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Colorado rolled out one of the nation's first alert systems for missing Indigenous people. The first person it was used for was found dead.

A 27-year-old man in Colorado went missing a day before the state's new Missing Indigenous Person Alerts system went live on Dec. 30. One week later, he was found dead. 

A Missing Indigenous Person Alert for Wanbli Vigil was issued Jan. 3, four days after the system went live. The Lakota man had last been seen in Denver on Dec. 29 and, according to Denver police, was reported missing on Jan. 1. He was the first missing person's case to activate the statewide alert system, which operates under the Colorado Bureau of Investigation, according to CBS Colorado. 

According to CBS Colorado, when activated, the system will send the person's photo, name, description and other relevant details to state law enforcement agencies, who then have to disseminate the information. The public and media can sign up for alerts. 

"Once notified, the Denver Police Department's Missing Persons Unit opened a missing persons case and entered Mr. Vigil as a missing person in NCIC [National Crime Information Center], per standard procedure," Denver police told CBS News. "The Colorado Bureau of Investigations released the alert on Tuesday based on their protocols."

For Vigil, however, it did not prevent his fate. On Jan. 6, Denver police announced that his body had been found. An investigation is underway, the department said, but it does "not appear to be suspicious in nature at this time."

Vigil's aunt, Jennifer Black Elk, told CBS Colorado prior to the discovery of his body that the family had organized a search party to try and find him, checking hospitals, jails and "whatever leads we can think of." The last time he was seen was at his apartment building. 

"He was really struggling with some spiritual issues," she told the CBS station. "We're wondering exactly where did he go, how did he disappear, where did he end up or who is he with?"

While it's unclear what his cause of death was, advocates for the search of missing Indigenous peoples say the alert took too long to get out to the public. Even though the alert system itself initiated just one day after he went missing, the Colorado Bureau of Investigation told CBS News it did not activate the missing person alert until Jan. 3 when they received the request from the Denver Police. The Denver police had not posted anything on its social media pages until the same day. 

"As we've stated in the past, all CBI alerts serve as a tool in the toolbox to aid law enforcement in their investigative efforts to locate a missing person. I cannot speak on behalf of the Denver Police, but the alert is only a piece of the efforts of law enforcement to local a missing person," a CBS spokesperson told CBS News. "...Colorado's statewide alert system – including AMBER – cannot be activated by the CBI without the request of the local agency."

Monycka Snowbird, the program director for the Haseya Advocate Program, told CBS Colorado she believes the year-end holidays are what caused the delay, saying that if it had been an Amber Alert, the holidays "wouldn't have mattered." 

"It shouldn't matter if it's a Lakota man on a holiday or a white child on a holiday," she said, "that response should have been immediate." 

CBS News has reached out to the Colorado Bureau of Investigation and Denver police for more information about the process they followed in this particular case and what prevented an immediate social media announcement that Vigil was missing. 

Native Americans make up a disproportionate share of missing persons cases in the U.S., with more than 9,500 reported missing cases since 2020, according to data from the National Crime Information Center. The federal government is responsible for handling these crimes, as well as murders and assaults, but generally falls short in committing to do so. In 2018, for example, prosecutors declined to prosecute nearly 40% of all federal Indian Country cases. CBS News has extensively researched this problem, as well as some of the ongoing cases, in the podcast "Missing Justice." 

According to the Missing & Murdered Indigenous Relatives Taskforce of Colorado, who helped conduct a search for Vigil, the young man marks the 69th Indigenous person from Colorado to be missing or murdered since 1977. At least two dozen of those cases remain unsolved, according to the group. 

Correction: A previous version of this story misstated the date police activated the missing persons alert for Vigil. It was Jan. 3, not Dec. 30.

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