Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Family members embrace at the scene of a shooting in Pryor last Wednesday. The FBI confirmed that two people were killed and a third injured by gunfire in Pryor, a town of just over 600 people in southern Montana. Deputy Luke Knaff of the Big Horn County Sheriff’s Office removes caution tape last Wednesday afternoon from the site of a double homicide in Pryor. Members of the Park County Sheriff’s Office apprehended suspect Jesus Deniz Mendoza in Meeteetse, Wyo. about two hours after the incident.This undated booking photo provided by the Park County Sheriff’s Office in Cody, Wyo. shows 18-year-old Jesus Deniz Mendoza of Worland, Wyo.

In Mourning

Crow Tribe pulls together in aftermath of double homicide
“You don’t expect it. You don’t expect things like this happening here.”
 
Pryor, a small community of just over 600 people, is recovering in the week following a double homicide allegedly perpetrated by 18-year-old Jesus Deniz Mendoza of Worland, Wyo. last Wednesday morning in the Crow Reservation town. The woman who stated the above quote, a local resident, asked not to be named citing fear of possible retribution by Mendoza’s associates.
 
The entire town, she said, began behaving oddly in the hours after the shooting, moving out of their houses and onto the streets and sidewalks.
 
“They were like ants,” she said. “You know how ants are when they’re disturbed. They come out and start scrambling around. That’s exactly what happened.
 
“Cars were going all over. People started walking, like they were looking, trying to see what was going on.”
 
Shooting incident
 
The two Pryor residents who were killed in the attack – Jason Shane, 51, and Tana Shane, 47 – died while trying to aid the alleged shooter on Pryor Gap Road, according to court documents. The road is located less than a mile from St. Charles Mission School, one of the many Big Horn County-area buildings from Pryor to Crow Agency locked down in the aftermath of the shooting.
 
The Associated Press quotes Ada Shane, a relative of victims, as stating that her sister-in-law Tana found Mendoza on the road less than 50 yards from her house, where he told her that his car, a green 1990 Ford Taurus, had run out of gas. Ada stated in the article that both Jason and Tana “have big hearts” and are “always helping someone else”.
 
Tana returned to her house, documents state, and told her husband and daughter, 26-year-old Jorah Shane, that someone needed assistance. The documents state that they then returned to the scene with the daughter’s car, a gray 2006 Pontiac G6 sedan.
 
As the vehicle approached Mendoza, he pointed a gun at the three and told them to get out of the car and stand behind it. He then asked them for money. They had none on them at the time, so he told them to walk away.
 
In an interview later that day, Mendoza told FBI agents that he decided to shoot his three helpers with a .22 caliber rifle “because he was getting tired of waiting around” and one of the victims laughed at him.
 
Jorah – referred to as “J.B.S.” in court documents – stated in an interview with Bureau of Indian Affairs special agents that she heard the first shot as they moved away from the vehicle.
 
“When she turned around, she saw her father lying on the road. J.B.S. started running,” the documents state. “As she was running, J.B.S. heard her mother scream, but she did not turn around, because she was scared.
 
“…she felt blood running down her face, which was later determined to be the result of a bullet wound. She heard another gunshot and felt a bullet hit her in the back.”
 
Despite her injuries, Jorah was able to escape her alleged attacker, who drove off with her sedan. She then yelled for help and got the attention of individuals at the St. Charles Mission School. When one of the people at the school drove to her location, court documents state, she told the driver she had been hurt. The driver exited the car and walked towards her parents.
 
“Fearing that the unknown male would come back, J.B.S. got into the car,” court documents state. “When J.B.S. saw her car coming back toward her, she got behind the wheel and drove away. J.B.S. heard gunshots, but was not sure what the unknown male was shooting at.”
 
Here, the court documents and Associated Press article differ, with the article simply stating she drove away while still hearing gunshots. No further shootings in the area were reported.
 
Jorah drove to her sister’s house, from which she was transported to the Pryor Clinic, then a Billings hospital for emergency care.
 
At 10:11 a.m. that day, Crow Agency dispatch received reports of a shooting on Pryor Gap Road.
 
Manhunt
 
Lockdowns commenced for buildings across the Crow Reservation, including the Crow Tribal Multi-Purpose Building in Crow Agency and Pryor’s Plenty Coups High School.
 
