Update, Jan. 5: The Denver Police Department said Wanbli Oyate Vigil-Black Elk was found dead in the 3400 block of West Conejos Place. “The death does not appear to be suspicious in nature at this time,” police said. A death investigation is underway.
DENVER (KDVR) — A family is desperately pleading for help after their loved one went missing nearly one week ago. The missing Denver man’s case prompted the Colorado Bureau of Investigation to issue its first-ever Missing Indigenous Person Alert.
Wanbli Oyate Vigil-Black Elk has been missing for six days and is considered an at-risk young adult. It’s been six days of worry, fear and wonder for his family as they anxiously await his return. But their hope is running low, especially for Hehani Mooa-Black Elk, who tells FOX31 she’s in shock over her missing uncle.
“I really just want to see him home, but I know that the possibility is we’re either going to find him alive or we’re going to find his body,” Mooa-Black Elk said.
The Lakota man was last seen on Dec. 29 at his apartment building near West 13th Avenue and Knox Court. FOX31 obtained video of Vigil-Black Elk leaving the apartment on Thursday right before 2 p.m., then seemingly disappearing.
Video shows Vigil-Black Elk wearing a black Adidas jacket, blue jeans and white shoes. His family said he has a cross tattooed on his hand.
Jennifer Black Elk said her nephew lives with her and thought he was returning home because he left the door propped open, but it was unlike him not to return.
“He didn’t come home, he didn’t call. His phone went straight to voicemail,” Black-Elk said.
She adds that Vigil-Black Elk was carrying sacred bundles used for praying and thought he was headed to a nearby trail to pray.
“He was under duress, so maybe he went to go seek help,” Black-Elk shared. “His stress level being high, we just didn’t know what state of mind he might be in.”
Colorado launches Missing Indigenous Person Alert
Black-Elk said that she checked nearby hospitals and treatment centers, but there was no sign of him after a possible 72-hour holding period. That’s when she called police on Jan. 1. Her phone call to Denver Police eventually activated the state’s first Missing Indigenous Person Alert.
“There are some glitches that need to be worked out, but it is good that finally, someone is taking our missing and murdered indigenous relative serious,” Black-Elk said. “These things are happening at alarming rates.”
According to the U.S. Department of the Interior Indian Affairs, violence against Native Americans and Alaska Natives far exceeds national averages.
“For decades, Native American and Alaska Native communities have struggled with high rates of assault, abduction and murder of women. Community advocates describe the crisis as a legacy of generations of government policies of forced removal, land seizures and violence inflicted on Native peoples,” according to Indian Affairs.
Search party organized for missing man
Although the first alert was issued in Colorado, Vigil Black-Elk’s family said it took too long when time is so precious in missing person cases The family said they worked with the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Relatives of Colorado Task Force to get the alert issued. FOX31 spoke with a representative from the task force, who said authorities have not talked with Jennifer Black-Elk in person and have only communicated via phone.
“All I want is the police department and the Native community to help us find my uncle,” Hehani Mooa-Black Elk said. “We need to be seen and we need to be heard. No matter what color you are, we are still all human beings, and we need to be together because that’s how we help the world and solve these issues.”
Family and volunteers have boots on the ground. Flyers are printed and posted around town, and they are also being handed out at nearby businesses. The family has also organized a special search party on Tuesday, hoping for the best outcome.
“I just want him to know that we love him and just to come home safe,” Vigil-Black Elk’s sister said through tears.
The 27-year-old’s family is organizing another search party that’s happening on Saturday, Jan. 7, at 10:30 a.m. They’re asking people to meet in the lobby of the Delores apartments to help look and are hoping someone with a drone will help as well.
If you know anything or have seen Vigil-Black Elk, call Denver Police at 720-913-2000.