{child_kicker}The Vanished{/child_kicker}

Family, friends gather in Toppenish to remember missing woman recently found

{child_byline}TAMMY AYER

Yakima Herald-Republic

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TOPPENISH — Cissy Strong Reyes stood at Old Timers Plaza in early May with dozens of other people who gathered to raise awareness of missing and murdered indigenous women.

As her cousin Roxanne White spoke to the crowd at the REDgalia Awareness Walk, Reyes stood to her left, holding flyers with information about her missing sister, Rosenda Sophia Strong.

Reyes was silent then but soon after, as the crowd walked along West First Avenue to the Yakama Nation Tribal School, she took the megaphone while the march passed the flea market.

“She was last seen at Legends Casino with acquaintances that are still walking on this reservation. I see them every day,” Reyes shouted. “Please bring my sister home. My sister needs to come home. I know you guys are watching and I know you guys see me. I just saw a few of you. Bring my sister home.”

On Sunday evening, Reyes and dozens of others gathered again near the same street — this time to remember Rosenda Strong, whose body was found almost 300 days after she disappeared. As the sun went down, the crowd lit candles in Rosenda’s memory.

“She was my best friend. Now I have her back,” Reyes said during the vigil at Pioneer Park. “Now I can take her home to my mom. I’m just going to keep her beautiful smile in mind.”

Authorities confirmed Friday 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 remains were positively identified with dental records, Yakima County Coroner Jim Curtice said in a news release. Strong’s death has been classified as a homicide and the cause of her death remains under investigation.

Strong was last seen in Wapato on Oct. 2, when she left her sister’s home with an acquaintance to visit Legends Casino in Toppenish.

Approximately 140 people came to the vigil on Sunday night. Reyes, her brother Christopher and other relatives thanked them for coming. Roxanne White spoke first, then family, then friends. White sang two songs in honor of her cousin, and others joined her on the second song.

“We just wanted to come out here to let people know that she was loved. She is loved,” White said.

Now that Rosenda Strong has been found, they and others stressed that they will continue to fight for justice. They will continue to speak out as the investigation continues into the death of Strong, a citizen of the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation and a descendant of the Yakama Nation.

“Everybody has a lot of questions right now. We don’t have any convictions. We still need your help to bring the ones who did this” to justice, said White, an advocate for missing and murdered indigenous people and their families. “We still need people to come forward.”

Strong will return to the Umatilla reservation to be buried by her mother, her family said.

Elaine Snowder, Strong’s aunt, said it’s “pretty hard to understand why they did this to her.”

“She had a lot of love in her heart for her sister and her brother and her children,” she said. “I loved that little girl so much ... now she’s going to go home. She can be by her mom, her grandma, her uncles.”

Strong’s disappearance and death follows a tragic pattern familiar throughout Indian Country. On the 1.3-million-acre Yakama Reservation, the number of missing or murdered women and men is unknown. Some people have been missing for decades.

At least two women have been found — one near Parker Dam in early 1988, another in a remote part of the reservation in late 2008 — but remain unidentified. Many who are identified died violently.

Far beyond statistics, they are someone’s friends and relatives. Like Strong, they are mothers, sisters, aunties, friends. They are loved. They are missed.

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.

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Reach Tammy Ayer at tayer@yakimaherald.com or on Facebook.