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“Murdered and Missing in Montana,” Oxygen's new special, imparts the shocking reality — like that on some reservations, Native American girls are murdered at 10 times the national average, per data from the U.S. Department of Justice.
In the two-hour special, airing Friday, November 12 at 8/7c on Oxygen, former Los Angeles prosecutor Loni Coombs investigates unsolved cases of Native American girls who vanished and were later found dead in Montana.
“I want to know why this alarming trend is on the rise,” Coombs says in the upcoming special.
What’s happening in Montana is not, in fact, an isolated trend. In Canada, a stretch of road grimly called Highway of Tears has been the location where many women have gone missing or been found dead. The vast proportion of victims are Indigenous women.
What is the Highway of Tears?
The Highway of Tears is a 450-mile stretch of Highway 16 between Prince George and Prince Rupert, British Columbia, Canada. Many women have gone missing there since 1970, NBC News reported in 2020. There is debate on the exact number of women who’ve vanished or been killed on or around the Highway of Tears. Indigenous and community advocates estimate the number to be at least 40 with the majority being Indigenous.
How did the highway get its infamous name?
Florence Naziel, whose cousin vanished along Highway 16, came up with the term during a 1998 vigil held to commemorate individuals who’d gone missing.
At the event Naziel watched families of missing women, many of them Indigenous, crying over the disappearance of loved ones, reported the Toronto Star in 2021.
The Toronto Star added that “for more than 50 years, the route through rural BC has been the site of numerous abductions and murders.” Reasons for the enduring alarming wave of crimes along the highway have been attributed to various cultural and societal factors.
These explanations have included the remote wilderness of the area, systemic racism that have limited the scope of investigations, and inadequate economics that constrain resources to foster awareness and prevention.
Many have considered the theory that the highway is a hunting ground for a serial killer — or multiple, reported the Daily Beast in its 2017 investigation, “Canada’s Highway of Tears: Why Are Women Disappearing?”
In the fall of 2005, a Royal Canadian Mounted Police task force called Project E-Pana was formed to look into the 1994 slayings of three 15-year-old Indigenous girls found near Highway 16, whose cases may have been linked to a serial killer. The task force reviewed more than 200 unsolved cases of violence against women, some of them dating back to the 1960s, according to the Daily Beast. The deep search failed to yield a DNA link among cases pointing to a serial killer.
Who has been tied to Highway of Tears murders?
Three men have been convicted of killing multiple victims from towns in the area surrounding the Highway of Tears. Brian Peter Arp is serving a life sentence for the murder of two Prince George women. Edward Dennis Isaac was sentenced to life for two murders committed in the early 1980s, reported the Prince George Citizen. In 2014, Cody Legebokoff was found guilty of four counts of first degree murder and sentenced to life behind bars. Two of Legebokoff’s victims were from First Nations families.
For more on the murdered and missing Indigenous women crisis, watch “Murdered and Missing in Montana,” airing Friday, November 12 at 8/7c on Oxygen.
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