Written by John Plestina
Authorities are hoping that DNA testing of skeletal remains of an adult male found north of Wolf Point might solve one of two missing person cold cases from the last six years.
Roderick Red Star of Poplar has been missing nearly six years and Nicole “Nicky” Waller of Kalispell disappeared on Valentines Day 2013.
Red Star was 20 years old when he was last seen walking on Wolf Creek Road about 10 miles north of Wolf Point during the early morning hours of March 14, 2009.
The Roosevelt County Sheriff’s Office Search and Rescue Team, Fort Peck Tribes Department of Law and Justice, Fort Peck Tribes Fish and Game, and numerous volunteers searched an area of about 250 square miles by plane, four-wheelers, on foot and with dogs.
It was unknown what might have happened to Red Star until a farmer north of Wolf Point found skeletal remains and clothing on his property during September 2013. There was no wallet or identification.
The bones were sent to the Montana State Crime Lab in Missoula and teeth were recently sent to the DNA research facility at West Texas A & M University in Canyon, Texas, in an attempt to obtain a positive identification.
“We think it is [Red Star]. There was clothing and a skeleton,” Roosevelt County Undersheriff John Summers said.
“We sent the bones to the state crime lab and their plan was to extract DNA from the bones and from a living relative,” he said.
The crime lab was unable to obtain adequate DNA for an identification.
“It’s suspected, but you have to be 100 percent sure,” Summers said.
“As an investigator, I can say that the bones we found are the bones of Roderick Red Star. Capping that off would be the positive results of the DNA compared to his siblings,” FPTDLJ supervisory criminal investigator Ken Trottier said.
“The clothing that surrounded the bones matched the description that family of Roderick Red Star said he was wearing,” he said.
“The bones were sent to the Montana State Crime Lab. It was determined that foul play was not suspected,” Trottier said.
The process could take some time, he said.
Waller was 32 years old when she disappeared and her vehicle was found in Roosevelt County Feb. 14, 2013.
Her maroon 1999 Ford Expedition Eddie Bauer Edition SUV was found abandoned on the shoulder of the westbound lane of U.S. Hwy. 2 west of Poplar. Authorities found Waller’s belongings and pet guinea pigs inside the vehicle that belonged to Waller’s three children.
The FPTDLJ and the Federal Bureau of Investigation processed the vehicle for evidence.
“We confirmed that the vehicle was brought here by someone other than Nicole Waller,” Trottier said. “We don’t believe for a minute she was ever on the reservation.”
He said he cannot say more about the investigation or suspects.
“Waller is basically a Fairview/Sidney case,” Trottier said.
Waller’s disappearance followed what other media has reported as an extended visit with her boyfriend in Fairview.
It has also been reported that Waller’s disappearance has been investigated as a possible homicide.
“We haven’t heard anything,” Summers said.
“We were kind of heighten [in February 2013] in case she wandered off and froze,” he said. “We were hoping somebody would call in.”
The FBI assisted local investigators with the case for about eight months, but turned it over to the Montana Department of Justice’s Division of Criminal Investigation at the end of October.
Friends of Waller posted a Facebook page dedicated to finding her at www.facebook.com/FindNicoleWaller. The page has more than 2,950 followers.
(Editor’s Note: The Herald-News and other newspapers have published a telephone number for Montana DCI in Helena where information about Waller’s disappearance could be provided. Attempts to call that number last week resulted in a quagmire of automated lines and voice mail with no returned telephone calls. Information about the disappearances of Waller or Red Star could be given to the Roosevelt County Sheriff’s Office at 653-6216 or the Fort Peck Tribes Department of Law and Justice at 768-5332.)
Written by John Plestina
After four years operating the Wolf Point Veterinary Clinic, Dr. Robin Jordan will soon move out of the area to work for the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Jordan said she will close her office in the GNDC building on Cascade Street on or shortly after Tuesday, March 2.
As was the case before Jordan opened the Wolf Point clinic, there will be no veterinarian within about 50 miles. There are veterinarians in Circle, Glasgow, Homestead, Plentywood and
A veterinarian in Homestead in Sheridan County, some 75 miles from Wolf Point, is purchasing some of Jordan’s equipment and travels to provide services, but it is not known if visits to Wolf Point would be included.
