Montana Justice Department Releases Missing Persons Analysis

May 5, 2020

Montana’s Department of Justice has been analyzing data on missing persons in the state and released its findings on May 5.

The Department of Justice found indigenous persons are four times more likely to go missing than non indigenous ones. Those reported missing are young, says Jon Bennion with the Attorney General’s office.

"We knew that juveniles make up a good portion of those that go missing. But in our analysis 81 percent of people that went missing between 2017 and 2019 were juveniles. They only make up 21.6 percent of the state population," Bennion says.

The data collected from 2017 to 2019 show many of those reported missing go missing more than once and there’s a strong correlation in juveniles who were reported missing and listed in the state’s Child and Family Services system.

DOJ found no significant difference between the number of missing females and males.

Bennion says nearly 98 percent of the persons reported missing were found or the case was closed.

Bennion says the department hopes the information leads to better policy decisions down the road.

"Legislators are very concerned about this issue and they should be. But oftentimes they do not have the information at their fingertips to come up with the right solutions and that’s what this is about. The best solutions have to start with the best data and that’s what we’re interested in doing," Bennion says.

May 5 is the National Day of Awareness for Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls, and the birthday of Hanna Harris, a member of the Northern Cheyenne nation who was murdered in 2013, for whom Hanna’s Act was named. The act created a special position in DOJ to investigate all missing persons cases.

Below are the DOJ's key observations from its analysis on missing persons data.

Nearly 81% of individuals who went missing in 2017-2019 were under the age of 18.

There is no significant difference between the number of females and males who go missing. Amongst the entire missing persons population, females are slightly more likely to go missing most years. However, it is not a significant difference even amongst indigenous populations. In one year (2019), the number of missing males outnumbered females.

Most missing person reports represent people who have gone missing more than once. Roughly 60% of reports in Montana’s missing persons clearinghouse pertain to 28% of the unique individuals. For example, 28 indigenous juveniles went missing at least once in each of the three years this project reviewed, for a total of 195 entries. Additionally, 30 white juveniles also went missing at least once in each year of the study for a total of 183 entries. Nearly all of the repeats on the list are juveniles.

There was a strong correlation in juveniles who were reported missing and listed in the state’s Child and Family Services system.

Big Horn County had nearly double (per capita) the number of missing persons than the next highest county. Some counties with larger urban centers (Missoula, Gallatin) were inexplicably lower than other counties with larger populations (Yellowstone, Flathead, Lewis & Clark). There are regional missing-person hotspots that are not reservation communities, which could be linked to several factors.

Most autopsied missing persons were adult males. The number of autopsies conducted on people who had appeared in the missing persons clearinghouse was skewed heavily toward adults: 83% adult (35 of 42 autopsies). Males comprised 69% of those missing persons who had autopsies.

Nearly half of the deaths of those autopsied (19 of 42) were deemed accidental. Only 17% (7 of 42) were deemed homicides conclusively.

Most people reported missing are found. An overwhelming number of people who appear in the missing persons clearinghouse are ultimately found or the case is otherwise closed. Out of the 3,277 individuals entered in the system in the three-year period of this review, 97.7% of the individuals were located/recovered.

Tribal reporting has become more accurate. With several tribal communities, it appears more accurate reporting on missing persons began around 2019, which is why there is a spike in cases reported for that year compared to the previous two years.