having a hard time getting authorities to act.
In 2014, Selena’s twin sister Zoe died at age 11. A story on the twin’s death reads, “Zoey was born June 18, 2003, along with her twin sister, Selena, to Jacquelena Big Hair and Leroy (Shelia) Not Afraid.” Six people received Zoey’s organs when she died. Horrifically, the Billings sixth grader killed herself.
In 2014, the Rapid City Journal reported that Zoe Not Afraid was “the youngest person in Montana to die by suicide in at least a decade.” Her father Leroy Not Afraid alleged she was bullied in middle school, the newspaper reported, but Horn believes the real story is far more complicated. Zoe’s obituary described her as loving dancing and the color pink.
“Losing her twin made her (Selena) a whole different girl,” Horn said. “Zoe used to be the outgoing one,” and Selena then became more outgoing. But she “never got through the sadness of it. It’s a deep story.”
In 2017, Selena’s brother Preston Bell was killed by the police. Preston’s picture is Selena’s cover photo on Facebook. In 2018, Selena wrote, “Happy birthday Preston Bell ?You are truly missed, love you alwaysss brother… #onelove ?” Tristen liked the post. Preston was only 24 years old.
With so much heartbreak, it’s unthinkable that the family would have to go through such trauma again.
3. The Van Had a Mechanical Problem But People in It Told Conflicting Stories After Selena Not Afraid Disappeared, the Sheriff Says
According to the Facebook page For the Missing: Pacific Northwest, Not Afraid “was part of a group of… people driving to Hardin when the car broke down and restarted… people left in the vehicle and the driver called a relative to pick up Not Afraid and another girl left behind. Only one girl was at the rest stop when the relative arrived.” At least that’s one version of the story.
Sheriff Pete Big Hair told KTVQ that the van had a mechanical problem the driver was able to fix.
The driver was allegedly worried the vehicle would stall again so he called his mother to get Not Afraid and another woman left behind. However, Not Afraid wasn’t there when the woman showed up, according to the television station.
“There’s about two or three different stories from these people in the vehicle,” Big Hair said to the television station. “They’re not all in one story. There’s different stories from a couple of them. We kind of don’t know if they’re telling the truth or not. So that’s why we want to verify.” The television station reported that some of the two men and three women in the van are from Billings.
A relative claimed on Facebook: “Apparently they were all in a van and some reason two girls were kicked out. One was found. Selena still missing.” She also claimed, “The girl said Selena ran towards the trees in the field. That’s all she said.” She added: “The girl they found… hiding in the ditch with no shoes can’t remember what happened. She had no shoes and was all scratched up. Something happened.” Authorities have not publicly verified those details, however.
A friend wrote on Facebook, “man this whole thing dont make any sense. why would they just leave you there? why watch you walk off? why havent you came home yet? so many questions that need to be answered. someone is lying about what happened or theyre not fully telling the truth. bring those people in and ask more questions. we will bring you home Selena but until we do may god watch over you and bring comfort to your family.” Many others have shared similar sentiments on Facebook.
4. Selena’s Family ‘Camped Out’ at the Rest Area to Look for Her But Believed If She Was Near the Rest Area ‘We Would Have Found’ Her
It’s clear from social media posts that Selena was deeply loved. There was a major search effort to locate the missing teenager. “Selena WAS NOT FOUND. She is still missing!! We have an RV at the rest area need a warning tent of some kind if any one can help. Folding table also for food and drinks,” a relative wrote on Facebook on January 3.
The search had turned up nothing, until January 20, despite using a high-powered drone that showed even rabbits and mice. “If she was here, we would have found that on day one, I guarantee you that,” said Horn.
She added that it was about 30 degrees out when Selena disappeared. “It wasn’t freezing. It was warm,” and added: “I do not believe this is God’s plan,” she said of whether Selena would have come to harm. “We believe she was taken east.”
She wants President Donald Trump to get federal authorities to take Selena’s case even more seriously. Here’s a photo of Trump with Crow tribal officials in November 2019:
According to Horn, a Snapchat video shows Selena with the others at the rest area with “two of the males in a fist fight.” The teen’s phone is dead.
