‘Missing in New Mexico Day’: Families of missing Indigenous people search for answers, justice

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ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. – Indigenous people and others in the metro met with state leaders, and authorities to address the missing persons issue in New Mexico — with a prime focus on local Native communities.

“APD had called us at 3:35 in the morning, telling us they had found our daughter deceased at the park,” said Benjamin Toya, father of Shawna Toya. 

40-year-old Shawna Toya disappeared from Jemez Pueblo in 2021 only to be found dead in Albuquerque the very next day. Now, her parents are raising Shawna’s four children left behind. 

Both parents showed up to the Pueblo Cultural Center on Saturday with a purpose.

“We want to find answers, and we want to find justice for her,” said Geraldine Toya, Shawna’s mother.

The Indian Pueblo Cultural Center held its first “Missing in New Mexico” event. 

APD, the FBI, BCSO, and tribal police from different reservations came together to provide resources for those who are trying to locate a missing person in their life.

The event was for everyone with a strong emphasis on Indigenous people. 

According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, murder is the third-leading cause of death among American Indian and Alaska native women.

Although their daughter’s case is closed, Geraldine and Benjamin are standing for more than just their daughter, but for all other Indigenous families who are going through similar things.

“The reason for me advocating is because there’s too many things that have gone on in the native world, we don’t get special privileges in the investigating,” said Geraldine.

This event is modeled after a similar event that took place in Arizona. People from all over the state came to give their stories to authorities with attempts to open cases up, and get resources on any help for missing people.

The event wasn’t just about bringing awareness, there was action taking place right on the scene. People gave DNA right then and there, in hopes of finding out what happened to their loved ones.

“People who are interested in getting samples in order to help identify missing persons, they would come up, they would do a cheek swab in our presence, and we’d collect that swabbing from them, place it into evidence envelopes, and at a future date those would be processed,” said Dr. William Watson, administrator of the New Mexico DNA Identification System.

This event wasn’t only for getting help, but also for getting the right resources to reach some sort of closure.

“My question is why she never got an autopsy when they told me she was supposed to get one,” said Geraldine. “That’s why I’m here today, so they hear our voices on why we’re here — we need them to do what they need to do for us as a family.”

According to the FBI, as of Oct. 14, there are 192 missing Indigenous people in New Mexico that the government knows of.

To help combat that problem, this event will be seen in southern and eastern New Mexico in the upcoming months.

For more information, visit, the New Mexico Indian Affairs Department’s website