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Death of Northern Arapaho woman ruled accidental, FBI says

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Jade Wagon

Jade Wagon

Authorities have ruled the January death of a young Indigenous woman accidental.

In a joint FBI-Fremont County Coroner’s Office news release, authorities said Friday that Jade Wagon, 23, died from hypothermia “due to environmental exposure and acute methamphetamine intoxication.”

“The methamphetamine levels in Ms. Wagon’s body are known to produce confusion and irrational behavior,” the news release stated. “Based on the investigation of multiple agencies and autopsy results, the Coroner’s Office ruled the manner of death as accidental.”

Wagon, a Northern Arapaho woman and mother of two, was found dead on Jan. 21 on the Wind River Reservation by Bureau of Indian Affairs police officers after being reported missing earlier that month.

Investigators from the FBI, Wyoming Division of Criminal Investigation and Fremont County Coroner’s Office didn’t find evidence of a violent or traumatic incident at the scene, and an autopsy didn’t find any signs of traumatic injuries, according to the news release.

“The FBI and all participating agencies wish to express their deepest condolences to the Wagon family,” authorities said in the press release.

The news comes amid increased attention at the state and national level to the missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls movement. That attention in Wyoming since last year has so far resulted in a task force to study the problem and legislation to partly address the crisis at the state level.

Wagon’s death also follows the January 2019 double homicide of her sister, Jocelyn Watt, and brother-in-law Rudy Perez, inside their Riverton home. No arrests have been made in the shootings, but the deaths caused Wagon to become involved in raising awareness about missing and murdered Indigenous people, according to Wagon’s online obituary.

Police, family ask for help in solving January double homicide in Riverton

Wagon graduated from St. Stephens Indian School in 2014 and was preparing to attend the Wind River Job Corps to learn a trade and someday have a career in the medical field, according to her obituary. She also enjoyed spending time with family and outdoors in the mountains. Her Catholic faith and Indigenous practices like sweats and fasting were also important to her.

“She was loved by many,” Rep. Andi Clifford, D-Fort Washakie, said in a Facebook post after Wagon was found in January. “May the Creator comfort everyone during this difficult time.”

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Chris Aadland covers the Wind River Reservation and tribal affairs for the Star-Tribune as a Report for America corps member. A Minnesota native, he spent the last two years reporting for the Wisconsin State Journal before moving to Wyoming in June 2019.

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