Wyo. reservation deals with deaths of three youths

By Bob Moen
Cheyenne, Wyoming (AP) 6-08

Families and friends of three teenage girls found dead recently on the Wind River Reservation received support from tribal elders and others as investigating authorities remained mum June 6 about how the girls died.

“A lot of people are turning to traditional and nontraditional ways to help them cope with their loss,” said Jonathon Barela, spokesman for the Northern Arapaho Tribe. “By traditional ways, it’s ways that everybody was brought up with out here. And nontraditional ways, obviously, with counselors.”

The tribe has formed a special trauma team, Barela said.

“Elders of our tribe have also extended an open arms policy for any of the youth or any of the families to come speak with them and help them with their loss,” he said.

The three girls, ages 13, 14 and 15, were found dead the morning of June 4 at a tribal housing complex south of Riverton, about 230 miles northwest of Cheyenne. The deaths remain under investigation by the FBI, Bureau of Indian Affairs police and the Fremont County coroner. Authorities have released no information on the circumstances and cause of the deaths.

Barela identified the three victims as Alexis Gardner, Alex Whiteplume, and Winter Rose Thomas. Their specific home towns were not immediately available, but Barela said they were all members of the Northern Arapaho Tribe and residents of the reservation.

Autopsies on the girls were done in Loveland, Colo., according to Greg Fairman, deputy coroner with the Larimer County coroner’s office. However, no preliminary results were immediately available from either the FBI or the Fremont County coroner’s office in Riverton.

Barela said he was told by the Fremont County coroner’s office that no new information would be released.

Barela said the lack of information has made it hard to combat rumors surrounding the incident.

“It’s real hard with the reservation being as big as it is,” he said.

The Northern Arapaho Tribe shares the 3,400 square-mile reservation in central-western Wyoming with the Eastern Shoshone Tribe. The Arapaho tribe has more than 8,700 members on and off the reservation.

“It’s unfortunate there are rumors that are going around,” Barela said. “On the local level, we’re trying to bring as much information to everybody’s attention as possible. But we also have to respect the wishes of the families and the investigation that is currently being conducted.”