Law enforcement is amassed this afternoon on the Round Valley Indian Reservation in northeast Mendocino County investigating the homicide of a teenage girl. This comes a little over two weeks after the killing of 20-year-old Nicholas Whipple. Tribal leadership, grief-stricken and overwhelmed by the valley’s inundation with violence, plans to proclaim a state of emergency hoping for help.
Mendocino County Sheriff Matt Kendall told us he traveled to Round Valley this afternoon and spoke with detectives. He learned the body of a juvenile female was discovered this morning on a piece of tribal property in a cow pasture north of Covelo’s Howard Street. Her body “had trauma which was consistent with a violent encounter” and the scene also had signs of a “violent encounter”.
Sheriff Kendall said his detectives are currently working on several leads but could not get into the specifics such as the victim, the suspect, and the circumstances surrounding the homicide.
As in any small community, information travels fast. Within hours of law enforcement’s arrival in Round Valley this morning, Covelo-specific social media groups had identified the victim.
Vice President of Round Valley Indian Tribes Lewis Whipple has confirmed the victim to be 16-year-old Ruby Montelongo, a high school student and native daughter of Round Valley.
Whipple said Ruby was small and petite and had a “smile that lit up a room”. She cared deeply for her little brother. “They were inseparable.”
Whipple and his family are well-acquainted with the young woman after his sister “took Ruby in as a foster kid on a few different occasions and most recently around a year and a half ago.”
Ruby was a “bright light in the teenager scene”, Whipple told us. She was a member of a tribal unity group for high schoolers and the Round Valley High School varsity basketball team that made the playoffs this year.
The young woman’s homicide has prompted tribal leaders to proclaim a state of emergency in an upcoming meeting looking for any way to stem a tide of violence. Two of the tribe’s young people were killed in recent weeks. For decades, members of the Round Valley Indian Tribe have been murdered and their killers walk free. Tribal members Robert Want, Ivan Tillitson Junior, Khadijah Britton, Mike Pina, and many others have become Round Valley lore remembered for their brutal unsolved murders or their complete disappearance.
Round Valley Indian leaders plan to organize and host a series of community healing events offering prayers and an opportunity to reflect on loss, grief, and a path forward.
Round Valley embodies the Missing and Murdered Indigenous People activist movement. Leaders say they are determined to stop what they often describe as an “epidemic of violence” that has taken root within Indian Country.
The National Institute of Justice has found that 84.3% of native women and 81.6% of men will be victims of violence in their lifetime. The murder rate of native women living on reservations is ten times higher than the national average.
Locally, the kidnapping and disappearance of Round Valley’s Khadijah Britton in 2018 brought Mendocino County to the forefront as a symbol of MMIP activism. Round Valley leaders have worked alongside California’s first native assemblyman James Ramos to advocate in Sacramento for solutions, such as the Feather Alert system instituted this year.
While policymakers and activists work for change, Round Valley has lost two of their own in less than three weeks’ time.
Sheriff Matt Kendall asks that if any member of the public has information about the killing of the young woman, please call the Mendocino County Sheriff’s Office at 707-463-4086.