A veterinarian from Williston, N.D., comes to Culbertson once a week.
Jordan has been a tremendous help to the nonprofit Wolf Point Pound Puppies.
The organization has saved more than 500 dogs in a little over two years, because the city’s pound has a six-day hold and many dogs have been euthanized in the past because of a lack of space to keep them beyond the six days. Many are taken to organizations in cities in Montana and North Dakota for adoption.
“We’ve talked about [Jordan leaving], but we really don’t know what we’re going to do,” Wolf Point Pound Puppies administrator Tina Bets His Medicine said. “We went without a veterinarian for a long time.”
Bets His Medicine is giving dogs parvovirus tests and vaccinations, but she cannot administer rabies vaccinations or treat sick dogs because she is not a licensed veterinarian.
“It’s going to be a little more difficult for us, obviously,” she said.
Jordan said she thanked the people of Wolf Point for being loyal and supportive.
Written by John Plestina
While many of Montana counties have lost a total of about $20 million in the bipartisan spending bill that avoided another government shutdown, the impact to Roosevelt County is between $600 and $800.
Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., co-authored bipartisan legislation that would restore Secure Rural Schools program and Payment In Lieu of Taxes funding to 2011 levels and extend both programs for three years.
Sen. Steve Daines, R-Mont., supports the legislation.
PILT benefits most counties in Montana with funding for federal lands that local governments cannot tax.
The U.S. House of Representatives has passed a $1 trillion spending bill to keep the government operating through September. That legislation excludes the $330 million Secure Rural Schools program.
The lions share of the PILT funding in Montana benefits counties in the western part of the state, Roosevelt County Commissioner Gary Macdonald said.
“We have very little federal land,” he said.
PILT benefits counties in several western states with public lands managed by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management and Forest Service.
Valley County receives considerably more in PILT funding than Roosevelt County because of a presence of BLM lands.
Another issue is that there is no authorization for PILT funding for Indian reservation lands, which comprise most of Roosevelt County.
“I wish it [reservation lands] did. We have periodically tried to get it to count [for PILT],” Macdonald said.
“The National Association of Counties has looked at it. I don’t know if it will ever hit Congress,” he said.
Written by Herald-News
The Fort Peck Tribes will receive $5.5 million of over $26 million in grants the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development is issuing tribal housing authorities to construct, acquire or modernize housing for low income families.
The funds were made available through Indian Block Grants under the Native American Housing Assistance and Self-Determination Act.
“Safe and reliable housing is critical to the health of communities and families, so making these investments will help address the housing needs in Indian Country,” said Jon Tester, D-Mont. “I will continue to work with tribes to increase and expand housing options for all Montana families.”
Tester, who is vice-chair of the Indian Affairs Committee, supports the reauthorization of
NAHASDA which provides approximately $650 million per year to eligible tribal housing authorities across the country.
Tester is also pushing for the reauthorization of the Section 184 Indian Home Loan Guarantee Program designed for tribal members to receive loans for new construction, refinancing or purchasing a home.
Written by Michael Wright Community News Service UM School of Journalism
Rep. Tom Woods, D-Bozeman, sent his kids to preschool after searching for a couple of months to find the right fit.
“I’ve got kids. I’ve been through this,” Woods said in a recent interview. “Preschool helped them.”
Woods, who sits on the House Appropriations Committee, will be one of the Democrats pushing to get Gov. Steve Bullock’s $37 million Early Edge Pre-K plan into House Bill 2, the major budget bill. The plan would give grants to public school districts around the state to expand existing preschool programs, create new ones or partner with private programs.
It would be voluntary — students won’t be forced to go to preschool, and schools won’t be required to offer it — and would add Montana to the list of more than 40 states with publicly funded preschool.
But not everyone at the Capitol or in the state is convinced.
“I think it doesn’t do what it’s purported to do,” said Rep. Nancy Ballance, R-Hamilton, the chair of the House Appropriations committee.
Backers cite studies showing effects both behavioral and academic. Students come out of preschool more prepared for kindergarten, and are less likely to become criminals or teenage parents.
