Henny Scott broke our hearts.
The anguished sobbing of her mother, awaiting the SUV carrying her daughter's body, only to have her worst nightmare confirmed.
A photographer and a reporter were there on that cold Saturday morning — and by extension, so were we all.
It broke our hearts to hear of her love of basketball. We thought of the drive in her life to help others.
Her story, including the gap between the time her parents alerted the authorities and when they appeared to take her disappearance seriously, is worthy of outrage.
But believing Henny was somehow an anomaly or exceptional would be to miss the real story.
We can't sit by and let Henny become another in a much-too-long list of missing and murdered indigenous women and girls. That's why beginning today, The Billings Gazette is embarking on a project that hopes to keep a sustained spotlight on the issue of missing and murdered indigenous women, which has become a stain on our state and tribal nations.
For too long, we have reported the same heartbreaking and tired pattern: A young woman goes missing, there's a terrible delay in alerting the public, and she's either never heard from or a body turns up later. There are tears of sorrow and outrage. Tribal leaders pledge justice. And folks from the state and the congressional delegations hold hearings, listening sessions and march alongside mourning community members.
The outpouring of sincerity is swift but fleeting.
And then, nearly as soon as the outrage subsides, there's another report — someone else has gone missing.
Even though we're starting a new reporting project that hopes to remember those who have been victimized, as well as understand what is driving this scourge, we don't pretend to have the answers. Instead, we have the platform to keep this issue front-and-center until real solutions can be implemented.
That's what The Billings Gazette is pledging to educate its readers and the citizens of Montana who must understand that indigenous women experience more violence and go missing at a rate that far outpaces any other ethnic classification.
The Gazette, like other media, can often be accused of just parachuting into news stories on places like the reservations, scooping up the details of a crime and then leaving.
But today, we're pledging our news reporting efforts and our editorial pen to not letting up so easily. We believe that all Montanans deserve answers.
We want to know why more indigenous women go missing. We want to understand why there is so often such a gap in women being reported missing. We can't help but notice the same gap doesn't seem to exist when non-native women go missing in places like Billings. Why is that?
We want to know why the federal government and its attendant agencies seem so recalcitrant when it comes to divulging information that may help find these missing women, or help residents understand the problems better.
While most newspaper reporting projects have a certain number of stories to be run on specific dates, this project does not have a sunset. We are committed to continuing to report on the issue in a meaningful, contextual way that doesn't treat these disappearances as isolated, separate stories, but rather as part of a larger, more complex trend.
But the project doesn't stop at our reporting. It is simply a start. Instead, our project will only have impact if we — as a part of a larger community — put pressure on officials, especially those in the federal government that have the power to curb the violence, and insist that changes be made. We can no longer let politicians sweep through reservations and pledge they'll take concerns back to Washington, D.C. We must demand specific actions and deliverable results. The Gazette is committed to holding those leaders accountable for changes, and we need your help.
And while this particular series highlights the problems that seem to plague indigenous women, it's not just about Native women living on reservations or in places like Montana. This is really about how we treat cases of abuse and a cycle of behavior that has to be stopped.
We believe the best way to illustrate the problem is by asking questions that get at why the problem is so pronounced and what can be done to eliminate it. We also hope that by profiling the families and the victims of violence that it becomes impossible to ignore the problem and it gives a face and a voice to the issue.