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‘We won’t stop until we find her’: Dozens gather to raise awareness for missing teen

Just over two months after her disappearance, friends, family and community members gathered on Sunday to spread awareness about missing 15-year-old Nevaeh Kingbird.

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A candle is placed for Nevaeh Kingbird, a 15-year-old missing from Bemidji since late October, during a vigil on Sunday, Jan. 2, 2022, at the Lake Bemidji waterfront. (Jillian Gandsey / Bemidji Pioneer)
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BEMIDJI -- Just over two months after her disappearance, friends, family and community members gathered on Sunday to spread awareness about missing 15-year-old Nevaeh Kingbird.

More than 50 attendees gathered in the Tourist Information Center at the Bemidji waterfront Sunday evening, Jan. 2, to hold a candlelight vigil for Kingbird following months of investigation into the whereabouts of the teen.

Kingbird was reported as missing to the Bemidji Police Department in the early morning hours of Oct. 22 after she was last seen leaving a home in Southview Terrace Park at about 2 a.m.

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Nevaeh Kingbird, 15, has been missing since Oct. 22, 2021. Contributed.

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Teddi Wind, Kingbird’s mother, said the last time she saw her daughter was at home.

“The night that she left and went missing, she said that she was going to the movies with a couple friends,” Teddi said. “Then, they took her to a party.”

According to an initial release from the Bemidji Police Department, Kingbird was seen by friends leaving the party, which was in the area of Carter Circle in southeast Bemidji, at about 1 a.m. She then went to a second home in Southview Terrace Park and left, alone, about an hour later.

Family and friends haven’t heard from Kingbird since then, and say she’s also been absent from social media.

“I assumed that she was with her friends that she left with,” Teddi said. “But she hasn’t been on social media and she hasn’t contacted anybody. It’s not like Nevaeh.”

Teddi also stressed that her daughter is a homebody and it wasn’t in her character to drink or party.

“Nevaeh never drank. The behavior that was going on that night was not like her,” Teddi said. “I just wanted to put that out there, too, because none of this is normal. Nevaeh loved her room and loved her home.”

Kingbird’s cousin, Valahlena Steeprock, said it was also unusual for her to go long periods of time without reaching out to her loved ones.

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“This isn’t like her to go months without contacting anybody, she usually reaches out to her close family and friends if she needs anything,” Steeprock said. “No one has gotten a single word from her.”

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Teddi Wind, Nevaeh Kingbird’s mother, wipes a tear during a vigil for her daughter, who’s been missing since late October, on Sunday, Jan. 2, 2022, inside the Tourist Information Center. (Jillian Gandsey / Bemidji Pioneer)

A sweater in the snow

Since the disappearance, friends, family members and police have conducted several searches of the area, hoping to find evidence of Kingbird’s whereabouts. The police department has provided maps to searchers and offered tips on which areas of town should be searched.

It was during one of these searches that the family believes a piece of evidence was recovered. Kingbird’s uncle, Daniel Wind, said that diligent search efforts led to the discovery.

“We went through an area three different times in three groups, and at the end of the day a gentleman found some clothing,” Daniel said. “You just have to be a little more detailed with how you’re digging in the snow.”

The clothing that was discovered, Teddi said, was her mother’s sweatshirt. The family believes the sweatshirt may somehow be connected to Kingbird’s disappearance.

“That was confirmed after it was thawed out,” Teddi said. “That was my mom’s sweater that she left at my house.”

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Daniel offered words of encouragement to attendees, stressing that searches for his niece will continue until she’s found, even during the cold winter months.

“We’re going to keep digging through the snow if we have to . . . We’re never going to stop until we have her, no matter what,” Daniel said. “We’re not giving up.”

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Candles are set out for Nevaeh Kingbird, a 15-year-old missing from Bemidji since late October, during a vigil on Sunday, Jan. 2, 2022, at the Lake Bemidji waterfront. (Jillian Gandsey / Bemidji Pioneer)

Dispelling rumors

As concern surrounding Kingbird’s disappearance has grown, the Bemidji Police Department has “intensified its investigation,” according to a Dec. 31 release.

The department has conducted ground searches of Kingbird’s last known location, several interviews, social media analysis, investigations into related reports, aerial searches and the use of canine search teams, the release said.

The department has also collaborated with the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension and the Center for Missing and Exploited Children in the investigation.

Steeprock thanked attendees at the vigil for their continued search efforts and took the time to dispel a rumor circling through social media that was also recently addressed by the police department.

“There have been rumors going around saying she’s been kidnapped and that she’s in the cities in a vehicle with Louisiana plates,” Steeprock said. “Those accusations are not true.”

In the release, the department said they were made aware of a social media post stating that Kingbird was abducted on the north end by a man driving a vehicle with Louisiana license plates, but that incident does not appear to have a connection to Kingbird's disappearance.

The department urged the public to only share official posts about the investigation to prevent the spread of misinformation.

“With the significant issues surrounding Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women (MMIW) we recognize the desire for everyone to want to help in locating Nevaeh Kingbird,” the release said. “However, when a story spreads across social media and changes with every share or repost it consumes a lot of investigative resources.”

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Attendees at a vigil for Nevaeh Kingbird, a 15-year-old missing from Bemidji since late October, hold candles during a song on Sunday, Jan. 2, 2022, at the Lake Bemidji waterfront. (Jillian Gandsey / Bemidji Pioneer)

Moving forward

Examples of Kingbird's kind personality and loving nature were threaded throughout the stories told by family and friends throughout Sunday’s candlelight vigil.

“Nevaeh loves her friends and family, especially her siblings and her nephew,” Teddi said about her daughter. “She loves school, Nevaeh knows her language and her culture.”

For Teddi, Kingbird’s absence has made it difficult for her to move through her daily life.

“It’s really hard -- I don’t wish this pain on anyone,” Teddi said. “I don’t even know how to function day-to-day. I don’t even know how to hold a conversation.”

Though Kingbird’s disappearance weighs heavy on her loved ones, Teddi remains hopeful that her daughter will be found.

“I’m just hoping I find her, I want to bring her home,” Teddi said. “She knows I love her, and her siblings miss her.”

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Natalie, sister of Nevaeh Kingbird, a 15-year-old missing from Bemidji since late October, holds a candle during a song on Sunday, Jan. 2, 2022, at the Lake Bemidji waterfront. (Jillian Gandsey / Bemidji Pioneer)

Steeprock expressed her gratitude to everyone who came out to pray and support the family during the vigil.

“We won’t stop until we find her. We love you so much Nevaeh,” Steeprock said. “We will bring you home, my girl.”

The family plans to create a GoFundMe in the near future to assist with search-related costs. For updates and more information about future searches for Nevaeh, visit the Bring Nevaeh Kingbird Home Facebook page .

Anyone with information about the case should contact the Bemidji Police Department at (218) 333-9111 .

Madelyn Haasken is the multimedia editor at the Bemidji Pioneer. She is a 2020 graduate of Bemidji State University with a degree in Mass Communication, with minors in writing and design. In her free time, she likes watching hockey, doing crossword puzzles and being outside.
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