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The previously jailed boyfriend of an indigenous woman and Army veteran who vanished in New Mexico more than two years ago has been hit with first-degree murder and other charges after remains found earlier this year were identified this week as her.
Cecelia Barber Finona, 59, went missing after an argument with her boyfriend, 57-year-old Jerry Jay, on May 30, 2019, according to her mother, who lived with the couple at the time. Finona’s truck disappeared from the home but her purse and driver’s license were found inside; at this point, her mother called the police to report her missing, NBC News reported, telling them about a fight the couple had gotten into the night she vanished.
Searches for Finona were soon launched in Farmington and the nearby Navajo Nation. Farmington detectives found evidence that police said in a news release last week had made them “very concerned for the safety of Cecelia.” This included blood at her home that police said stretched from the bottom of the porch to the driveway; they added that it seemed someone had tried to cover it with potting soil. Court documents obtained by NBC News reportedly also said that investigators found a “single eyeglass lens covered in blood” at her home.
Days later, Jay was arrested after using Finona’s debit card at an ATM in Las Vegas; he’d also used her card in two Arizona locations, according to NBC News. On June 5, 2019, the Sparks Police Department arrested and charged Jay with fraud as well as charges of possession of a credit card without the owner’s consent. He has remained jailed in Nevada since then.
In February, human remains were found by a private citizen in Clark County, Nevada. They were identified as Finona through DNA testing last week.
On Friday, the Farmington Police Department filed first-degree murder, first-degree kidnapping, and tampering with evidence charges against Jay.
"This marks the ending of two years of searching, and we're deeply saddened at the outcome,” Farmington Police Chief Steve Hebbe said in a statement regarding the DNA results. “We will continue working as we have since the day she disappeared to ensure the person responsible for this is held accountable. We offer our most heartfelt condolences to Cecelia's family and friends."
Finona was a 31-year Army veteran who was described as a “good-hearted person who cared about people and a leader in the community who made a difference,” police said.
"With the support, energy, and relentless effort of family, friends and loved ones bringing Cecelia Finona [home] has come true. It has been [two] long years with every emotion spent. We are relieved to bring closure to many and finally lay her to rest,” a Facebook page set up to find Finona posted last week.
The scourge of missing and murdered indigenous women has ballooned across North America. In 2016, there were 5,712 reports of missing American Indian and Alaska Native women and girls, the National Crime Information Center reported; more than 2 in 5 Native American and Alaska Native female victims reported being physically injured, according to a Justice Department survey conducted the same year. Over 84% of these women have experienced violence in their lifetime, which includes 56.1% who have experienced sexual violence, according to a National Institute of Justice report.
On April 1, it was announced by the U.S. Department of the Interior of the new Missing & Murdered Unit, which intends to coordinate inter-agency collaboration and strengthen existing law enforcement resources to tackle the massive issue.
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