Misty Anne Upham: 1982 – 2014
Special to Native News Online
Misty Upham Memorial Service Today at 2:00 p.m. in Auburn, Washington
AUBURN, WASHINGTON — Family, friends and fans will attend the memorial service of Native actress Misty Upham today at 2:00 p.m. at the Muckleshoot Pentecostal Church in Auburn, Washington.
The 32-year-old actress’ body was discovered October 16 at the bottom of a steep drop-off along the White River.
The cause of her death remains under investigation. Police have said there is no evidence to suggest foul play, but her family insists that it wasn’t suicide. In a statement to the press prior to Misty being found, Charles Upham said, “As her father I do not fear she committed suicide. I feel that she has been hurt by accident or someone has put her in harm’s way.”
Having had roles in Hollywood films including “Frozen River,” “Django Unchained” and “August: Osage County,” news of the award-winning actress’ death spread nationwide and has been reported in publications ranging from local newspapers to entertainment publications such as Us Magazine, ABC News and E! News. Fellow actresses Juliette Lewis and Meryl Streep, among others, have expressed their sadness and brought even more attention to Misty’s untimely passing.
While news outlets nationwide have been reporting on the case, something the public may not be aware of is how Misty’s body was discovered by two Native men who found her while taking great risks to retrace her steps along the steep embankment and drop-off where she was found.
The two men who found Misty Upham’s body, Jeff Barehand (in white T-shirt) and Robert Kennedy (far right), shown here with the late Billy Frank Jr. (in blue shirt) and his son Willie Frank.
Robert Kennedy (Tlingit/Athabascan) and Jeff Barehand (Gila River/Navajo) both knew Misty and when her uncle, Robert Upham, had already gone out to search the woods for his missing niece, Robert Kennedy and Jeff Barehand volunteered to help too. They decided to re-check one specific area where Robert Upham had been before. Having grown up in Alaska where he learned hunting skills, Robert Kennedy felt his experience could be an asset in the search. Jeff Barehand came up from Olympia to help.
“I thought that was the least I could do,” Jeff Barehand said. “No one knew where she was or what happened or if she was even alive.”
Robert Kennedy and Jeff Barehand recounted the day of Misty’s discovery to the Puyallup Tribal News.
“After (Robert Upham) dropped us off, me and Jeff were walking along the ridge and I told Jeff I’m going to go down this ravine here,” Robert Kennedy said. “When I got down there I saw something purple and went to check it out. As soon as I picked it up, I saw that it was a purse. I dumped out the contents and saw a medicine bottle with Misty’s name on it. I called Robert (Upham) and told him we found her purse and I think we’re going to find Misty today.”
Jeff Barehand said the terrain was treacherous and very steep.
“I knew right then in my mind that it was (Misty’s purse),” said Jeff when he heard Robert Kennedy call out what he had found. “I knew if the purse was nearby, she would be too.”
Tying a rope to a tree, Jeff Barehand said he carefully lowered himself down as far as he could. “It’s a really steep slope and if you slipped there’s a very good chance you could slide all the way down,” he said. “I went to see if there was another way down the cliff until I found a place to lower myself down and do a controlled fall with the rope.”
Looking over the high brush and foliage, Jeff saw what he knew instinctively was the body of Misty Upham, and called 911.
“If Robert and I hadn’t been in that spot and gone down that specific path and Robert hadn’t found that purse, I probably wouldn’t have looked over the edge – it was too precarious,” Jeff Barehand said.
In fact, Misty’s body could still be there to this day were it not for the work of these two men.
Robert Kennedy’s wife, Millie Kennedy, said that while her husband and Jeff Barehand are in fact heroes, they were treated very differently when police arrived. An attorney, Millie Kennedy said she left work in a panic thinking police may arrest her husband because officers were photographing him and his muddy boots rather than having him and Jeff show them to where they found the purse and body.
“I am angry that they treated my husband like a criminal and not a hero,” Millie Kennedy said. “Being an attorney I wanted to protect my husband. The Auburn Police would not let Robert explain anything about the evidence that led to finding the beloved. They treated Robert like a criminal and the Auburn Police early reports that day claimed that they, the Auburn Police, found the missing actress.
“Overall, the Native community is outraged by the lack of help from the Auburn Police Department,” Millie Kennedy said. “Had it been Auburn Police who found the actress, they would have been treated like heroes. Instead, Robert, and probably Jeff, were treated like criminals.”
Both Robert Kennedy and Jeff Barehand have difficulty talking about that day, understandably, and both said that they are not looking to be declared heroes or anything like that. All they cared about was finding Misty.
“I wasn’t there to be on the news,” Robert Kennedy said. “The fact that we can bring closure to family is all that matters to me.”
Matt Nagle is a writer for Puyallup Tribal News. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org