State MMIP coordinator says initiative is growing in Alaska, Lower 48

a retired Alaska State Trooper
Retired Alaska State Trooper Lonny Piscoya, a 25-year veteran of the force, started Sept. 19, 2022 as the state’s new coordinator for solving cases involving missing and murdered Indigenous people. (From AST)

Retired Alaska State Trooper Lonny Piscoya, who was raised in Nome, returned last year to the Alaska Department of Public Safety to lead the state’s Missing and Murdered Indigenous Persons Initiative. 

He began his career as a trooper in 1993, moving from Nome to Fairbanks. Piscoya returned to the department in September 2022.

Piscoya spoke during a virtual information session this week, saying the department is working to solve cases involving the missing and murdered – and that communication is an important factor in helping find leads and prosecute offenders. 

“One of the mandates for Savanna’s Act is communication, we must communicate amongst ourselves and share information and create things,” Piscoya said. “We not only have to handle the crimes involved, but we have to do a better job with the victims. after the crimes … not necessarily the victims of murder, but the family, survivors that have been associated with their loved one being killed or murdered or missing.”

Savanna’s Act – a bipartisan piece of legislation to improve the federal response to missing or murdered indigenous persons – was signed into law in October 2020. Aspects of the law mandate increased coordination among federal, state, Tribal, and local law enforcement.  

Piscoya said recognition of the missing and murdered is not just confined to Alaska. It’s growing everywhere. 

“American Indian and Alaska Native peoples have a higher murder rate than the national average,” Piscoya said. “It’s just, it’s horrible. I think one of one of the reasons why MMIP was created, and has become a big movement, is it’s not only happening in Alaska, it’s happening everywhere in the Lower 48.”

Piscoya said he and his fellow investigators are getting close to closing a case with roots in Western Alaska, the death of 26-year-old Arnoldine Hill.

“There’s a case involving a Hooper Bay woman that was found murdered, and she was dumped on the side of the highway at Milepost 81 of the Parks Highway.” Piscoya said. “Since November of last year we’ve been working on that case and we’re still working it today.”

There are currently two open missing person cases in Nome. The case of Florence Okpealuk is being handled by Nome Police Department, while the case of Joseph Balderas is under investigation by Alaska State Troopers.

As with any other criminal investigation, Piscoya said the mission of his MMIP unit is to find perpetrators, try them in court and convict them. 

“One of our goals for MMIP is to solve these crimes and to put people in jail, and hold them responsible for their crimes,” Piscoya said. “That’s certainly what we’ve been trying to do in the last couple of months.”

Piscoya patrolled as a trooper in Fairbanks, Galena, Interior Alaska, Southeast Alaska and Ketchikan. He also worked as a post supervisor, Tactical Dive Team member, and detachment deputy commander over a 25-year law enforcement career.

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