The search for a Montana 16-year-old who went missing on New Year’s Day ended Monday when authorities found her body less than a mile away from the highway rest stop where she’d been left accidentally after the van in which she was riding broke down.
Foul play is not suspected in the death of Selena Faye Not Afraid, said Big Horn County Sheriff Lawrence C. Big Hair, who confirmed the discovery of her body “with great sadness.”
Authorities are awaiting the results of an autopsy, but they suspect Not Afraid died as a result of hypothermia, Undersheriff Eric Winburn tells PEOPLE.
“We won’t rule it out until we know for sure,” he says, adding than when she was last seen, Not Afraid was not properly dressed for outside weather conditions.
Facilities at the rural rest stop off I-90 midway between Billings and Hardin were locked because authorities turn off the water to prevent pipes from freezing, he says.
Not Afraid was traveling home to Hardin with friends from a New Year’s party in Billings, about 50 miles away, when their van broke down at about 2 p.m. on January 1. She and others got out and wandered off while the driver attempted to restart the vehicle, says Winburn, but when the driver did so, he had to quickly push the pedal to the floor to keep the vehicle moving.
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Those outside of the vehicle had been told to get inside beforehand, and when the driver pulled away, he was aware Not Afraid and another girl weren’t in the van. Knowing this, the driver called for someone to retrieve the two girls, but when the second driver reached the rest stop, only one of the girls was there, says Winburn.
Not Afraid had “tried to convince the other girl to climb the fence with her,” he says, but that girl stayed behind. “The one girl said (Not Afraid) just started heading out towards the trees.”
The teen’s uncle, Crow Tribal Chairman A.J. Not Afraid, issued a statement expressing his “great sorrow.”
“Please keep Selena’s family and friends in prayer,” he said.
He added: “Please empower each other to share and help ourselves heal. Please let us all learn from such a senseless and tragic loss. No one knows when tragedy will strike. All we can do is keep Hope, that those who are able to help, will. If that is what we must rely on, than we must learn to further take care of each other, as well as ourselves.”
“Loss of a loved one in such a tragic way has no prejudice,” he said. “Why should we hold any prejudice against each other, when this is a reality we all may face.”