“We’re just living on prayers now”- Fairbanks holds a rally for the missing persons.

Published: Jun. 18, 2022 at 10:31 AM AKDT
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FAIRBANKS, Alaska (KTVF) - It has been over two years since the families of Debbie Nictune, Frank Minano, Doren Sanford, and Willis Derendoff have seen or spoken to their loved ones.

Friends, family, members of law enforcement, and the community gathered once again to give updates, share stories and pay tribute, at a Missing and Murdered Indigenous Persons Rally, at the Chief David Salmon Tribal Hall on Friday, June 17, 2022.

Executive Director for the Fairbanks Native Association, Steve Ginnis, spoke to the crowd.

“This may be seeming like it is repetitive. There is a purpose for it. The purpose is to keep it out there in the public with the hope that somebody will come forward and provide us information so that we can solve these cases,” said Ginnis.

This is the third rally the Fairbanks Native Association (FNA) has had for these families since 2020. Year after year the families continue to wait for answers, and pray.

“Believe me, we understand that some of these cases might involve an investigation, said Ginnis. “And we know how sensitive that is. But we’re not talking about you all providing us with that kind of information. What we are asking for is what the families are asking for; to ask questions, and we are doing that on their behalf.”

For the families of Nictune, Minano, Sanford, and Derendoff, there are still many unanswered questions as to where they may be and what happened to them.

Chief of Police with the Fairbanks Police Department, Ron Dupee, stated the department has implemented a new plan. With one detective on staff, they plan to hire a second to help with the active cases, as well as cold cases. “We are updating technology all the time,” said Dupee. “So we are going back to see if we can come up with any new leads.”

Dupee went on to say, “Somebody out there knows what’s going on in each of these cases and we have to, as a community, come together to provide those answers.”

Family and community members alongside FNA plan to continue to hold rallies until they have answers.

“It’s hard, but with your support, we’re going to make it,” said Rory Nictune.

Debra “Debbie” Nictune was last seen at the Northward Building off Noble Street in Fairbanks on August 18, 2020. He has been searching for her ever since.

“All of us together, we can do this, and we will do it. There will be a final answer because we are stronger when we stand together,” said Liz Webb, mother of Doren Sanford. She thanked the audience for attending the rally. “Keep praying, there is power in it,” said Webb. “And just know, we are going to get to the bottom of this.”

Doren Sanford was last seen on August 29, 2020. Before his disappearance, Sanford was working in Northway before traveling to Fairbanks. According to a police report, he was looking for his dog Groot, which is described to be Rottweiler with a long tail. Law enforcement is investigating this case as a homicide.

“It has been 657 days since Doren has disappeared,” said another family member. “Too many days since we have hugged him, seen his smile, and heard him laugh.”

Frank Minano’s cousin took to the podium and said “Frankie” wouldn’t just disappear. “So every June 17th, I think about Frankie, because it was August 17, 2020, he went missing,” she said. “So exactly 22 months at 6 p.m. today, up until then, he was walking, he was breathing, he was enjoying life.”

She said there was surveillance footage that showed Minano at Fred Myers the day of his disappearance.

She went on to say Minano was retired and enjoyed hunting, fishing, and spending time with his two young grandchildren. She said she went to talk to an elder about why we cannot dream about her cousin.

“When you’re not found, and you’re not buried properly with your family members, you’re not at rest. That is why say rest in peace. He’s not at peace. He is waiting for us to find him,” she said.

Members of Willis Derendoff’s family spoke about how they just recently attended a potlach and wished he was there. “We’ve been going through a lot, not just us everyone,” said one member of Derendoff’s family. “We lost his dad last December, he died of a broken heart, he never even got to find him.”

She held the mic closer and spoke to the crowd. “Maybe our skin is a different color, but our blood still runs the same,” she added. “Our blood is still red, everyone’s blood is red. And we are just getting tired, we are exhausted. We are just living on prayers right now.”

Shortly after the string of missing persons in 2020, Anne Sears was appointed by the Governor as the new Missing and Murdered Indigenous Investigator for the Alaska State Troopers.

She has been with law enforcement for over 20 years of service. She “almost” retired before taking over this position. Sears says she is looking into old cases, some dealing with homicide, unresolved cases, and those that are suspicious in regards to missing indigenous cases.

“Actually the four folks that have been missing really close together here in Fairbanks was one of the first group of cases that I started looking at,” said Sears.

She is also part of multiple murdered and missing working groups. One with the governor’s council and another with a group run by the U.S Department of Justice. She says both working groups are a conglomeration of various agencies. She also stated it is important for these various agencies to have a good working relationship with tribal agencies to find solutions.

“As was said here today at Fairbanks Native Association, at this rally, it’s going to take all of us,” said Sears. She says the next step is working with the families and following any leads with the coordination of law enforcement.

“This could be your family. This could be your sister, brother, father, or mother, and what would you want someone in your position to do? Reach out and we would love to hear from you,” said Sears. “Don’t give up hope. Keep talking about it with the public, with your friends, with law enforcement. We don’t want to forget these cases.”

Anyone with any information regarding the disappearance of Debbie Nictune, Frank Minano, Doren Sanford, and Willis Derendoff is asked to call Fairbanks Police Department at 450-6500.

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