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With sage and prayers, public search for LaFontaine-Greywind expands

Jewel Azure, a childhood friend of Savanna LaFontaine-Greywind and member of the Spirit Lake tribe, burns sage at the public search for the missing woman in Mickelson Park on Sunday, Aug. 27. (Blake Gumprecht / Forum News Service)1 / 3
Denise Frederick, a member of the Spirit Lake tribe, holds a bundle of sage to distribute to volunteers searching for Savanna LaFontaine-Greywind on Sunday, Aug. 27, in Mickelson Park. (Blake Gumprecht / Forum News Service)2 / 3
Volunteers line up to register to search for Savanna LaFontaine-Greywind on Sunday, Aug. 27, at Mickelson Park. (Blake Gumprecht / Forum News Service)3 / 3

FARGO — Jewel Azure, a member of the Spirit Lake tribe and a childhood friend of Savanna LaFontaine-Greywind, stood in Mickelson Park on Sunday, Aug. 27, burning sage, as people lined up nearby to join in the ongoing public search for the missing Fargo woman.

Her mother, Denise Frederick, held a bundle of sage, so others could do the same.

Ruth Buffalo of Fargo, a member of the Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara Nation as well as this city's Native American Commission, rubbed sage between her hands, and then tucked some in her shoes.

"It's a source of strength," she said. "It's protection for wherever we go. We don't know what we will find. It's also for the family. When you burn sage, you pray ..."

"The burning of sage," added Frederick, "lifts the prayer to the creator."

They were among the estimated 400 people who have participated in the public search for LaFontaine-Greywind since it began on Friday, many of them coming on multiple days.

Family and friends of LaFontaine-Greywind — 22 years old and 8 month pregnant — and an increasing number of volunteers from across Fargo and beyond, searched from 2 until 9 p.m. on Friday, 6 a.m. until 9 p.m. on Saturday, and 8 a.m. until 9 p.m. on Sunday. Organizers estimated that 30 percent of the searchers came from outside the Fargo-Moorhead area. One man came all the way from Phoenix.

There have been organized groups of searchers who have come from the Turtle Mountain, Spirit Lake, Standing Rock and White Earth reservations. On Sunday, there were three vans emblazoned with the name of the Spirit Lake tribe in the parking lot.

"There's a lot of people who are here to help, so that's a good thing," Buffalo said. "Indigenous women go missing and murdered at alarming rates. I'm a mother and I have a sense of urgency."

Volunteers have searched Trollwood, Johnson, and Riverside parks. They've searched wooded areas along the river. They've searched construction sites, gas stations, trailer parks, and homeless camps. Two of the tribes brought ATVs. Searchers on Sunday brought horses. Searches have also been undertaken in Grand Forks and Larimore, as well as Perham and Dilworth in Minnesota.

"We've found a lot of interesting stuff," said M.J. Krough, a local chaplain, who has provided logistics for the search, making sure volunteers have places to sleep, and ample water and food.

The search has an ever-changing group of organizers. Some have been forced to return home, because of child school schedules and for other reasons, but new leaders have stepped up to take their place. "It's really more of a collective," said Buffalo, one of the leaders on Sunday.

A non-profit organization specializing in searches, United Legacy Search and Rescue, of Minnesota, took on a key organizing role over the weekend, printing maps, telling searchers where to go, and keeping track of areas already searched.

Police involvement in the public search has evolved. On Friday, a single police officer stood away from the crowd and observed, but there seemed to be little interaction between the searchers and police.

By Sunday, a more collaborative relationship had developed. Now whenever searchers find something that is potentially useful, they take a photo of it, record the location and report it to police at the search command center, who then pass it on to detectives to follow up. Fargo police, meanwhile, reported on Sunday that they have received 150 tips on the police tipline.

Jewel Azure lived across the street from LaFontaine-Greywind on the Spirit Lake Reservation when she was 12. She remembers Savanna walking across the street one day and asking her to go for a walk. They became friends after that, though drifted apart over time because they went to different schools.

She remains Facebook friends with LaFontaine-Greywind and her boyfriend, Ashton Metheny. That's how she first learned about her disappearance on Saturday, Aug. 19. She and her mother came to help with the search on Friday and stayed through the weekend

"It's shocking because I knew her as a childhood friend," Azure said. "It's so sad. It seems like something you'd see on a crime show. Everything about it is just horrific."