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Ethete family seeks closure in deaths of two siblings
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Ethete family seeks closure in deaths of two siblings

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ETHETE — Madeleine Day still waits for the calls.

Every afternoon, her niece Dawn used to call, just to talk.

“I still at 4 o’clock, 4:30 expect her to call,” Madeleine said, adding that Dawn often helped her navigate difficult times with her own daughter. “You know, it’s been seven years. ... It doesn’t go away. Or Jeff calling, you know, on his birthday.”

In July 2012, Dawn Day was found dead, floating in a Fremont County waterway. Four years later, also in July, Dawn’s brother, Jeff Day, was found dead.

Greg Day’s children were both 28 years old when authorities found them.

Dawn had been in a relationship with an abusive partner, and while both cases remain open, their autopsies were inconclusive, Greg said.

But he and Madeleine, his sister, say they know what happened to both Dawn and Jeff, both of whom were Eastern Shoshone. That knowledge has brought frustration for Greg and Madeleine. The people they say were responsible for what they say were killings are not facing any consequences.

Now, years later, the two cases are also part of a larger discussion happening in Wyoming and across the U.S. about missing and murdered Indigenous people. While the total number of missing and murdered Indigenous people in the state and country is unknown, Native Americans and Alaska Natives face higher rates of violence and sexual assault than other groups in the U.S.

The increased awareness is welcomed, Greg and Madeleine said, but what’s really needed is closure for families — including theirs — with loved ones who have been killed or are still missing.

“There’s all these people walking around,” Madeleine said. “They did this to her and did this to Jeff. Are they finally going to do something to them?”

‘They’d put a smile on your face’

At Greg’s home — next door to Madeleine’s — in the countryside outside of Ethete, pictures of Dawn, Jeff, and his other children and grandchildren line the walls of nearly every room.

Both Dawn and Jeff got along well with others and had big personalities, Greg and Madeleine said.

“They liked joking around and having fun,” Madeleine said. “You could be mad at them, and they’d put a smile on your face.”

Jeff enjoyed singing, while Dawn was a smart tinkerer who could learn something by seeing it once, Madeleine and Greg said.

Known for her short height and fun, joking personality, Dawn worked at the Shoshone Rose Casino and raised three boys. Still, she was full of life and would help anybody or make them laugh.

Her desire to help or make people happy may have been why Dawn didn’t leave her abusive boyfriend, Madeleine said.

“She got along with everybody. ... If you were sad, just by talking, she could bring you out of it,” she said. “Her brother was the same way, but only goofier.”

It was those characteristics that Greg and Madeleine’s parents adored, which made Dawn and Jeff’s deaths and the lack of closure hard for their grandparents to bear before they both died recently.

“They died without anything happening to these people that did that,” Madeleine said. “And that’s all my mom wanted. And when they both died, she just kind of gave up because they were her babies, those two.”

Greg and Madeleine said they’ve both been honest about the circumstances of Dawn and Jeff’s deaths with Dawn’s children. They hope someone is held responsible so the kids don’t grow so angry they try to take justice into their own hands.

They’ve also continued to see Dawn’s boyfriend and others they say are involved in her and Jeff’s death around the community.

“I don’t know if these people finally — some — pay for it, if it’s going to go away, just knowing the way they both died,” Madeleine said. “... I want something done before it’s my time.”

Jurisdiction questions

In Wyoming, discussions around missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls have led to the formation of a task force to study the problem and make recommendations to reduce it, as well as proposed legislation and a billboard campaign to raise awareness.

What Greg and Madeleine would like to see come out of the increased attention is clearer jurisdiction guidelines — and a renewed push from law enforcement to aggressively investigate cold and unresolved cases.

They said they’d like to see issues around jurisdictional questions fixed so there’s no confusion over who’s responsible for investigating. And, if there are questions, they want law enforcement to continue investigating and worry about those problems later so cases don’t go cold.

“Don’t fight about jurisdiction,” Greg said. “We’re all in it together.”

The Fremont County Sheriff’s Office did not respond to a request for comment for this story last week.

Still, Madeleine and Greg are optimistic that increased attention to missing and murdered Indigenous people will lead to some progress.

Greg has become involved in that push in Wyoming by attending task force meetings and speaking about his family’s experience. He said he has been speaking up because Dawn had pushed him to use his energy to get involved in some cause.

“She was always getting mad at me thinking I would do nothing,” Greg said. “She said, ‘You gotta get involved in something, Dad.’”

Frustrated by a seeming lack of progress, he has even turned to handing over information and tips he’s tracked down himself to law enforcement.

While Madeleine said it’s difficult for her to discuss her niece and nephew, it’s important to have someone like her brother speaking about the issues they see in investigations of missing and murdered Indigenous people, she said.

“Somebody like my brother, I’m so proud of him, fighting to bring more awareness,” she said. “I’m glad my brother’s doing it and hopefully they’ll do something and forget about what color your skin is and what jurisdiction it’s in and just help everybody.”

Follow reporter Chris Aadland on Twitter @cjaadland

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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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