Hue and Cry

Indigenous Women

The Disappearance of Ashley Loring HeavyRunner

Location

Blackfeet Indian Reservation, Montana

Year

2017

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Ashley Loring HeavyRunner was 20-years-old when she was last seen in June 2017. Although Ashley is only five feet two inches tall, a childhood friend described her as emotionally, spiritually, and physically strong. Loxi Loring, Ashley’s mother described her daughter as smart, athletic, positive, and always willing to help, someone who loved horses and the rain. Ashley is a member of the Blackfeet Indian Reservation in Montana and was enrolled in Blackfeet Community College studying environmental science. The Blackfeet reservation is expansive and spans more than 1.5 million acres, and is larger than the state of Deleware.

Ashley Loring HeavyRunner (ABC News)

Ashley’s sister Kimberly first knew something was off when she returned from a trip to Morocco to visit her fiancée. The plan had been for Kimberly to move Ashley into her apartment in nearby Missoula so they could start a new life together. Ashley never contacted her sister when she returned and any calls and messages to her phone went unanswered. Her family initially thought she could have gone to visit a family friend or lost her phone, as that had happened before, but when their father was unexpectedly hospitalized for liver failure and there was still no word from Ashley, they knew something was seriously wrong. They were a close-knit family and Ashley would have contacted them by now.

Kimberly reached out to Ashley’s friends on social media to see if anyone had seen her, but none of them had been in contact with her since June 5th. On that night, Ashley had contacted various friends on Facebook Messenger asking for a ride into town from her family’s ranch. Someone from the reservation posted a short video of a party that night, where Ashley was seen sitting on a couch surrounded by people drinking and chatting. Kimberly had also received a message that night from Ashley asking if she could send her some money, but she couldn’t as she was in Morocco. She asked Ashley if she was ok, to which she replied yes.

Kimberly soon went to Blackfeet Law Enforcement and tribal law enforcement for help, who together launched a three-day search. After the search concluded, however, they stopped their search efforts and proved to be less helpful as time went on. It would take The Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) almost two months before getting seriously involved in the case.

Law enforcement did not handle Ashley’s case the way they should have. They should’ve took it serious from the get-go. They just kind of blew it off as she was of age and she’s just out there she could do what she wants.

Justin Loring, uncle of Ashley Loring

Two weeks after Ashley was last seen, her family received their first tip: someone had seen a young woman running from a vehicle on U.S. Highway 89 on the reservation. The area is known to be desolate and is surrounded by swamp and dense forests. A search was conducted of the area, and in a nearby dump, volunteers found a gray sweater thought to have belonged to Ashley, which they handed over the sweater to the BIA to test.

Ashley and Kimberly Loring
Ashley Loring HeavyRunner and her sister Kimberly (ABC News)

Feeling that her sister’s case was not being taken seriously and experiencing an overall feeling of indifference from officials, Kimberly ended up taking matters into her own hands. She conducted daily searches on the reservation and became her own detective for the case— taking phone calls, reading messages, and following up on leads. She soon discovered that the gray sweater that was found during their search had never even been sent to a crime lab, and instead, sat in a box in evidence at the BIA for months.

If me and my family didn’t search for Ashley, I don’t think anybody would be looking for her.

Kimberly Loring, sister of Ashley Loring Heavy Runner (ABC News).

During one of the family’s many searches weeks after Ashley was declared missing, the family also found a tattered sweater and a pair of red-stained boots. The sweater was torn and had red stains of what appeared to be blood. The items were found on the northern edge of the reservation and not far from a house owned by a fifty-two-year-old man named Sam McDonald.

Prior to her disappearance, Kimberly knew her sister had been struggling with the death of her grandfather and the breakup with her first love shortly thereafter. This had led Ashley to begin experimenting with drugs and hanging out with an older crowd, which included Sam McDonald.

Sam McDonald was one of the last people Ashley Loring was with before her disappearance. Admitting that he had been partying with her for a few days, he claimed that the last time he saw Ashley was on the morning of June 11. He stated that Ashley had asked him to drive her to a pull-off in the reservation so that someone named “V-Dog” could pick her up. He remembered falling asleep in the car and when he woke up Ashley was nowhere to be seen. After looking around for her, he assumed she had gotten a ride with the man that was supposed to have picked her up, and he left the area. He was questioned and his house was searched multiple times by law enforcement but no arrests were ever made. The items of clothing they had found on his property were turned over to police to be tested, but no results have ever been released.

Nearly nine months after Ashley went missing, the FBI decided to take control of the case after various leads took investigators into nearby states and off the reservation. V-Dog who is also known as Paul Valenzuela, is a man in his 50s, with a known criminal record. Paul and his then-wife Tashina Running Crane (“Tee”) were also investigated by police and had their residence searched. Paul and Tee were in a rocky marriage and Ashley’s family have said that Ashley and Paul were seeing each other before her disappearance. A month after Ashely’s disappeared, Paul filed for divorce from Tee who has said that she did not know about their relationship until after Ashley disappeared. To date, police have not named anyone as a suspect and no arrests have been made.

Kimberly Loring ended up testifying to Senate members about her experience, struggles, and the mismanagement of evidence she witnessed from law enforcement in her sister’s case.

From the very beginning, both the Blackfeet Tribal Law Enforcement and the (Bureau of Indian Affairs) have ignored the dire situation that Ashely is in and have allowed the investigation to be handled in a dysfunctional manner. This isn’t just a reality for our family but a reality for many murdered and missing indigenous women’s families.

Kimberly Loring, speaking to the Senate

Since Ashley’s disappearance, Kimberly has quit her job, moved back home, and continued to search for her sister. She has conducted more than 120 searches with little help from authorities.

She continues to search for her sister each day, the case is still open and unsolved.

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