Another woman wrote on the Crow Tribal Public Safety Facebook page, “Updating the search for Selena Bell Not Afraid, the Crow Tribe is assisting the Big Horn County Sheriffs Office. We searched last night until about 2:30 AM on foot using Dogs from Yellowstone Country Sheriff’s and a Drone from BNSF and AML was on foot along with other volunteers.” The page frequently posts about missing Crow tribal members, some of whom are runaways (one recent day, the page reported there had been four runaways. There is no indication that Selena fits that category, however.)
The post continues, “We started the search again this morning at 8 AM supporting HSO with 2 helicopters 1 from the Kehlier Family and the other from the Yellowstone SO, BIA Land Services brought 4 side by sides Crow AML brought 5 horse back riders and other personnel for foot search. We will continue the search here until we get better information. If anyone has information please contact the Big Horn Country Sheriff’s office 665-9780.”
Angry friends have shared the names of those they believe were in the van on social media. Wrote one, “SOMEBODY KNOWS WHAT HAPPENED TO Selena S. Bell!!! SPEAK THE F*CK UP!! A 16 YEAR OLD GIRLS LIFE IS ON THE LINE AND NOBODY WANTS TO SAY SHIT!!! YOU WANT TO BURRY (sic) ANOTHER FRIEND? COUSIN? SISTER? DAUGHTER!!!! SPEAK THE F*CK UP IF YOU KNOW SOMETHING!”
On social media, people questioned how Selena could have just disappeared when there was another female supposedly left with her. One angry woman responded, saying, “They didn’t bring her with them she just happen to be one of them that needed a ride back to Hardin from the party. THEY DIDNT ALL GHOST ONLY ONE GIRL DID.”
One woman whose name is included in some social media posts took to Facebook to deny involvement. “I have people who will tell you, including her own family, that I was home. And didn’t even have any idea she was missing until way later,” she wrote.
Another man wrote on Facebook, “If there is not a substantial reward offered by law enforcement and/or the tribe the politicians and law enforcement who say they are doing everything they can to put an end to missing Native Women are full of sh*t. I have been hearing elected officials talking about how they are addressing this serious issue but the results are sickening. A minimum $10,000 reward should have been offered right away. The thing about criminals is they run in circles and will turn on each other if the price is right.”
A relative responded, “well we are taking it serious and so is everybody else that’s helping my family and reward or not why be so cruel and not tell the truth why be so evil and not let us know and if everybody has something to say on social media why can’t they come forward and tell the family what they seen if they know something instead of hiding behind a screen and if you think officials aren’t taking it serious come out and help us comb the fields with us we have a lot of ground to cover give us your input…..”
She added, “…we already know how they are about native women or all natives but that’s when we come together and get it done by ourselves by not giving up and going out and helping each other….my little sister needs to be found ik we can find her but it all starts by getting off fb and coming out and helping we’re at the rest area from sun up to sun down my family has been camped out where she was last seen and if can’t send your friends down to help..”
5. The Tragedies of Missing & Murdered Indigenous Women Are a Crisis in the United States
According to a groundbreaking report on the issue, which attempted to tally the numbers of missing and murdered indigenous women, particularly in urban areas, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention has reported “that murder is the third-leading cause of death among American Indian and Alaska Native women and that rates of violence on reservations can be up to ten times higher than the national average.”
However, the report says, “no research has been done on rates of such violence among American Indian and Alaska Native women living in urban areas despite the fact that approximately 71% of American Indian and Alaska Natives live in urban areas.” In 2017, Urban Indian Health Institute (UIHI), a tribal epidemiology center, launched the study to fill in that gap.
The report found that there was a misunderstanding about the violence that indigenous women face in urban areas as opposed to on reservations. “The majority of American Indian and Alaska Native people now live in urban communities due to a variety of reasons for migration, from forced relocation due to 1950s federal relocation and termination policies, to current barriers to obtaining quality educational, employment, and housing opportunities on tribal lands,” it reads.
“Because of this, urban American Indian and Alaska Native people experience MMIWG-related violence in two ways—through losses experienced by extended family and community ties on reservations, in villages, and in urban communities themselves.”
According to Indianz, this crisis is particularly acute in Montana.
You can read more about all of Montana’s missing people through a searchable database here. Some indigenous people on the list have been missing for years. You can also check out the national NAMUS database on missing people.
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