SPIRIT LAKE RESERVATION — It’s just three weeks shy of a year since 19-year-old JoLyn Bruce last saw her father. Now, she says investigators have confirmed the remains of a body found Sunday match those of Joseph Bruce. She said her family was restless these past few days waiting for results.
“It’s been really hard and now that the remains were found it’s unbelievable,” she said. “We thought we were prepared for it, but no one can ever really be prepared for something like this.”
Since he went missing, JoLyn Bruce said she’s missed the way her father laughed, the trips they took to the zoo or the lake and the way he made everyone feel welcome.
For the first time since he disappeared, there are answers — JoLyn Bruce said investigators confirmed that human remains found near where her father’s car was abandoned at the edge of a slough on the Spirit Lake Reservation are a match.
“It’s been a long year, and we are ready to let him go and put him to rest finally. ... He deserves it," she said.
JoLyn Bruce said the last time she spoke to her father was June 25, 2018. Her younger brother had been airlifted to the Twin Cities for emergency medical care and Joseph Bruce said he would leave Devils Lake immediately to meet the rest of his family. The father of five lives in Grand Forks but was visiting friends in Devils Lake. JoLyn Bruce said, by that night, he had gone silent. His phone was off, and his family was unable to contact him on social media platforms.
“We knew something was wrong,” JoLyn Bruce said. “We knew it when he didn’t come because that’s not like him. He was trustworthy, he meant everything he said and we knew he would never just voluntarily leave. He was never someone who wouldn’t come if there was a tragedy — my brother was my dad’s life.”
By early July, the family learned Joseph Bruce'’s car had been abandoned near a slough on the Spirit Lake Reservation. JoLyn Bruce said it was challenging to get Fort Totten police or the Bureau of Indian Affairs to take the case seriously.
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“It was just dropped within a few weeks of him going missing,” JoLyn Bruce said. “They believed he took off and then it changed to ‘there’s not much we can do because it’s not our case.’”
The family had not received an update from BIA or Fort Totten Police for about eight months until the remains were found Sunday, JoLyn Bruce said. She noted an investigator with the Devils Lake Police Department remained dedicated to searching for her father throughout the past year, however.
Several calls and an email to a BIA spokesperson Monday went unanswered.
Lissa Yellow Bird-Chase, who runs the Sahnish Scouts of North Dakota, which is a group dedicated to finding missing people, helped the family search on the reservation and throughout Benson and Ramsey counties.
“People have mortgages, people have rent, people have car payments and they can’t do that day-in-and-day-out for an indeterminate amount of time. People have to get back to life, but these guys managed and they juggled what they could and I picked up when they couldn’t be out there searching,” she said.
JoLyn Bruce put nursing school on hold after her father went missing to help with things at home. She said she hopes to return to school for criminal justice now. She said the search has been tolling on her family.
“We’ve learned a lot about searching, but it’s really personal now,” she said. “You never think you’re going to have to look for your own parent. Normally they’re only a call away, but for us it’s different because we haven’t talked to him in almost a year — it’s tough.”
She feels confident her father will see justice.