At a joint subcommittee on education hearing in January, teachers and administrators from schools in Helena, Boze-man, Missoula, Great Falls, Three Forks and Boulder supported the proposal. Some said it improved children’s confidence, others said it gave them a jump on what they’d learn in kindergarten. Major public school lobbying groups supported the governor’s proposal at the same hearing, including the Montana School Boards Association and the Montana Rural Education Association.
Yet some lawmakers and educators still have concerns.
Ballance called preschool “daycare with accredited teachers” and said the so-called “edge” wears off for students by third or fourth grade.
Superintendent of Public Instruction Denise Juneau rejected both of those arguments, saying students do learn — for example, the basics of reading and counting, among other concepts — and that she doesn’t think learning wears off.
“We’re going to have better students,” Juneau said.
Other criticisms center on whether it would work in smaller schools or reach the students who need it most. Senators Taylor Brown, R-Huntley, and Llew Jones, R-Conrad, both said school representatives told them Early Edge won’t help small schools and that students who need it most won’t enroll in the programs.
One of the more outspoken critics is Gordon Hahn, superintendent of Saco Schools. Hahn wrote an opinion piece that ran in the Billings Gazette in late January, calling for higher teacher pay instead of investment in Pre-K.
“I care about the $37 million that’s being spent on it,” Hahn said, stressing that he isn’t opposed to preschool. His own kids went to preschool. “It’s money that could be used to solve a problem.”
Hahn has worked at schools along Montana’s Hi-Line for more than three decades, spending the last seven years as superintendent in Saco. He said schools in places like Saco — with a population around 200 people — have trouble attracting teachers. He’s seeing fewer applicants for open positions than he has in the past, which he blames on not being able to offer high enough salaries.
“I’m trying to fill my positions, and the governor wants me to start a new program,” Hahn said.
As for starting a new preschool program, Hahn said only two or three students would enroll, and the teacher would only work part time.
“Who am I going to get to come to Saco and teach part time?” he said.
In Helmville, just west of Helena, teacher Brooks Phillips shares some of the same concerns.
Phillips teaches seventh and eighth grades at Helmville’s K-8 school. Two others teach there also, with one covering fourth through sixth grades. The other teaches the earlier grades.
Helmville offers a once a week preschool program, where students around four-years-old join the younger classroom. Phillips said the purpose is to sort of show the children how school works, to get the feel for a classroom setting.
But Phillips said adding four-year-olds to the mix in a school as small as hers can disrupt classroom dynamics. With each instructor covering more than one grade, students at different levels are already in the same classroom. In that sort of setting, while third and fourth graders are studying math, a preschooler might be nearby playing. Phillips said that could be a distraction.
“They need to be little children, like they are,” Phillips said. “It’s a very difficult situation when you’re in a rural school with multi-grades, multi-ages and multi-levels.”
Teaching at a school like that is already hard on teachers, she said. Not because of the number of students — fewer than 20 attend Helmville School — but because students are different ages and at different levels. Five students in a classroom may be learning five separate things.
Phillips also said she worries that even though it’s voluntary now, that doesn’t mean the program won’t be mandatory for schools to offer in the future. She points out that kindergarten was at one time optional.
Schools in Montana have been required to offer kindergarten since the 1980s, though students aren’t required to attend school until age 7. Superintendent Juneau said the debate surrounding Early Edge is similar to what was debated about kindergarten, but she wouldn’t say whether preschool would become mandatory in Montana.
“It’s hard to tell,” Juneau said. “We’ll have to get it funded first.”
And funding it won’t be simple. A joint subcommittee on education didn’t act on the proposal.
Members of that panel said they wanted to leave it up to the larger House appropriations.
Ballance, the chair, is stiffly opposed to it, as are some other Republicans on the committee.
Rep. Roy Hollandsworth, R-Brady, said the $37 million request is a big ask.
Bullock spokesman Mike Wessler said in an e-mail that the governor thinks his request is “responsible” and an investment the state “can’t afford not to make.”
Other committee Republicans shared that concern, others said they don’t think the request addresses the right population of students, while at least two others said they are undecided.
“We’re not throwing sand in the governor’s face,” Hollandsworth said. “Everything is in play until the end.”
Rep. Woods said the Democrats will do everything they can to get the program funded every chance they get, no matter how much rejection they get during the 90-day session.
When’s the stopping point?
“Day 90,” Woods said, smiling.