Indigenous woman looks for answers in family’s missing and murdered cases, speaks out in support of new Nebraska bill

A new bill proposed in the Nebraska Legislature would aim to help missing indigenous people
Published: Feb. 12, 2023 at 5:25 PM CST
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OMAHA, Neb. (WOWT) - Lestina Saul-Merdassi has four relatives from Nebraska who are either missing or were murdered. None of them with answers as to what happened.

A new bill in the Nebraska legislature, LB328, aims to solve cases of missing and murdered indigenous people in the state. It follows LB154, signed by former Gov. Pete Ricketts in 2019, which compiled a report on the cases.

Researchers found nearly 500 missing indigenous persons cases in Nebraska between 1940 and 2020.

“This is my little brother, Shane. Shane Boswell was murdered in August of 2020 in Minneapolis, Minn.,” Saul-Merdassi said. “They don’t really have a prime suspect or somebody who is officially under arrest for that crime. He was 23 years old when he was shot, killed, and left there for dead.”

Then there’s her cousin, Lakota Renville.

“That’s the rug that she was found wrapped up in. That’s the only piece of evidence that they have.”

Then Nickolas Lee Adams, another cousin.

“This is probably the most recent photo that we have of him when he was found. His nude body was found in a pond. And the cause of his death was blunt force head trauma and drowning.”

And another cousin, Merle Saul.

“And then that’s Merle holding one of his grandkids. And that’s him again with all of his grandkids.”

Personally impacted, by unresolved cases, Saul-Merdasi testified at the LB328 hearing in Lincoln.

It’s a bill to create an Office of Liaison for Missing and Murdered Indigenous Persons, introduced by State Sen. Jane Raybould.

“In many cases, it may be that tribal and nontribal law enforcement agencies need to jointly coordinate the case investigation. We know that the specialist will go a long way in helping bridge this huge deficiency and gap,” said Raybould.

The bill proposes hiring a full-time employee under the Attorney General’s Office. Their duties would include synthesizing and communicating information and resources across state, local, tribal, and federal law enforcement.

Assistant Attorney General Glen Parks spoke at the hearing in a neutral capacity.

“We do think it’s a good idea. But it is a small step in the right direction. And if it’s in our office, I don’t want to have unrealistic expectations that this is the silver bullet.”

No one testified in opposition to LB328. The Judiciary Committee also did not take immediate action.

Saul-Merdassi believes there’s differential treatment in missing person cases.

“Gabby Petito... when we watch and we see that that national police outlets were notified and were conducting all these investigations... That’s like salt to our wounds too,” she said. “The lack of closure is an open wound, and I don’t know when the wound will heal or when the grief will end for many of my family members.”