GREAT FALLS – December of 2018 marked two years since the disappearance of Matthew Grant.
His family recalls him as a very happy 21-year-old who smiled a lot and had a good sense of humor. He was reported missing in December 2016, but two weeks later he was found murdered in Browning.
Matthew moved from Canada to Browning, Montana in October 2016. He wanted a better life for himself.
“To him, America was a better place, a better home, and a better family life,” Matthew’s aunt Rhonda Grant-Connelly said.
Grant-Connelly says she took him thinking that as a blessing, but something she says now she took for granted.
“We drove by Chief Mountain and he said, ‘Auntie, can we stop and can I take a picture of Chief Mountain?’ I said, ‘Sure you can,’” Grant-Connelly recalls. “He gets out, looks around and goes ‘ahhh, America!”
But two months later, their lives changed forever.
“A young gentleman got out of the vehicle, knocked and asked for Matthew. Matthew jumped up and he was in his room. Fonda [Matthew’s aunt who he was living with] asked him where he was going. He said I’ll be right back. That was the last time she saw him,” Grant-Connelly said.
Social media took off with family members begging the community for help.
“I called everyone, I told them we need to start looking. Start searching in alleys, vacant lots, and homes because we don’t know. We have no idea and that’s the only place we can start,” Grant-Connelly said.
That’s when Belinda Bullshoe and Diana Burd stepped in to help the family.
“How do you do a search party? We googled it. I googled how to do a grid search. How to make sure that everybody is safe so that you don’t have somebody lost in a blizzard,” Burd said.
“We had followed up on a location, hoping just to figure out if he was there. If not there, was there anything that could lead us to where he could have possibly went or walked away from?” Bullshoe said.
The family continued to helplessly search.
“We were caught up in so much grief and not knowing. It’s hard when a person does not know what happened to a loved one,” Grant-Connelly said. “We’d hear rumors so we would check them out to see if Matthew was there. Everyone would get upset with us because we would ask those questions. We weren’t trying to indicate that they were actually involved in the disappearance. It was the idea that we had a lead and we wanted to find out exactly if they had any idea of where he was at.”
It would take law enforcement ten days to finally help the family in the search for Matthew.
“I think the hard part was that we weren’t getting the help from the police. We had a couple pf people set up a search party. It was something that no one knew how to do. No resources, no protocols for situations like this. So people have to take it into their own hands to look for their loved ones,” Matthew’s cousin Shannon Connelly said.
On December 31, 16 days later, Matthew’s body was found.
“He had frozen ice in his hair. Snow covered. His shirt was partially pulled up like someone lifted him out of a vehicle and just tossed him there,” Rhonda Grant-Connelly said.
There have been no arrests made for his case.
“These people are running in our communities and the majority of the community knows who they are. Yet, we just sit there and were at the mercy of the state,” Burd said.
“I can’t trust. I don’t know who was involved, but I know there was a lot involved. The rumors, it’s hard. I shy away from people now,” Rhonda Grant-Connelly said.
“We’re hoping our story will make some change on the reservation. Take our cries serious,” Shannon Connelly said.
We will have more on the ongoing investigation with the FBI and what legislation is doing for missing and murdered indigenous people.
Reporting by Elizabeth Transue for MTN News