NEW TOWN -- The investigation into the disappearance of Olivia Lone Bear got off to a "very slow start," the chairman of the Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara Nation said Thursday, adding that protocols for responding to missing person cases should be improved.
Chairman Mark Fox said while search efforts have become stronger in recent days, he is talking to federal, state and tribal leaders about getting more support to find the missing 32-year-old New Town woman.
“I believe it’s very critical that we get the assistance of others,” Fox said. “I mean state, federal agencies, everybody. This is getting to a point where we need that kind of help to find her.”
Lone Bear, a mother of five, was last seen the evening of Oct. 24 leaving the Sportsman’s Bar in New Town, according to her family. She was reported missing to Three Affiliated Tribes police on Oct. 27.
Family members say they wish police had treated the report with more urgency and publicized it that weekend.
“For me, it’s too slow,” said Texx Lone Bear about the response to his daughter’s disappearance. “Of course, I want her home already, so anything would be too slow.”
Family members started searching on their own, but the first organized search meeting wasn’t held until Nov. 1, about a week after her disappearance. The MHA Energy Division is working with her family to coordinate search efforts, with support coming from law enforcement in neighboring counties, tribal departments, state agencies, volunteers and others.
A contingent from Roosevelt County, Mont., has helped search for about a week, including several from the sheriff’s office who searched rugged terrain on four-wheelers and a pilot who helped conduct aerial searches.
Texx Lone Bear said the Roosevelt County representatives have brought a lot of expertise on searches, but he wishes he’d had their guidance sooner.
“There’s just so much we could have done earlier, and we couldn’t because we didn’t know,” he said. “That’s the frustrating part about it. Every day I find out something new we should have done three days ago.”
Sam Lincoln, lead detective for Three Affiliated Tribes law enforcement, said he has consulted with other agencies with experience in searches, including working closely with Roosevelt County.
“I’ve been reassured that our office is doing everything possible in this investigation,” Lincoln said.
Fox said he thinks the investigation and search effort took a while to ramp up, in part because there is no evidence of foul play that would have elevated the response.
“We need to improve our protocols and our procedures when somebody is missing,” Fox said. “I’m not going to diminish the effort so far, but we do need to improve.”
Lincoln said he agrees that new protocols should be developed to guide law enforcement on missing person cases.
“A lot of times, you do fly by the seat of your pants and you do what common sense would tell you,” Lincoln said.
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Despite what some consider a slow start, the search effort has had as many as 60 people in the field on some days, with between 15 and 30 more recently. Surrounding counties and other agencies have helped provide boats, K-9 units and aircraft, as well as personnel. The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe is planning to bring more people and equipment.
“We’ve been getting cooperation from just about every entity in the state,” Lincoln said.
On Thursday, Fox met with North Dakota Indian Affairs Commissioner Scott Davis about additional state resources that can be deployed to help.
“The governor is very concerned about this,” Davis said. “The state is ready to provide resources.”
Bureau of Indian Affairs representatives also met with Fox on Thursday but said they were not authorized to talk to the media. A BIA spokeswoman did not return an email seeking comment.
The FBI has assisted with some interviews, but the agency’s role has been limited because there’s no evidence that a crime has been committed, Lincoln said.
“We have no proof or probable cause that she was abducted,” he said. “Until we can prove a crime has been committed, then they would be in full force.”
Fox said while the tribe can’t control how outside entities will respond, they can maximize their search efforts on the nearly 1 million acres of the reservation.
Each day, the search begins with a meeting at 8:30 a.m. at the MHA Energy Division, in a room with a timeline and maps on the wall. Searchers then disperse throughout the reservation and return before dark.
A key focus is trying to find the pickup Lone Bear was last seen driving, a blue Chevy Silverado 2500 HD LT crew cab with North Dakota license plate 839 BRC.
The owner of the truck, James Hofhenke, has been interviewed twice by police and consented to have investigators look through his phone and search his property, Lincoln said.
Hofhenke said, in an interview with the Bismarck Tribune, he and Lone Bear are friends and she often borrowed his truck. He said he tried to get OnStar to reactivate the system in the vehicle, but was told it’s been inactive for too long.
Hofhenke said he has not reported the vehicle stolen, but it is connected to the missing person report that has been distributed by law enforcement.
The family is now offering a $10,000 reward for information that leads to finding Lone Bear or a conviction. The tip line is 701-627-6141 and law enforcement line is 701-627-3617.
“I’m at the end of my rope, really,” Texx Lone Bear said. “Whatever anybody can do to help, we sure appreciate it.”