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To heal a wound: Hundreds attend vigil for missing Fargo woman found dead

A crowd listens to Arnold Williams of the Wahpeton Sisseton tribe speak at a memorial for Savanna LaFontaine-Greywind Monday, Aug. 28, at Mickelson Filed in Fargo. Tu-Uyen Tran / Forum News Service

FARGO – At Savanna LaFontaine-Greywind’s remembrance service Monday evening, Aug. 28, spiritual leaders said it is the community’s responsibility to help raise her firstborn child, Haisley Jo.

“Her daughter is going to be watched over by all of you. Not to worry, Savanna, we will be here for her; we will help raise her,” said Arnold Williams, of Sisseton, S.D., who traveled to Fargo with his sons to sing around the drum circle in honor of 22-year-old LaFontaine-Greywind.

Amid unimaginable darkness, more than 200 people came together at Mickelson Field to shine lights and support LaFontaine-Greywind on her journey to the spirit world.

Spiritual leaders referred to Savanna by her traditional indigenous name, “Where Thunder Finds Her,” and said she is still with us and we can feel her in the elements of sunshine and wind.

“If you want to feel her tears, stand out in the rain,” said Willard Yellowbird, a member of the Fargo Native American Commission who helped lead the ceremony. “Today we are all one spirit, one soul, one community.”

The remembrance service drew a mournful crowd – many who never knew the pregnant woman who went missing Aug. 19. Her family, along with volunteers, searched the region for days until her body was found Sunday, Aug. 27, in the Red River near Harwood, N.D.

“This is heartbreaking,” said a tearful Cassandra Mehl, of Moorhead, who didn’t know Savanna but helped search all day Sunday with the family. She held a red heart balloon in her hands that she planned to release at the end of the ceremony to pay her respects.

Coordinators of the Help Bring Savanna Home Facebook group – now with nearly 5,000 members – got the family’s permission to host the service that included songs, jingle dress dancers, prayer, ceremonial sage, tobacco and a candlelight vigil.

Pearl Walker-Swaney, 28, of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, danced with 13-year-old Brandi Redroad, of Fargo, as hundreds of candles flickered around them. Walker-Swaney embraced her 18-month-old son, Animikii, afterward and said she could relate to Williams’ message of all the mothers in the crowd helping to care for Haisley Jo.

“It takes a village to raise a child,” she said. “It’s a communal effort.”

Savanna’s father, Joe Greywind, thanked everyone for helping search for Savanna as his wife, Norberta, and Savanna’s boyfriend of seven years, Ashton Matheny, stood beside him wearing red and holding candles.

More than 20 members of the North Dakota State University dance team all dressed in red along with their coaches. NDSU junior Addy Johnson said none of them knew Savanna, but they cancelled practice for the evening to attend.  

Earlier on Monday at the Fargo City Commission meeting, there was a moment of silence followed by Mayor Tim Mahoney making a statement on the “profound sadness being felt within our metro area.”

Mahoney offered thoughts and prayers to the family while commending the community for coming together to find Savanna.

“Please remember that instances like this do not define Fargo,” the mayor said. “Fargo is instead defined by our people’s incredible spirit of resilience and their collective acts of support exhibited in the aftermath of difficult circumstances.”

Other vigils were held Monday evening in Sisseton, S.D., by the Sisseton Wahpeton Sioux Tribe and at the Turtle Mountain High School football field in Belcourt, N.D.

Another public vigil is slated for Wednesday, Aug. 30, at the North Dakota state Capitol.

For the next eight nights, family and friends are asking people to shine a red light on front porches – symbolizing the number of nights Savanna was missing.

“This beautiful woman brought us all together,” Williams said. “I know she would be happy to know you’re going to help her daughter.”

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