A TEEN girl’s mom went missing 11 years before her babysitter vanished and now a cop has revealed fears that the young woman will disappear next.
The three women are all from Indian Country in California, where everyone seems to know someone who has vanished or been killed.
Sumi Juan, a Native American quilter and mother of three daughters, went missing over a decade ago when she was 32 years old.
Her case remains open, but many locals think she was murdered.
Foul play has not been proven, but it also has not been ruled out, the Humboldt County Sheriff’s Office told the Los Angeles Times.
“It just seemed so unreal,” said Aurelia Alatorre, Juan’s eldest daughter who was a teenager when her mom first disappeared.
She recalled seeing a missing-person poster with her mother’s face on it: “For as long as I can remember, that seems like something that only happens in the movies.
“I never thought that it would be that close to home.”
Alatorre’s youngest sister, Charlene, has struggled with her mom’s disappearance, getting into drugs and risky behavior starting at the young age of 12.
At 6 years old, Charlene lost her mother and was sent to live with relatives, but they had an uneasy relationship.
Human services later asked the police chief for the Yurok Tribe, Greg O’Rourke, now-49, if he and his wife, who was a distant relative of Charlene’s, would be the girl’s foster parents and they accepted.
About 10 years ago, under the O’Rourke roof, Charlene had a babysitter, Emmilee Risling who had two kids herself, which her mom took care of.
Risling went missing at the age of 32, over a year ago.
She was last seen in mid-October 2021 in a densely forested area along the Klamath River, which is close to the Oregon border.
A FAILED SYSTEM
Risling was once a high-achieving student who went on to get a degree in political science from the University of Oregon.
However, around 2019, she got into an abusive relationship and started using methamphetamine, her parents told the outlet.
She suffered from postpartum psychosis after her second child and her mental health declined further because of her addiction.
Police and the local community knew Risling for walking around naked, but “was never offered access to mental health services beyond cursory interventions at best,” a tribal report said.
“Every system had failed her,” said her mother, Judy. “Whose responsibility is that?”
Her father, Gary, added: “This whole thing has just been a living hell.”
O’Rourke worries that Charlene could also disappear as she like Risling struggled with addiction, domestic violence, and mental health issues.
Indigenous communities have long been plagued with these issues that stem from white settler colonialism, a poor foster care system, and the forced assimilation of Native American children in abusive state boarding schools.
O’Rourke believes “the system” is what is “allowing this to happen, and even encourages it.”
‘I FEEL BAD’
Charlene recalled the last time she saw Risling, which was not long before the babysitter vanished: “We were both doing really bad at that time.
“I was just thankful that I got to see her,” she said.
Charlene added: “I told her that I was using, and she was like, ‘That’s OK.’
“Even though it wasn’t OK, she didn’t make me feel like I was a bad person. She understood.”
“I feel bad for her son and daughter,” she said. “Because that was me.”
In her teen years, Charlene began reading about her mother’s disappearance and couldn’t cope with it.
“It’s been 12 years, and we don’t know anything,” she told the outlet.
“I don’t want to have to accept the fact that we probably won’t know what happened to her. I feel like I’d be giving up on her if I do accept that.”
At age 12, she started drinking and smoking weed.
By the time she was 14 years old, she was using methamphetamine and had a boyfriend who was 33 years old.
Charlene said she used drugs to cope, in an interview at a drug treatment center in Arizona that was obtained by the outlet.
“I’ve been running since I was little,” she said.
“In a metaphorical sense, and actually running away.”
At age 17, Charlene had become pregnant with a baby boy, who lives with family friends, but will hopefully be reunited with his mom one day.
She also got into an abusive relationship, but it’s unclear who it was with.
Charlene started to recover last fall after admitting herself to a mental health facility in Eureka, California.
She was transferred to a hospital in Santa Rosa, California where she received psychiatric treatment.
Most recently, she has been at a treatment center in Scottsdale, Arizona, where she’ll most likely stay until April.