FBI joins search for missing Montana woman

PHOTO: Ashley Loring HeavyRunner went missing from the Blackfeet Reservation in Montana in June 2017.Loring Family Photo
Ashley Loring HeavyRunner went missing from the Blackfeet Reservation in Montana in June 2017.

The FBI announced this week it has agreed to investigate the disappearance of 21-year-old Ashley Loring Heavyrunner who vanished from Montana’s Blackfeet Reservation in June of 2017.

The Bureau of Indian Affairs had previously been the lead investigative agency in the matter.

“I’m glad the FBI has finally taken over,” Kimberly Loring, Ashley’s older sister, told ABC News.

PHOTO: Ashley Loring HeavyRunner is pictured with her sister Kimberly. Ashley went missing from the Blackfeet Reservation in Montana in June 2017. Loring Family Photo
Ashley Loring HeavyRunner is pictured with her sister Kimberly. Ashley went missing from the Blackfeet Reservation in Montana in June 2017.

The decision for the FBI to take control of the case comes nearly nine months after her sister first went missing.

“It’s been nine months and we don’t have anything and it seems like we are at the same place we started from,” Kimberly Loring said.

PHOTO: Kimberly Loring breaks down after her volunteer search party fails to find any trace of her sister Ashley Loring HeavyRunner, who has been missing since June 2017. Evan Simon/ABC News
Kimberly Loring breaks down after her volunteer search party fails to find any trace of her sister Ashley Loring HeavyRunner, who has been missing since June 2017.

According to BIA spokesperson Nedra Darling, law enforcement has identified several persons of interest, though the individuals’ names have not been released.

“Law enforcement officials have conducted approximately six searches and 60 interviews and offered a financial reward for information relating to her disappearance,” Darling wrote in an email last October to ABC News. “The BIA Office of Justice personnel take all of their investigations seriously.”

As time passed and no arrests were made, the Loring Heavyrunner family have become increasingly frustrated with what they saw as the BIA’s lack of progress on Ashley’s case.

“The only thing good that came out the BIA was they helped with the award money,” Kimberly Loring said.

The BIA and the Blackfeet Tribal Business Council have each offered $5,000 for information related to locating Ashley.

“We are thankful for that,” Loring said but admitted she was not happy with the way the agency handled its investigation.

“I think if they would have taken it seriously at the beginning we could have found more info and could maybe even have found my sister,” Kimberly Loring said.

PHOTO: Kimberly Loring holds a childhood portrait of her sister, Ashley Loring HeavyRunner, who has been missing since June 2017. Evan Simon/ABC News
Kimberly Loring holds a childhood portrait of her sister, Ashley Loring HeavyRunner, who has been missing since June 2017.

The FBI said this week that it decided to take on Ashley’s case “at the request of the Bureau of Indian Affairs,” though it is unclear why the FBI waited so long to make that decision.

In October, FBI spokesperson Sandra Barker wrote to ABC News that the agency was “aware of the case but not involved. However we are coordinating with the appropriate authorities currently investigating the matter and we are prepared to assist, if requested.”

In a subsequent email exchange, Barker clarified that “a request from a partner agency is not required” for the FBI to become involved in a missing persons case.

In November, Barker wrote to ABC News that the FBI had begun “assisting BIA with their investigation and will do so as needed, but they continue to be the lead agency. I think we are now involved, mostly because of the length of time that she’s been missing.”

Now, four months later, the FBI has announced it is taking over the investigation at the request of the BIA.

"I’ll refer you to the BIA for questions on what prompted them to ask us to be the lead investigating agency and the timeline for that request," Barker said today in a statement to ABC News.

When asked why the BIA requested the FBI to take over the investigation, Darling responded, “Due to leads coming in off the reservation the FBI took the lead of the investigation so they can follow up on those leads outside of Indian Country.”

PHOTO: Kimberly Loring holds a portrait of her younger sister Ashley Loring HeavyRunner, who has been missing since June 2017. Evan Simon/ABC News
Kimberly Loring holds a portrait of her younger sister Ashley Loring HeavyRunner, who has been missing since June 2017.

But Darling’s explanation doesn’t satisfy the Loring Heavyrunner family.

“I wouldn’t expect anything more from them but excuses,” Kimberly Loring told ABC News.

“I gave them a tip that she might be taken to Washington from day one. They got a tip from New Mexico around the same time,” she continued.

Moreover, Kimberly Loring said BIA investigators told her in October they were traveling to the city of Great Falls to pursue leads.

Great Falls is more than 100 miles from the Blackfeet Reservation.

“They were unprofessional and handled my sister’s case poorly,” Kimberly Loring said.

PHOTO: A homemade missing poster hangs inside the Loring home. Evan Simon/ABC News
A homemade missing poster hangs inside the Loring home.