RAPID CITY, S.D. (KELO) — Just days before his 51st birthday, Leon Lakota III’s body was found in a ditch on the side of the road north of Pine Ridge, South Dakota.

“He didn’t deserve that,” Danielle Carpio said through tears. “They just stabbed him up and just left him there.”

Danielle Carpio is Lakota’s niece and said he was like a father figure for her siblings and cousins. The 50-year-old was kind and always around to help others or listen and talk, Carpio said. So, when she received a call in early May of 2021, informing her that her uncle was dead, it was hard to process.

“The next day we went down and was told he was murdered. They didn’t have any suspects. They we were just told who he was with and where he was found murdered, which was about four miles north of Pine Ridge,” Carpio said.

According to Carpio, Lakota’s body was found ten miles north of where he lived. “He was taken to that area, [that] is not somewhere he’d be,” she said.

At first, the family of Lakota had very few answers in connection to his death. That is until two months after Lakota’s death when JT Myore was brought in on federal charges related to a carjacking of a red Toyota Celica on the night of Lakota’s death.

Carpio was told that Myore confessed to murdering Lakota last year. Myore is currently being held in the Pennington County Jail on federal charges related to the events of May 3, 2021.

According to court documents, Jt Myore and JJ Eagle Bull took a red Toyota Celica on May 3, 2021, the day that Lakota was killed. The papers state that there is probable cause to conclude that the pair aided and abetted each other with intent to cause death and seriously bodily harm in the theft of the Toyota vehicle. 

Myore’s trial is scheduled to begin on November 15, 2022.

“I want to know, we all want to know,” Carpio said. “Everything’s gonna come out, only time will tell why he did an act of hurting someone that just didn’t deserve to be hurt.”

While her family awaits answers, Carpio wants to make sure people know what kind of man her uncle was. Lakota, who was affectionately called ‘frog’, loved to ride bikes and was always around to help out his friends and family.

“He didn’t have much but he made the best of his life. He never complained, he was always thankful for just everything and it taught us a lot. To just be grateful for yourself; you don’t have to have all this fancy stuff, you know, we’re not promised tomorrow,” Carpio said.

Lakota was a firefighter for the Oglala Sioux Tribe and spent some time in California fighting fires.

“One of his sons followed him in his footsteps and started actually firefighting with him a few years back,” Carpio said.

The death of Lakota has been difficult for his whole family including his children and grandchildren who are still too young to understand what happened, Carpio said. Together, though, they’re keeping his memory alive by talking about him and by travelling to Pine Ridge on the third of every month to bring awareness to his death.

“It’s heartbreaking. It hurts. It’s sad and affects everyone and just brings you to reality that it’s hitting home on the reservation that it seems like it’s normal, that people are just killing people,” Carpio said.

Growing up, Carpio said she remembers a community of love and support but things have changed since her youth.

“Everybody loved each other. Everybody helped each other everybody,” Carpio said. “It’s so scary, just going into town it’s, ‘Are you going to go home?’” 

While the last year has been difficult, Carpio and her family are doing what they can to get justice for the man who helped raise them.

“I don’t want him to be forgotten along with all the other people going through this tragic epidemic,” Carpio said. “Because it shouldn’t be that way with Lakota people. We should just all be together.”