YUROK RESERVATION, Calif. - Family and friends of Emmilee Risling, who has been missing for more than four months in California, said they refuse to give up hope.
The 33-year-old mother, with ancestry traced to three Native American tribes in Northern California, has been missing since October. Her disappearance is the latest in an alarming string of cases involving indigenous women who have gone missing or been killed in the region.
Her parents said Risling was struggling with mental health issues before she disappeared from the Yurok reservation in Humboldt County.
"It's on your mind every day, the frustration of wanting some movement," said her mother, Judy Risling. "It's very difficult."
The mother had behaved erratically for months, hitchhiking and wandering naked through two Native American reservations and a small town clustered along the rugged Lost Coast, according to the Associated Press.
Things escalated when Risling was charged with arson for igniting a fire in a cemetery. Her family hoped the case would force her into mental health and addiction services, but she was released over the pleas of loved ones and a tribal police chief.
This is one of five cases in the past 18 months in which indigenous women have been reported missing or were killed in Northern California.
Recent national studies show the homicide rate among Native American women as almost three times higher than that of white women.
In the Pacific coastline between San Francisco and Oregon, a region where the Yurok, Hupa, Karuk, Tolowa and Wiyot people have coexisted for millennia, two other women died from what authorities say were overdoses despite relatives’ questions about severe bruises.
The crisis has spurred the Yurok Tribe to issue an emergency declaration and brought increased urgency to efforts to build California’s first database of such cases and regain sovereignty over key services.
Sovereign Bodies Institute (SBI) was created to research the epidemic plaguing the community. Their project, called "To’ kee skuy’ soo ney-wo-chek’ - I Will See You Again In a Good Way," aims to understand the scale of trafficked, missing, and murdered Native American women and children in Northern California, and intervene.
In a Facebook post from Hoopa Valley Tribe, a $20,000 reward was offered for information leading to Risling's safe return. The post said she is 5’2, 140 pounds, has short brown hair and eyes of the same color, and she was last seen near Weitchpec, which is near Martins Ferry.
Anyone with information about Risling is asked to call the Hoopa Tribal Police dispatch number, which is (530) 625-4202.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.