MISSOULA — Following the death of Gabby Petito, people nationwide are calling for more media coverage on other missing people.
Here in Montana, Native Americans are four times more likely to go missing, according to the state Missing and Murdered Indigenous People's database.
Kimberly Loring, whose sister Ashley Loring HeavyRunner is missing, was a key in creating that database and coordinating law enforcement resources.
MTN News had the chance to talk with her as a new podcast aimed to spotlight her missing sister's case.
Ashley Loring Heavyrunner disappeared from Browning in 2017 when she was 20 years old.
“We need to come together; our missing is important. They are not just a picture on a flyer. They are sisters or brothers. They are meant to be home with us,” Kimberly Loring said.
Her sister has not stopped looking for answers. “Ashley’s case was mishandled during the most crucial time, and we need to bring more attention to this."
Kimberly says it took effort from the family to get Ashley’s story in the news. "It took Ashley a very long time to be be seen by the media."
She says it was also challenging to work with law enforcement, "they were able to hinder Ashley’s case.”
So, the family conducted their searches.
“It was very traumatic. I was very numb at the time. We were searching in the forest, and I was yelling her name, expecting her to be like, ‘I’m right here,” Kimberly recalled.
That was four years ago, "it was very, extremely hard. It was tough,” Kimberly told MTN News.
Kimberly says she took to social media.
“It wasn’t until I got on Facebook and started posting and making sure everyone around in the town -- and people that I know, know. And people that care and love for her knew, and they were able to share that.”
Ashley’s whereabouts are still unknown, and as the search continues, the family is still looking for answers. But now, a new form of media is sharing Ashley’s story -- to anyone that will listen.
“I hope at the end of the day, there is more coverage of her story,” said podcast host Payne Lindsey.
Kimberly believes something happened to Ashley, and she wants to know what.
“If we keep bringing more attention to Ashley’s case, then we will find answers.”
Lindsey, the narrator for hit podcast Up and Vanished, agrees.
“I hope that the podcast keeps her story in the spotlight and encourages other people to talk about it," Lindsey told MTN News.
Up and Vanished has covered cold cases across the country, and the current season focuses on Ashley.
Lindsey says he wants to solve Ashley’s case and draw attention to the thousands of other Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women (MMIW) in America.
“Discussing the larger issue here, with MMIW, other outlets have covered it before. But the masses don’t actually know how tremendous this issue is, the disparity -- and the statistics with Native women missing. It's sort of a two-pronged thing, discussing Ashley’s story." - Payne Lindsey podcast host Payne Lindsey
National attention has been brought to Ashley’s story in recent years, and Kimberly says after all this time, she hopes to gain some closure eventually.
“To have Ashley would be to have my life back. I know it wouldn’t be back to normal, but it would be a piece of me that is not lost looking for her. My family and I — we have changed throughout these past four years, just losing who we are because of such a hard part we have to deal with -- somebody so big in our family, Ashley -- a piece of our heart is missing. To have that answered, and to be able to know, to have Ashley back it would mean the world to us.” - Kimberly Loring
The investigation into Ashley's disappearance is ongoing, and the FBI is urging anyone with information to contact the Salt Lake City FBI office at (801) 579-1400 or 1-800-CALL-FBI. You can also submit tips in the caseonline here.
Katie Miller at KPAX first reported this story.