HARDIN — While the death of a 16-year-old Hardin teen remains under investigation, Big Horn County authorities are answering additional questions about why it took so long to find her body and if anyone will face charges for her death.
"We thought she would be much closer to the rest area." said Big Horn County Undersheriff Eric Winburn. "There was sagebrush in there and she was kind of laying in the middle of the sagebrush," he said.
Found by federal trackers
Selena Not Afraid went missing New Year's Day at a rest area between Hardin and Billings along Interstate 90 and was last seen walking away from a broken-down vehicle at the rest stop while returning from a party in Billings.
Monday, her body was found by federal trackers with the Department of the Interior, a mile and a half from the I-90 rest area that had been the focus of the three-week search. Winburn said she had on boots, blue jeans and a gray sweatshirt.
The professional trackers, who have been in the area for over a week, retraced steps again from where previous search parties looked, however this time their search parameters extended farther.
Big Horn County Sheriff Lawrence Big Hair said on Monday that he had also walked the area previously and did not find her body.
“Myself, I went walking there into the night. And I was within 200 yards of her body probably about a week ago. I just took a wrong turn and didn't walk up to where she was at. But I was that close to her body that evening. It's just a big country out here to search," the sheriff said.
Winburn said that investigators had stayed interested in the area around the rest area because they had some video from social media that appeared to show Not Afraid was there before she disappeared.
Why no foul play?
Winburn also said there does not appear to be any evidence that the body of Not Afraid was moved before and there were no obvious signs of trauma to her body.
"There was no tire tracks or footprints to show you know somebody had taken her out there and left her," he said.
An autopsy is scheduled in Billings on Wednesday.
When asked if criminal charges could follow in the case, Winburn said it's possible.
Winburn said evidence collected indicates everyone in the group Not Afraid was with was intoxicated, but it was difficult to speculate why she was left alone as they were returning to Hardin from Billings on New Years Day.
"I think part of that was everyone in the vehicle was intoxicated," he said. "You don’t know how much a full story you don’t get."
Everyone in the group has been cooperating, Winburn said.
However, charges stemming from child endangerment could follow as Not Afraid was with a group of adults at a house party the night before she disappeared in Billings. Winburn said if charges do come, they would likely be filed in Yellowstone County.
Still, an autopsy will allow authorities to learn more about her death.