Shane Laplant was a 34-year old loving husband to Jo Ann and the father of four. Loved ones said he was outgoing, could make friends with anyone, and was always good for a joke.
Jo Ann and Shane’s love story started young, as she recalled Shane being the first boy to hold her hand in the fifth grade. This young love soon blossomed into a beautiful family as they grew and started the rest of their life together. “It was a cookie cutter life. I liked it,” said Jo Ann. Unfortunately, their time together was cut short.
Loved ones said he was outgoing, could make friends with anyone, and was always good for a joke. On the night of July 5, 2017, Shane was taken too soon.
After losing the fight for his life due to 27 stab wounds, Shane’s wife began their fight for justice.
In May 2018, a jury found William Arocha Jr. guilty of voluntary manslaughter for the death of LaPlant.
“You just trust that people know what they’re doing, you trust that people know how to do their jobs, they know the appropriate protocol for certain situations, and I found out immediately that wasn’t the case,” said Wagner. “There’s gotta be something that’s gonna happen to him and he was just continuously let go.”
Arocha was sentenced to 56 months in federal prison and is serving time at a facility in Colorado. After his release from prison, he will be on supervised release for two years.
Native Americans make up 7% of Montana’s population, yet account for 26% of missing persons in the state. As the MMIP crisis gains more awareness, retired BIA officer Richard Rutherford urges the community and surrounding areas to continue in their fight for justice.
“Here on the reservation, we’re pretty close, you know, with everybody,” said Rutherford. “We just can’t give up.”
Statistics show that around 4,200 missing and murdered cases have gone unsolved nationwide, with over half of those being cases of murder and nonnegligent homicide offenses. As cases continue to go unreported, family members affected by this violence grow unsatisfied with how the problem is addressed.
“It was frustrating because no one wanted to listen to us, no one wanted to help us,” said Rhonda Conley, an MMIP family member.
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The Missing and Murdered Indigenous People (MMIP) crisis is one that has troubled reservations all over the country for decades. Awareness for MMIP has increased over the last few years, but cases still go unreported or are misclassified due to lack of information or late reporting.
That’s where the BIA comes in. The Missing and Murdered Unit within the Bureau of Indian Affairs Office of Justice Services investigates missing and murdered cases in search of justice for those affected by violence.
As indigenous communities continue to struggle with high rates of assault, abduction, and murder, with Native Americans being four times as likely to go missing in the state of Montana, the need for investigative resources is as important as ever.
Statistics show that around 4,200 missing and murdered cases have gone unsolved nationwide, with over half of those being cases of Murder and Nonnegligent Homicide Offenses.
These cases often remain unsolved due to a lack of investigative resources available, making it difficult to confirm new information from witnesses, re-examine new or retained evidence, or review fresh activities of suspects.
The Not Invisible Act of 2020 was created to address this crisis. The Act brings together law enforcement, tribal authorities, and federal partners to study previous and current cases and consider solutions to the MMIP crisis.
Specifically, the Act appoints the BIA to coordinate prevention efforts and programs related to missing and murdered Native Americans. It also creates a new position within the Department of Interior dealing specifically with murder, trafficking, and missing Native Americans. In May 2021, the MMIP website was expanded to include Montana in hopes that crimes would be reported in a timely manner and the information added to the database would help create a solution to the MMIP crisis nationwide. Governor Greg Gianforte also recently established May 5 as MMIP Awareness Day in Montana to encourage collective action to end the MMIP crisis.
In May 2018, a jury found William Arocha, Jr. guilty of voluntary manslaughter for the stabbing death of LaPlant in East Glacier: