Mothers of Missing Women Cling to Hope

Navajo Times | Ravonelle Yazzie
Flyers are displayed to show the outstanding number of missing persons on the Navajo and Pueblo reservations.

Published October 14, 2017

WINDOW ROCK – She was supposed to meet her daughter at the Goodwill store, but more than three years later, Lela Mailman found herself weeping uncontrollably in the parking lot of the president’s office on Monday afternoon, desperately hoping the government could help her find her baby.

Moments before her emotional breakdown, Mailman was holding her composure during a meeting at the president’s office, listening to police tell her and another family who was also missing their daughter that the police did not have the funds, resources or manpower to work full time on missing person cases.

Her daughter’s case was not under the jurisdiction of Navajo Nation Police since her daughter went missing in Farmington on April 20, 2014. Still, she drove to Window Rock, hoping for any bit of help.

According to reports provided to the Navajo Times by Detective Heather Chavez with the Farmington Police Department, Mailman told Farmington police on June 23, 2014, her daughter had not been heard from for “some time” and the family was “beginning to get worried.” The report said Mailman told police her daughter would be “gone for days at a time,” but almost a month with no communication was “unlike her.”

The last time she saw her daughter Melanie James, the report states, James was walking with an unknown African-American man. By the time Mailman returned to the area she last saw her, they were gone and she couldn’t find them. In July of 2015, Officer Lisa McGaha was assigned by Cpl. Mark Gaines to continue investigating the case and followed up on several leads on James.

McGaha wrote she had information James was possibly in Albuquerque, expecting a baby. Gaines stated he checked James’ Facebook page and found there was no activity on her account since she was reported missing in April of 2014. The officer found James had an active warrant.

Five months later, on Dec. 7, 2015, McGaha said she contacted Mailman who told her a manager at Family Dollar Store had contacted her, telling her she had seen her daughter in September of 2015 in the store. The manager had her watch the store’s video surveillance footage, and she recognized Melanie.

The normally joking and laughing daughter she knows was instead acting more “suspicious-like” and only answering questions with a nod and a shake of her head, she recalled on Monday.

Editor’s Note: This article was first published in the Navajo Times. Used with permission. All rights reserved.

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