A Tragedy President Obama Missed: Eleven Women Murdered in the Arizona Desert

Two years ago today, in a story that shook me to my core, a woman walking her dog found a femur in the desert.  She alerted the police, who began a three-month dig, covering a vast area of the mesa near my home.  The police found the bodies of 11 women, one of whom was four months pregnant.  Many of the women were close to my age and grew up here like me.  Were brown like me.  Had struggled here, like me.

But when these women were found dead, President Obama did not come to town. There was no jam-packed memorial to mourn their lives cut short.  What we had instead were devastated families whose greatest fear had been realized when their daughter’s remains were discovered on the mesa.

As the story unfolded, terrible sounds echoed in my ears.  Not the sounds of the shovels in the desert, but the sound of these lives being erased.  Not only through death, but through the official description of the events. The women were not brave heroes who faced histories of poverty, abuse and trauma with the best tools they could find.  They were “addicts.”  And because they used drugs, many earned money the best way they could—by selling sex.  And so they were “prostitutes.”  The authorities thought the story could begin and end there: bodies found, case closed.  11 more prostitutes dead. Done.

The $100,000 reward for information leading to the killers was rarely advertised, and by most accounts from the families of the missing and dead, the police have been less than enthusiastic about pursuing the case.  When challenged on their lack of results they said, The only suspects we have are dead.”

I often found myself wondering if that would that fly if these were 11 white college students found buried under a football field.

After the initial news accounts, many of us pounced on the local authorities for the language they were using to describe the women, for the shrug of the shoulders they seemed to use when talking about their “high-risk lifestyles.”

We held monthly vigils to memorialize the women and their lives.  Over 400 people came out in force for our April vigil: Latinos, Native Americans, African Americans, immigrants, whites, the young and the old. All held hands, raised our heads, cried and sang.  

And I knew we were winning hearts and minds when I received a phone call from the city administration asking me to remove the pink crosses we had left standing in the park because city workers refused take down our memorial, or to disgrace the crosses by putting them in the city dump. 

We fanned the flames of something that was already here, in Albuquerque, in our barrios.  Compassion, love and heartbreak.  Even for women who use drugs, even for women who sell sex to buy them.

And we saw a change.  After we called attention to the language the officials were using in the case, we saw a powerful shift in their words.  Instead of prostitutes and addicts, they became women, mothers and daughters.  The investigation remains open, if slow.  The families have been connected, and can draw on each other for support.

There are many fronts on which we continue to fight this battle. There are three bills moving through the New Mexico legislature right now that would help.  Together, they would work increase access for substance abuse and mental health treatment for young women and pregnant women.  YWU and many other organizations, law-makers, health-care providers and families are working together to create an effective web of services.

These women are national heroes to us. If Obama had come to our stadium to help us mourn, remember, and make sense of these lives and deaths, he might have said this:

I want America to be as good as these women needed it to be.  Let’s live up to their dreams, that this could be a country where you can be born without much, but live a life that is safe, and full of promise.  Where you can get a good education, a job, a home.  Where if you stray from the path, there are nets to catch you.  Where you are never found dead, dismembered, and alone on a mesa. 

This post first appeared on RH Reality Check

by http2007 via Creative Commons
By Adriann Barboa, Young Women United


LMj Sunshine
James Merit5 years ago


LMj Sunshine
James Merit5 years ago


marc horton
marc horton5 years ago

such a sad story but with community and compassion these ladies will be remembered and loved, as well please focus on finding these murderers and accomplices who obviously used this place as a burial ground to cover up some heinous acts.

Ally T.
A P6 years ago

Hope S.,

Where is your sense of compassion? The writer of this article wanted to express her sense of community and the humanity of the situation, not the Obama aspect of it.

Just because I'm feeling petty....it's spelled "r-i-d-i-c-u-l-o-u-s." Just like how you're being.

CAROL H6 years ago

so very sad

Nancy W.
Nancy Wang6 years ago

Hope - you read way too literally and concrete. The author of this article was merely saying that the death of these 11 women (and I'm sure there are more) is important. It IS important that we pay attention in this nation to wanton murder of anyone - but too often women and children at the hands of some man. It is beautiful what she said that Obama would perhaps say - that this country should be free of danger, disrespect and dismissive attitudes of any life.

Hope S.
Hope S6 years ago

Lacy Loar: "... if these women don't care enough about themselves, then I don't care."

You have no idea what these women were like, or what led them to their fates. You go on to laud yourself for helping those you feel deserve it. You are a sanctimonious hypocrite. I hope you will grow in compassion.

It always amazes me when the media says, "Innocent" victim." Just what is a guilty victim? Unless your life is in danger, there is no reason to kill someone. Even then
we have laws against "undue force."

Too often we jump to conclusions on why someone does something without any basis of fact. None of us can say we are utterly without blame. So why are we so quick to add blame and shame to others.

These women are dead and, no matter what, did not deserve to be murdered. I am sorry that this happened to them and sorry for their families. Hopefully the perpetrator(s) will be found and justice will be done.

Trudi Gray
Trudi Gray6 years ago

Being a sex-worker doesn't automatically qualify you as suitable to be murdered- does it? If you have only selling sex for money to rely upon for a source of income, what does that have to do with your right to life- any sort of a life? No-one has to the right to kill anyone else for the hell of it...an example of this currently on trial here in UK at the moment.....a man more like the lowest beast is being tried for at least 3 murders of very young women- schoolgirls, most of them- why he killed them God alone knows- one can only hope that he gets banged up for the whole of his life.....

Hope S.
Hope S6 years ago

While I am infuriated that more women and children are being killed every day and everywhere this stry is rediculous.

These women were not heroes; not that that matters. Murders are handled locally unless the victim is kidnapped and taken across state lines when it becomes federal.

Why would Obama have anything to do with this?
Eleven women murdered is not a national issue even though it is horrible. Thousands of women, children, and even men are brutally raped and murdered every year. Perpetrators should be brought to justice and more stringent prison sentences given. DNA kits are sitting on hundreds of shelves without ever being processed. These should be done without further delay agaist those already in prison.

Get real, the only reason the headline included Obama was to get attention.

mynalee j.
myna lee j6 years ago

not as horrfic. perhaps as the BC Picton case involving women of the DTES