Family honors missing man at Toppenish vigil

Where is Elias Culps? His family wants to know.

TOPPENISH, Wash. — Elias Chief Culps has been missing for more than two years and his family wants answers.

“Nobody’s heard from him,” said Stephanie Culps, his cousin. “Nobody’s said anything. Nobody’s really searched for him.”

Elias was last seen Dec. 27, 2018 — just after Christmas — in White Swan, Wash., when he was 24 years old.

“He just had a birthday on the 13th, last Saturday,” Stephanie said. “I don’t like to say he ‘would have been’ — he is 27 now.”

A missing persons case was filed with the Yakama Nation Police Department, but few details are known about his disappearance.

“He’s an outgoing guy,” Stephanie said. “He has this laugh nobody will ever forget, a smile that brightens up the room and he’s very missed.”

Stephanie is one of many family members of missing or murdered indigenous women and men who attended a vigil Wednesday evening in Toppenish to raise awareness and honor their lost loved ones.

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The event was organized by Roxanne White, the founder of Missing and Murdered Indigenous People & Families. It was initially scheduled for Valentine’s Day, but was postponed due to heavy snow and freezing temperatures.

“We are still looking; we still want justice,” White said. “We’re not gonna stop. We’re not gonna be silent. We’re not gonna go away.”

Almost 50 people attended the sidewalk vigil on North First Avenue in Toppenish. Yakama elder Ne’sha Jackson started off the vigil with a prayer and song, speaking in the center of a circle of participants gathered in the parking lot of the nearby Safeway.

“My heart is glad to see this many of you here today to remind our community of those that are still missing and that we want something done about it,” Jackson said. “There’s too many more missing. We want some answers. We want some answers now. ”

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Many attendees held signs with their relative’s picture and information about their disappearance, including Cissy Strong Reyes.

Reyes’s sister, Rosenda Strong, went missing nearly three years ago; she was last seen with friends at the Legends Hotel and Casino in October 2018. Then, in the summer of 2019, her body was found in a freezer, in Toppenish.

No arrests have been made; Reyes and her family are still looking for answers.

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