Missing posters hang in grocery stores and the occasional sandwich shop. They show a fresh-faced, grinning woman, flashing the peace sign.

Ashley HeavyRunner Loring, a 20-year-old member of the Blackfeet Nation, was last heard from around June 8, 2017. Since then her sister Kimberly has logged dozens of searches across the 1.5 million-acre Indian reservation in northern Montana, trudging through snow, rain and mud, hiking in mountains, shouting her sister's name.

Ashley's disappearance is one small chapter in the unsettling story of missing and murdered Native American women and girls. No one knows precisely how many there are because authorities don't have reliable statistics. But some call it an epidemic, a long-standing problem linked to inadequate resources and a confusing jurisdictional maze. Now, in the era of #MeToo, this issue is gaining political traction as an expanding activist movement focuses on Native women, a population known to experience some of the nation's highest rates of murder, sexual violence and domestic abuse.

"I can't think of a single person that I know ... who doesn't have some sort of experience," says Ivan MacDonald, a member of the Blackfeet Nation whose 7-year-old cousin disappeared and was found dead almost four decades ago. No one was ever arrested. "These women aren't just statistics. These are grandma, these are mom. This is an aunt, this is a daughter. This is someone who was loved ... and didn't get the justice that they so desperately needed."

An AP reporter and visual journalist spent time with MacDonald, the Loring family and others on the Blackfeet reservation to document this problem and the fight to bring attention to it. A package of text, photos and video is available for publication beginning at 12:01 a.m. EDT on Wednesday, Sept. 5. The text and main photos will all move in advance by Aug. 31 under a "hold-for-release" for planning purposes. Questions may be directed to U.S. Enterprise Editor Pauline Arrillaga at parrillaga@ap.org


VALIER, Mont. — The searchers rummage through the abandoned trailer, flipping over a battered couch, unfurling a stained sheet, looking for clues. It's blistering hot and a bear unleashes a menacing growl. But they can't stop. Not when a loved one is still missing. The disappearance last year of Ashley HeavyRunner Loring of the Blackfeet Nation is one small chapter in the unsettling story of missing and murdered Native American women and girls. By National Writer Sharon Cohen. 3,129 words with an abridged version of 900 words. With photos and a video story by David Goldman. Text and photos moved in advance on Aug. 30.

Also with:

—BC-US-Death and Disappearance-The System. The cases of missing and murdered Native women have renewed outcry over a criminal justice system that legal experts say still leaves Native American women vulnerable to crime and allows for their cases to languish. By Mary Hudetz. 1,100 words. Will move in advance by Aug. 31.

—BC-US--Death and Disappearance-Laws: A glance of proposals — from Capitol Hill to state legislatures — aimed at addressing this issue. 632 words. Moved in advance on Aug. 30.

—BC-US--Death and Disappearance-The Posters: Vignettes of five of the missing or murdered women around the country who are depicted in some of the many missing person posters featuring Native women. 1,000 words. Will move in advance by Aug. 31.