“We have a few kids who work here during the summer, so we shut all the shades and locked all the doors, and brought them into the central office area,” said Pryor Public Schools Superintendent Dan McGee. “I called 911 to make sure the Billings police would come in, and then we just sat and waited.”
 
The last time the school went into lockdown was four years ago, following reports in October 2011 that triple homicide suspect Sheldon Chase of Lodge Grass was coming towards Pryor.
 
“It [involved] members of the community, so it was very tough,” McGee said of having students in the building, “but they complied.”
 
The Park County 911 Communications Center in Wyoming received information from the Big Horn County Sheriff’s Office at 10:30 a.m. to be on the lookout for a gray Pontiac sedan with Montana license plates. In the meantime, Big Horn County deputies secured the crime scene amid flashing lights and yellow caution tape with the help of BIA and FBI agents.
 
A Park County Sheriff’s Office press release states that Jorah’s car was spotted by one of their sheriff’s deputies at 11:49 a.m. as it traveled southbound on Highway 120. The deputy immediately began pursuit. As Mendoza was “armed and to be considered dangerous” the deputy decided not to apprehend him until a trooper from the Wyoming Highway Patrol arrived to provide backup.
 
“The decision by the deputy to wait for backup was absolutely the right thing to do,” stated Park County Sheriff Scott Steward in the release. “This was a joint effort all the way.”
 
Once the Highway Patrol trooper arrived, they arranged a traffic stop at 12:30 p.m. on County Road 3LE, commonly called the Burlington cut across, and stopped the suspect eight miles north of Meeteetse, Wyo. – nearly 120 miles from the shooting.
 
Mendoza was captured without incident and transported to the Park County Detention Center in Cody, Wyo.
 
Effects and solutions
 
Following the suspect’s capture, Crow Chairman Darrin Old Coyote and BIA Police Chief Jose Figueroa met in Plenty Coups High School to discuss the incident.
 
While Figueroa declined comment at the time, Old Coyote said the incident would make many Crow people think twice before helping others. The three victims in the incident are tribal members.
 
“The Crows look out for one another and I think that’s what the couple was doing – they were looking out for someone who was stranded and needed help,” Old Coyote said. “Why help people when you’re only going to get shot?”
 
Figueroa did, however, address the Crow Legislative Branch in a closed session the day after the incident, speaking on how the cooperation between the Crow Tribe and surrounding resources helped apprehend Mendoza within about two hours. The next step, tribal officials believed, was to prevent future incidents from happening.
 
The primary issue, according to a Legislative Branch press release, was the lack of law enforcement presence in rural areas of the reservation.
 
“At present, Pryor does not have a regular law enforcement presence which is exacerbated by the fact that it is located 75 miles from BIA law enforcement headquarters in Crow Agency,” the release stated. “A dialogue has ensued to address the need to deputize other law enforcement agencies and local tribal resources to put more officers in the field.”
 
Issues examined in this regard included a “looming” memorandum of understanding between the BIA and Crow Tribe – currently being extended pending tribal approval – and the possibility of allowing game wardens from Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks the authority to assist with welfare checks on the reservation.
 
Furthermore, though details of drug involvement in the shooting have not been confirmed, tribal officials discussed the possibility of banning those convicted of controlled substance crimes from the reservation. Expulsion should be a last resort, the group said, after allowing the offenders one or two sanctions.
 
County Attorney Jay Harris, a former member of the Legislative Branch legal counsel, identifies as a proponent of the exclusion policy, particularly when dealing with methamphetamine-related crimes.
 
The Legislative Branch, he believes, has a unique opportunity to form stronger policies in regards to drug use on the reservation.
 
“This issue demands a zero-tolerance drug enforcement policy with full communication and coordination with all investigative and prosecutorial authorities,” he said. “This problem needs to be addressed and I can’t put any more emphasis on it.”
 
While he doesn’t “want to state clearly” as to whether Mendoza was in the area to deal drugs, he is looking into the suspect’s connections with illegal Mexican nationals. According to Harris, Mendoza – who legally emigrated from Mexico to the United States in 2013 – is a known drug user.
 
“It is very unlikely that he was in the Pryor area on July 29 without purpose,” Harris said. “Whatever ties and connections he has to this area, they will be uncovered.”
 
A preliminary hearing for Mendoza is scheduled at 10 a.m. on Friday at the U.S. District Court in Billings.
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