Missing or Murdered Indigenous Persons
FBI supports initiative to close gaps, generate leads at tribal community event in Arizona
A photo of Hector Martinez on his older sister Monica's phone. Hector has been missing for more than 14 years.
Monica Martinez knew something was wrong when her little brother Hector didn't call.
The siblings had always been close—from childhood on the Salt River Pima Maricopa Indian Community near Phoenix, through Hector’s rambunctious teen years, and into his troubled adulthood spent in and out of jail.
“He always made sure he called, no matter what,” she said. “He could be out having a blast at a party at three in the morning, and he would still call me. He wrote to me all the time when he was in jail. So, when he went missing, and we didn't hear from him, that was really hard.”
“When I heard about the FBI and the community, it felt somebody really cared who was going to really be helpful.”
Monica Martinez, sister of Hector Martinez, who has been missing for 14 years
FBI Phoenix Victim Specialist Maricela Savalas meets with an attendee at a Missing Person Identification Project (MPIP) event on March 1 on the Salt River Pima Maricopa Indian Community near Phoenix.
This is a family photo of Hector Martinez and his siblings. Hector has been missing for more than 14 years. His family attended an event in Arizona related to Missing or Murdered Indigenous Persons, or MMIP.
Some families have done their own investigations to flush out clues after feeling rebuffed in their initial encounters with police. A few at the Salt River event gave leads to investigators, hoping they might help them assemble the puzzle.
“This is an opportunity to make it right and to do better,” said Savalas, who was a local victim advocate in the Pima County Attorney’s Office in Tucson, Arizona, before joining the FBI.
Communities tend to be close-knit, said Alane Breland, chief prosecutor of the Salt River Pima Maricopa Indian Community. But open-house attendees seemed eager to meet with representatives of agencies that might be able to help. She worked closely with Savalas to organize the event, and she reiterated the importance of the FBI and other agencies meeting with tribal members where they are.
“If you want people to feel comfortable sharing deeply personal information, the least you can do is come to them,” Breland said. “And this shows the FBI is willing to do that. NamUs is willing to do that. The U.S. Attorney’s Office. I think that says a lot. It really builds a bridge.”
“They feel like their cases are important—that someone will come to them and provide that service,” she continued. “So, I think that sends a positive message.”
Regina Thompson, assistant director of the FBI Victim Services Division, said understanding the needs of the various communities it serves is essential to the mission.
"This includes our Indigenous communities, which is especially important as they currently face high rates of human trafficking, murder, and violence," Thompson said. "We commit ourselves every day to understanding, protecting, and servicing this community."
Future events in Arizona will be on the Gila River Indian Community, the Navajo Nation, the Tohono O’odham Nation, and Pascua Yaqui’s native lands.
Monica Martinez arrived at the March 1 event with her younger siblings. She’s the oldest of four kids—and a single mother of five. She talked about how she and Hector had to step up after their parents died. She said Hector had his troubles, but he was always the first to lend a hand or stand up to bullies if anyone needed it.
“He took care of my mom. He took care of my kids. He always made sure that everything was done,” Martinez said. “He made mistakes, like we all do. But when he could, he was always there for everybody.”
Martinez said her heart jumped when Savalas called from the FBI. She thought there was news of her brother. But the invitation to talk to investigators about his case was the next best thing, she said. She marked it on her calendar weeks in advance and told her siblings to do the same.
“When I heard about the FBI and the community, it felt somebody really cared who was going to really be helpful,” she said. “Today made me feel like something was going to happen, that maybe I’ll get some results. Maybe I’ll get some closure to find out if my brother’s still alive. Today made me feel like there was some resolve. Like something was actually going to get done.”
“We’re going to them and we’re structuring these events for what the community itself needs.”
Maricela Savalas, victim specialist, FBI Phoenix