Cissy Strong Reyes last saw her younger sister, Rosenda Sophia Strong, on Oct. 2. An acquaintance came to their home in Toppenish and picked Rosenda up for the short drive to Legends Casino.
She never saw her again. Their brother, Christopher Strong, soon filed a missing persons report. The family has been searching for her ever since, posting flyers throughout the Yakima Valley and sharing them on social media, holding events for her and other missing and murdered indigenous women, and raising funds for a reward.
On Friday morning, Reyes got the confirmation she had dreaded yet prayed for. Her sister was coming home.
“My baby sister Rosenda (Strong’s) remains (were) found in a freezer. Yes it has been confirmed to me this morning from the FBI agent working on my sister’s case,” Reyes said in a Facebook post. “We have her back; not the way we wanted but we can after 275 days of looking, wondering, our baby sister, mother, aunt, cousin, friend is coming home to our mother.
“Now we can finally lay my sister to rest.”
Authorities confirmed that remains found in a freezer near Toppenish late on the afternoon of July 4 were those of Strong, a mother of four. She would have turned 32 on April 16.
“The Yakima County Coroner’s Office and its staff offer our condolences to the family and friends of Rosenda Strong,” Yakima County Coroner Jim Curtice said in a news release. “Rosenda’s remains were found in a freezer on July 4 ... in the Toppenish area. The remains were positively identified with the use of dental records.
“Rosenda’s death has been classified as a homicide, the cause of death remains under investigation.”
Strong’s family members provided DNA earlier this year.
Yakima County sheriff’s detectives, Yakama Nation tribal police and the FBI were called to the 64000 block of U.S. Highway 97 around 4:20 p.m. July 4 after two homeless men found human remains in an unplugged freezer, sheriff’s spokesman Casey Schilperoort had said. It is the 18th homicide reported in Yakima County this year.
Federal and tribal officers were called in because the remains were found within the Yakama Nation.
Reyes and her cousin Roxanne White, an advocate for missing and murdered indigenous women and girls and their families, held an event to honor Strong on her birthday.
“Happy birthday, baby sister. We all love you and miss you every day,” Reyes said. “This is not how we wanted to wish you a happy 32nd birthday.”
Strong had been staying at Reyes’ home in Wapato when she left Oct. 2 with a friend in an older Nissan car to visit Legends Casino in Toppenish. Strong left her car at Reyes’ home, where it remains.
Strong was a citizen of the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation and a descendant of the Yakama Nation.
Through the months since her sister disappeared, Reyes has become increasingly outspoken about those she believes were involved in Strong’s disappearance, or were witnesses.
“You know who you are. (You’re) still walking the streets and my sister goes missing and the last ones she was around were her friends,” Reyes has said. “(You) were last to see her alive. (You) were the last to hear her cries. (You) were the last to see her pain.”
Anyone with information is asked to call the Yakama Nation Police Department at 509-865-2933 or the FBI at 509-990-0857 regarding case number 18-010803.
“She is a mother, sister, auntie, friend (and) relative to us, her family,” Reyes said.