Missing and Murdered: Family, Friends, and Activists Gathered at the Humboldt County Courthouse Seeking to ‘Motivate the System’ and the Community
According to a 2020 report, native people go missing at a much higher rate in Humboldt County than in other areas across the state and even across the nation. The report notes, “28 tribes are represented among the victims, with the Hoopa Valley Tribe, Yurok Tribe, and Round Valley Tribes most highly represented.”
In Humboldt County, the burden born by those experiencing the confusion and pain of losing a loved one to trauma or disappearance is almost common among native communities and the rally goers sought to remind the community of their need for justice and, in particular, to bring attention to several cases, that of recently missing native woman, Emmilee Risling here in Humboldt County, Tamara Sanders whose suspicious death occurred in Del Norte County, and the case of Khadijah Britain who went missing in Mendocino County.
Local activist Jesse Armstrong has been organizing protests and rallies throughout the area for the last couple years in support of providing resources and attention to missing person’s cases in the region.
We spoke with MMIW activist, Jesse Armstrong, at the protest Wednesday night in front of the courthouse in Eureka. [Video by Ryan Hutson.]
According to Armstrong, there will be a search party deployed today at 11 a.m. in Orick, in an effort to locate 32-year-old Emmilee Risling who has been missing since Monday, October 11th–ironically she was last seen on Indigenous People’s Day.
In an emotional interview during the protest Wednesday evening, our reporter spoke with a woman who describes herself as the second mother of Emmilee. She implored the public to assist in locating the missing woman.
Leslie Nichols pleads for help from the public to find Emmilee Risling. [Video by Ryan Hutson]
While the search for Emmilee Risling is urgent, many other local families are experiencing loss as well and are also actively seeking information about missing loved ones, or even seeking justice for those deceased. Those who were present on Wednesday were eager for change as they demanded justice.
Armstrong was hopeful that social media attention could generate tips for law-enforcement on the whereabouts or circumstances regarding missing persons cases, and unsolved deaths. He made mention of the recent media coverage surrounding the Gabby Petito homicide case and the effort to find the person of interest in her death, Brian Laundrie – which recently captivated the nation and beyond, harnessing resources from the FBI and ultimately finding evidence as a result.
Jesse Armstrong wants to get local missing and murdered native people national attention. “Everybody’s seen the Gabby Petitio Case, you know, it was around the world,” He explained. [Video by Ryan Hutson]
One local family that knows the pain of not knowing what happened to their loved one is the family of Tamera Sanders, whose death under suspicious circumstances has prompted an investigation by authorities.
Below Jessica Wilson, cousin of Tamera Sanders, uses her creativity as a makeup artist to capture the pain seared into her family with the suspicious nature of Sander’s death which occurred when a barn burned in the Crescent City area this May.
In an artful TikTok video posted to Facebook by Jessica Wilson, she captures the pain of family and friends missing her cousin. She told us,
I did the look in honor of my cousin, because her life mattered. Anyone who was blessed to know her, saw she had the most lovable energy, and the kindest soul. She was younger than me, but I’ve always looked up to her. She showed me how to be a better person, at a very young age…[b]y her consistent kind actions – and lack [of] negative energy – no matter the situation.
We spoke with Tamera’s mother, Kelley Metcalf, who while reluctant to say much regarding an active investigation, did tell us, “We are waiting for some pathology results to come back, and the Sheriff’s Department tells me they are actively investigating.”
According to the Yurok and Sovereign Bodies Institute which co-authored the Year One Project released in August of 2020 which highlights the plight of missing and murdered indigenous people, “[I]n Northern California, 37% of cases where case classification is known were misclassified as suicide, undetermined, or accidental.” The report tallied 105 cases of the missing and murdered between 1900 and 2020, and found that one in five were located in Humboldt County. They noted, “22% were Hupa, 16% were Yurok, and 11% were of the Round Valley Tribe.”
Below are some of the other cases that MMIP activists want the community to remember: