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Committee for Missing and Murder Indigenous Women aims to bring stories to light

Committee for Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women meeting
Posted at 6:22 PM, Oct 28, 2022
and last updated 2022-10-28 21:22:37-04

TUCSON, Ariz. (KGUN) — For Debbie Nez-Manuel, she grew up with a lot of questions.

"I lost my mother to an incident and she went missing when I was three years old," she said. "When she was found, it was found that she had been sexually assaulted and there were about four people involved."

But for most of her life she didn't know what happened to her mother and became apart of the foster system.

"As an adult without a parent you go through these struggles transitioning to adulthood and just kind of figuring things out," she said. "But as a child I think there were times I felt bad and sorry, and really victimized through the process. But over time and learning about it, and finding out it was out of my control made me realize there was something I could do."

She isn't alone. Tragedy hit Lynelle Blackwater and her family just last year after her son was brutally attacked by several men and eventually passed away.

"He was almost a missing and murdered case," she said. "He was violently assaulted on March 5th of 2021 outside of my home."

While his many stab wounds would eventually heal, the effects of the attack impacted his mental health.

"When it came time for dinner, he just didn't wake up," Blackwater said. "He took something called fentanyl."

Blackwater said only one man out of the several that attacked her son was prosecuted.

"They had sufficient evidence to charge him with what I believe was attempted murder, but they didn't," she said.

Nez-Manuel's mother and Blackwater son are just two of many recorded cases of violence in Indian Country. Between 1978 and 2018, 160 indigenous women and girls in Arizona were known to be murdered. But those are just the ones recorded, Blackwater said there are many more that go unnoticed.

"Throughout the reservation and people that come onto the reservation to dump bodies and they aren't solved," Blackwater said.

Fueled by her quest for justice, Blackwater brought her story to the Committee for Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women meeting on Friday. She told them how the system failed her family.

"They weren't able to help my son and me get justice for him," she said.

While giving the public resources, the committee wants to be a place for people to share their stories. Representative Jennifer Jermaine, who is the Arizona House of Representatives for Arizona's 18th district.

"So that we can find the holes in the wrap around services and the law enforcement, so we can plug these holes," Jermaine said.

She said the committee is also expanding to cover other demographics of missing and murdered people.

"We went back to the state legislature and said we need to expand this committee to look at men and boys and LGBTQ as well because there are anomalies in the data," she said. "Above the I40 quarter we found a large number of missing boys and men. And our LGBTQ community shows up nowhere in the data."

Nez-Manuel, who also sits on the committee, said she doesn't expect a solution soon if at all.

"On the federal level there is so much work that needs to be done," she said. "I hope that i does happen it may not happen in my lifetime."

For Blackwater, she hopes things will change as she continues to fight for justice.

"I have hope and a little bit of confidence that people will protect victims and their families even though Gila River won't, but there are others in Indian County that are," she said.

She encourages other people in a similar situation to fight and find peace.

"If there's anything that you can do, get some people behind you, get a group together and help make your voice stronger," she said.