Help Me Ben: Is the official MMIP list accurate?

MISSOULA, Mont. – At the beginning of the month of November, Montana Right Now launched a campaign to help find Montana’s Missing and Murdered Indigenous People.

We started at the top of the official list, provided by the Montana Department of Justice, and have proceeded to make our way down alphabetically each day, bringing you the faces and names of loved ones lost.

But to our surprise, on Nov. 1, the very first missing person we ran called us.

According to the DOJ Missing Person’s List, Neal Thomas Albert went missing at the end of July. We ran the graphic on Wake Up Montana, and posted it to our station Facebook page that afternoon. Moments after it went on social media, a Neal Tate Albert commented, saying “I’m ok.”

We reached out to Neal and the Missoula Police Department, which is the agency in charge of finding him. According to Public Information Officer Lydia Arnold, we confirmed they were no longer looking for him.

Since then, Montana Right Now has checked the list every day to see when his name would drop off. Still to this day, Neal Thomas Albert is listed as missing. So I called the Missoula Police Department to see what was going on with this case.

I talked with MPD Detective Lieutenant Eddie McLean, who investigates Missing Persons cases. And he says that right now, the police department has reached out to Neal Tate Albert, the same person who contacted our station, and they have not heard back from him. Because of this, the name cannot be removed.

And it makes sense. You can’t just call in and say you are safe. You have to prove it. MPD has official criteria when there is a chance to officially remove a person from the list.

"It's not a crime.” Lt. McLean says. “Basically, you can walk away from your life, and there is nothing illegal about it. If there is no indication of criminal activity associated with it, the person left on their own free will, and they are not having an apparent mental crisis, we are not going to dump a lot of investigative man hours into it when there is no apparent crime committed.”

For the police department, it’s all about maximizing resources.

When we began running information about missing indigenous people here in Montana, the officially DOJ list had 55 individuals on it. In the last three weeks alone, several names have come off the list, but several more have been added. That 55 number has fluctuated between 62 and 53 on any given day.

We will continue to bring you those daily MMIP profiles, and will continue to say their names, in an effort to help more Montana families get answers.

To view the official Montana DOJ Missing Indigenous Person’s List, you can click here.

And if you have a story that is looking for a solution, you could be my next Help Me Ben. Click here to submit a story idea!

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