The month of July was horrific for families living on the Rosebud Reservation in south central South Dakota. Four young people died within one week.
Alcohol may have played a role in a one car crash that claimed the lives of two young boys ages 7 and 12.
A few days later, searchers found the body of a young mother. Suicide is suspected.
Kicking off this string of tragedies was the death of 15 year old Alize Millard. The circumstances surrounding his disturbing death have been deemed “suspicious.”
The Rosebud Sioux Reservation spans nearly two million acres, but is home to just 10,000 tribal members. Alize was one of them but spent most of his time off the reservation in Gregory. That’s where he met his girlfriend 15-year-old Winter Little of Mission.
“He was a good person to talk to; he was always there. He had a really big heart,” Winter said.
Alize was spending his summer helping his grandparents who live on the reservation in a rural area known as Grass Mountain.
Winter: He was a grandma and grandpa’s boy though. I stayed with him for a couple of days; three or four days.
Angela Kennecke: With his grandparents?
Winter: Yeah, and they got to meet me. We had a cookout. It’s probably one of the best memories I had with him.
Winter last spoke with Alize on July 7. On July 8, Winter was at her grandmother’s and missed his calls.
“The last phone call was at 10, in the nighttime,” Winter said.
When she tired to get back to him…
“By then he wasn’t online anymore. And usually he’s online when he’s at his grandparents house. He decided to go out and go see his friends or something, or go for a walk,” Winter said.
But Alize would never return.
“Somebody just said they found a body down in Ghost Hawk,” Winter said.
Ghost Hawk Canyon is also known as Boy Scout Cabin Falls to tribal law enforcement. Two hikers discovered Alize’s body in this Canyon on July 10.
Boy Scout Cabin Falls is so remote there’s no cell phone service out here. The two hikers who discovered Alize’s body had to come back out here, get into their car and drive out in order to call for help.
Kennecke: Do you know what he was doing there?
Winter: No, I don’t. He might have been meeting up with somebody or going to see his friends.
“Usually people come out here and do a bonfire, during a nighttime deal,” Capt. Iver Crow Eagle said.
Two tribal law enforcement officers agreed to take us to where Alize’s body was found.
Crow Eagle: The beer cans, the empty liquor bottles. It’s pretty secluded.
Kennecke: It’s possible there could have been a party going on at the time of his death.
Crow Eagle: Possibly.
We hiked a quarter of a mile back to the spot where Alize was found.
“All these trees were across this area, so we literally had to crawl under all these trees to get through. We had to call on the fire department to make a path for us to come back here,” Crow Eagle said.
We came to a clearing; a death scene both peaceful and haunting.
“The red flag in our Lakota culture is basically for prayers. It marks this place as spiritual; sacred. If you see on the ground, they’ve also placed some sage on the ground that helps for prayers and spiritual aspect,” Crow Eagle said.
Alize was found hanging from a tree, but there are other physical circumstances surrounding his death that officers say they can’t talk about.
Alize’s grandfather Peter Gibbs had to identify his body. KELOLAND Investigates spoke with Gibbs on the phone and he didn’t want to go on camera. He said the family isn’t ready to speak yet. When we asked him if he thought Alize had completed suicide, he responded, “Hell no.” He says Alize had been traveling with his grandparents for the entire month of June and had only been in Grass Mountain for a little more than a week.
Kennecke: Do you think that Alize was killed?
Winter: Yeah, I think he was. I don’t think he would do that to himself.
Kennecke: Do you believe foul play was involved in his death?
Special Agent Robert Sedlmajer: It’s real suspicious. At this time we don’t have any eye witnesses who have seen what happened. So we just have to piece it together. A lot of it is pieced together through the crime scene and DNA evidence possibly left behind. And that’s how we’re going to match people up to who was actually there.
Crow Eagle: That’s another indicator that people come back here. (points to trash pile)
Kennecke: It’s also an indicator he may not have been alone?
Crow Eagle: Also an indicator yes. It’s a big time indicator. It’s a clue basically.
Kennecke: Why do you think somebody would want to harm him?
Winter: Because other people he’s friends with. His friends were into drugs and that gang-banging stuff.
Kennecke: So you think his friends were gang members?
Winter: Might have been. They were into drugs and stuff and they always did crazy stuff. But Alize was never a part of it.
These tribal law officers, along with FBI agents, spent hours after Alize’s body was discovered, combing the area for clues and collecting physical evidence.
Kennecke: Will you get to the bottom of it?
Sedlmajer: Oh yeah. We always do get to the bottom of it.
While there’s no evidence that Alize was a member of a gang, there’s no doubt that gang activity spurs crime on South Dakota’s Indian Reservations.
In the second part of our KELOLAND News Investigation on Wednesday, we look into the problems that gangs cause on the reservation and why young people can be easy recruits, like a 17-year-old boy who joined a gang at the age of 8.
“Obviously gang homicide, the taking of young lives for the furtherance of gangster mentality, it’s just inexcusable,” Native American gang expert Chris Grant said.
“I was getting picked on by gang members of GDs and I just decided to become a Blood,” Israel Sharp Fish said.
Why young people on the reservation can be so susceptible to gang activity in our KELOLAND News Investigation into “Gangs versus Tribal Culture.”