DUNSEITH The body of Amanda Holt-Headbird, 36, originally from the Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe in Minnesota, was found by a search party volunteer on Thursday, about 200 yards from the residence where she had been living north of Dunseith.
The search party was made up of the family of Holt-Headbird, law enforcement and fire department staff, and many local volunteers from the area who had been combing through the area for two days before discovering her.
Holt-Headbird's family had lost contact with her for the past three weeks. This past Tuesday, a large group of family members and friends from Cass Lake, Minn, came to the Turtle Mountain Chippewa Reservation to try to find Holt-Headbird.
Holt-Headbird's sister Endonnis Baird, her two young daughters, Melissa Headbird and Jamie Baird and son James Baird, were among the 19 relatives and friends who came to the area to find Holt-Headbird.
"We were told by some of the law enforcement here that she probably went off somewhere and we were getting so many different stories, but we were not going to leave until we found her. We were determined to find her no matter what. I never thought I would have to ever experience this in my life. I used to see things like this on the news, never thinking it would happen to me. To go through this is so hard on all of us," said Baird.
"We know she would not leave her baby and we're all determined to find her. We know she's here and we are not going to give up our search until we find her and bring her home," said Headbird, the night before her aunt was actually found.
The family was assisted in their search by aerial photographs provided by the Bureau of Indian Affairs surveyor and guidance and support from BIA Law Enforcement, Rolette County Sheriff's Department, and tribal police.
While outside the tribal court building on Friday, about 24 hours after the discovery of her deceased sister, Eldonnis Baird received a phone call from a law enforcement official from the state who informed her that the autopsy and toxicology of her sister had been completed. She was told during the course of the call that her deceased sister had died from exposure and there were opiates and methamphetamine in her blood.
"I'm concerned about that (autopsy) conclusion being determined so quickly. We have many questions that are left unanswered. But we only want to know the truth about what really happened to her. We did accomplish what we came here for. We found her and that was what we were committed to do.
"My sister was a kind and loving person. She was loved and she loved her children and she always had a smile on her face. We want to always remember her in that way," said Baird. "We're grateful to so many here. We had so many volunteers help in the search and we had a lot of help from people who gave us gas money and food who didn't even know us. There are some good people on your reservation.
"Our trip home was made a lot brighter because we were able to get Amanda's baby through an emergency custody order and Cindy (Malaterre, tribal councilwwoman) helped us through the maze we were in," Baird added.
No official statement from any law enforcement agency was issued Friday.
Baird said she hopes the investigation continues after her family leaves to get more answers in the death of her sister.
Amanda's remains were to be back in Cass Lake Monday for services there.
(Special to The Minot Daily News by Logan Davis)