Police issue state’s first Missing Indigenous Person Alert for 27-year-old Denver man

Colorado Bureau of Investigation
The Colorado Bureau of Investigation released this alert about Wanbli Vigil’s disappearance on Jan. 3, 2023. Vigil was last seen Dec. 29 in Denver.

Updated Jan. 6 at 2:06 p.m.

The Denver Police Department deactivated its Missing Indigenous Person Alert for Wanbli Vigil on Thursday after a member of the public located his body.

Vigil, 27, was found near the 3400 block of West Conejos Place in Denver. Officers pronounced him deceased on the scene, according to a tweet from the department.

Investigators do not suspect foul play, the department said. An official cause of death has not been released.

The Denver Police Department and the Colorado Bureau of Investigation are asking the public to help them find a missing 27-year-old Indigenous man.

Wanbli Vigil was last seen leaving his home in west Denver around 2 p.m. on Dec. 29. He has black hair and was wearing blue jeans and a black jacket with white stripes, according to a Missing Indigenous Person Alert (MIPA) published Tuesday by the CBI. 

“That’s all we know,” said Lakol Jennifer Black Elk, Vigil’s aunt, who he lives with. “We've contacted all of his friends and relatives and the main thing is we’re just wanting to know he's safe and dreading anything else.” 

The MIPA bulletin for Vigil is law enforcement’s first use of a new statewide system designed to spotlight cases in Colorado’s Indigenous communities, which see disproportionately high rates of violence and missing person’s cases.  

Proponents hope the specific title and branding of the alert will help catch the eye of more people.

The new tool looks and functions similarly to Amber alerts for missing children, as well as other existing alert programs for missing adults and senior citizens. The alerts are broadcast through the same state-run distribution system from CBI at the request of local law enforcement agencies. 

Colorado passed legislation creating the new alert earlier this year. It is the second state to launch such a system, after Washington.

In Vigil’s case, the notice also lists his tribal affiliation: Lakota. Its release has turned up some calls from other Indigenous communities with ideas and leads on where Vigil might be, said Black Elk. 

“We come from a very large family in the community,” she said. “It’s been good for us to have support.” 

Denver Police Department
The Denver Police Department released this alert about Wanbli Vigil’s disappearance on Jan. 3, 2023. The notice is the first from a new system meant to spotlight missing Indigenous people.

Vigil first started showing signs of feeling down and depressed around the Christmas holiday, Black Elk said. He attended a family holiday gathering, but didn’t participate as much as he had in the past. 

On Dec. 29, he left their apartment in west Denver on foot. The only item he brought with him was his chanupa, or ceremonial pipe, according to security camera footage from her apartment complex. 

“He left the apartment door propped open, so I believe he had quick intentions on returning,” she said. 

When she woke up the next morning, Black Elk, who is in a wheelchair, searched her building for any sign of the 27–year-old. She tried calling him, but his phone went straight to voicemail. 

For nearly three days, she called around to friends of his and local hospitals to see if he was admitted, with no luck. She reached out to relatives in South Dakota to see if maybe he left to go be with them, but nobody had heard from him.

She reported his disappearance to the Denver Police Department on New Year’s Day. The department reached out to the CBI on Monday and the new statewide alert was issued Tuesday.

Denver detectives have been assigned to the case. Community members have also organized search parties around the West Colfax neighborhood. They plan to continue looking throughout the week until Vigil is found. 

“I’m grateful we’re not alone in this,” Black Elk said. “We’re getting the word out and people are aware of what’s happening.” 

Anyone with information about Vigil’s location can reach the Denver Police Department at 720-913-2000 or by calling 911.