Eastern Shoshone Father Seeks Justice for Deceased Children
Gov. Gordon forwards request for new investigation to FBI
- Published In: Other News & Features
- Last Updated: Jun 28, 2022
Dawn Day is pictured with two of her three sons. She was attending college at the time of her death. (Courtesy photo from Greg Day)
By Jennifer Kocher
Special to The Wyoming Truth
Greg Day still uses the desk his daughter Dawn made for him in high school shop class. It’s a bittersweet feeling for the 60-year-old father who recently sat at the desk to pen the rough draft of his executive summary for the foundation he created in honor of Dawn and her younger brother.
Day, who is Eastern Shoshone and lives in Ethete on the Wind River Indian Reservation, recently launched the “Dawn and Jeff I won’t be Silent” foundation in memory of his two deceased children.
In 2012, Dawn was found floating in Morton Creek in Fremont County. She died at age 28 and left behind three sons ages 5, 7 and 10. Four years later, her brother Jeff, a fry cook at a local grocery store, also was found in a body of water. He, too, was 28.
It’s a lot of grief for a father to carry, Day said, and this past Father’s Day was a reminder of what he’s lost. Once again, as he’s done for 10 years, he stayed up until midnight—the hour when Dawn always called.
“She wanted to be the first of the [five] kids to call me,” said Day, a retired iron worker and disabled veteran. “I’ll never get that call again.”
Worse than losing his two children for Day is the way they died and the manner in which their deaths were classified. Both were considered accidents, though Day vehemently disagrees. He believes foul play was involved and claims their deaths were not thoroughly investigated by the Fremont County Sheriff’s Office and Wyoming Department of Criminal Investigation.
The autopsy and toxicology report classified Jeff’s death as an accident due to asphyxiation by drowning; lethal levels of diphenhydramine, the active ingredient in cold medicine, were found in his body. The report further states that Jeff’s footprints were the only impressions found in the muddy and sandy bank of the Wind River south of Riverton. There were no visible signs of trauma to his body. Jeff’s death is considered closed.
Dawn’s autopsy was found to be inconclusive after two autopsies were conducted by the Fremont County coroner and an independent medical examiner in Colorado. Because there was more than one possible cause of death, no findings were made, according to Fremont County Chief Deputy Coroner Erin Ivie. As a result, Dawn’s case is technically open, according to Mike Hutchinson, Fremont’s undersheriff, but not being investigated.
Day claims the sheriff’s office was negligent in its investigation. He said several witnesses were not interviewed and visible signs of a disturbance in her apartment were not thoroughly investigated by law enforcement.
Long-standing Problem of Violence Against Indigenous Women
Dawn’s death is one of many among the Indigenous community in Wyoming, particularly in Fremont County.
A 2021 statewide report of missing and murdered Indigenous people, conducted by the Wyoming Survey and Analysis Center at the University of Wyoming at the urging of Gov. Mark Gordon, presented a bleak picture of violence in this community.
Despite comprising only 3% of the state’s population, Indigenous men and women accounted for 21% of homicide victims between 2002 and 2020. Of the 105 Indigenous people murdered in the state during this period, 34 were females and 71 were males; homicide represented the third-leading cause of death among this population.
Similarly, Indigenous women are also more than six times more likely to be victims of homicide than their non-native counterparts, with 97% of Indigenous women reporting they experienced some type of violence. Four out of five of these women are also more likely to experience violence than any other demographic.
The problem has been well noted by Day and others, including Gov. Gordon and Democrat U.S. House candidate Lynnette Grey Bull, who have promoted awareness about missing and murdered Indigenous people.
Help from the Governor
In recent years, Day has become more vocal about demanding justice for his children. He joked that Dawn used to ask him what it would take to get more involved in causes impacting Native Americans, and ironically, it’s her death that put him on the front lines.
Through his new foundation, Day plans to create mentorship programs to empower youth on the reservation and give them tools to succeed. In an effort to reduce violence against indigenous women, he is designing one that will teach young boys not to hit girls or express themselves through violence.
“She would be happy to finally see me doing something,” Day said.
Of all his children, Day had a particularly close relationship with Dawn, who was studying poetry and literature in college at the time of her death. He remembered how proud she had been of Day, a former officer in the U.S. Army special forces, and how she loved living on military bases as a child.
“She was a good kid,” he said. “So was Jeff. Just good, kind people who didn’t hurt anyone. They had the biggest hearts, both of them.”
Beyond mourning his loss and celebrating his memories of their good times as a family, Day wants to see justice for both of his children. And he refuses to sit still and be silent.
In April, Day wrote to Gov. Gordon, asking him to send in the U.S. Marshals Service to reinvestigate Dawn’s case. Day also sent similar letters to the Fremont county attorney and the Wyoming Attorney General’s office.
In late May, Day received a response from the governor. In his letter to Day, Gov. Gordon expressed his sympathies but said he lacked the authority to conduct such an investigation. Instead, he forwarded Day’s request to the FBI and U.S. Marshals Service —a move that gives Day new hope that a federal agency will pick up his daughter’s cold case.
“It’s the governor,” Day said. “They got to do what he says.”
The U.S. Marshal’s office did receive that letter, according to Justin Cline, tactical training officer in Wyoming, but said such a case falls outside the service’s purview. Typically, Cline said they only step in when crimes occur on federal land or under other special circumstances, and he said Day’s request doesn’t fall under those.
The FBI, meanwhile, refused to comment on whether the agency received the governor’s letter or would reinvestigate the case. As a rule, the FBI doesn’t comment on open or pending cases.
“In general, allegations of criminal conduct are reviewed by the FBI for their merit, with consideration of jurisdiction and any applicable federal law,” Vikki Migoya, public affairs officer for the Denver FBI office, said in an email. “When warranted, the FBI takes appropriate action.”
As for Day, with the tenth anniversary of Dawn’s death just weeks away, he is fundraising for his foundation and building a website with the help of one of Dawn’s childhood friends—a member of the group he affectionately calls the “brat pack.” He still keeps in touch with them. It’s another connection to his daughter.
“You’ve got to start somewhere,” Day said, “and this seems like a good place.”