Last September, Missoula Police Detective Guy Baker received a strange tip in a missing person case: The 24-year-old woman he's been looking for since June 2018 appeared to have a social media account active in Minnesota.
Baker was familiar with the photograph set to the account's profile picture. It's the same image used in Jermain Charlo's missing person reports for almost 19 months.
Baker obtained multiple search warrants for multiple social media accounts, reviewed the messages and then approached the owner of the account: a woman who had just set up a fake profile. The woman became upset, Baker said, to find out the picture she used, apparently picked at random off the internet, was of a missing person.
"We verified she did not know Jermain, didn't know she was a missing person," Baker said.
This was one of about a dozen tips that yielded from LIVE PD, a virtual ride-along show on national television currently following the Missoula County Sheriff's Office. In its first weekend airing Missoula law enforcement, the producers ran a segment on Charlo's missing person case, with Baker featured in the slot.
All the tips came from out of state, Baker said, but only three warranted a deeper look. One woman claimed to have seen her in Arkansas.
"I got in contact with the police down there, had them check the area, gave them fliers," Baker said. "Nothing ever came back."
Despite the dead-end leads, Charlo's aunt, Valenda Morigeau, said she has been encouraged by the recent spur of activity on the case.
"I think it keeps us hopeful, because it means people are still keeping an eye out for her," she said.
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Morigeau said the exposure on national television gave her hope, not only for Charlo’s case but for the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women movement that rallied across the U.S. in a big way last year.
“Montana’s not really seen on a national level itself, let alone one person in Montana,” Morigeau said. “With MMIW becoming recognized, they’re finally recognizing the crisis that’s going on. … As a nation we can finally start finding all these women that are going missing.
“These women … they’re being seen as people — people that need to get home to their families so they can have closure,” she added.
And tips continue to roll in, Baker said. A number of tips that have come in during the last month have prompted Baker to reach out to the Lake County Sheriff's Office and the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Police to help investigate the new leads in their jurisdictions. A lot of the leads seem to stem from rumors, Baker said, of a story that breaks off one rumor and spins into another.
Next week, Charlo will have been missing for 19 months. The length of time and Charlo's sudden disappearance from her usually frequent social media activity tell Baker that she is a victim of a crime. But this case, Baker said, is still far from going cold.
"We're still looking," he said. "We're following up on leads and I hope we get a break in the case this year, because I have no doubt now that she's a victim of a criminal act."
Morigeau said as long as the weather held up, she was planning on pulling some people together for a search over the weekend.
“We will find her. It's going to take longer than we wanted, but we will find her,” Morigeau said. “We just want, on behalf of our family, just want to tell the public thank you for all the support they continue to give our family, and all the prayers that are always being sent.”
Anyone with information on Charlo's whereabouts is asked to call Baker at 406-396-3217.