Speakers at rally call for action on unsolved cases of missing, murdered indigenous people

Case of Zachariah Juwaun Shorty highlighted during march, memorial

Mike Easterling
Farmington Daily Times
  • Shorty was reported missing after his mother dropped him off at Farmington's Journey Inn on July 21, 2020.
  • He was found dead four days later of multiple gunshot wounds on a dirt pathway in a field in Nenahnezad.
  • The FBI has offered a $5,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the person or person's responsible for Shorty's death.

FARMINGTON — Several dozen marchers gathered in Berg Park Nov. 13 to call attention to the unsolved murder of a Navajo man last year. The victim's mother demanded justice for her son and for many other indigenous victims of violence.

The memorial walk and rally for Zachariah Juwaun Shorty began at Brookhaven West Park and ended at the River Reach Terrace in Berg Park, where marchers gathered to listen to a series of speakers and enjoy refreshments. The list of speakers included Navajo Nation officials, but it was Shorty's mother, Vangie Randall-Shorty, who captured the audience's attention as she tearfully recounted her son's disappearance in the summer of 2020 and the discovery of his body.

"I never thought or imagined this would be my life," Randall-Shorty said.

Shorty was reported missing after his mother dropped him off at Farmington's Journey Inn on July 21, 2020, where he had planned to meet friends to play music, she said. He was found dead four days later of multiple gunshot wounds on a dirt pathway in a field in Nenahnezad on the Navajo Nation, according to the FBI.

Marchers walk down San Juan Boulevard near Berg Park in Farmington on Nov. 13 during a walk and memorial for missing and murdered indigenous people.

Randall-Shorty said when she left her 23-year-old son, a Kirtland resident, at the motel on July 21, she had no way of knowing it would be the last time she would see him.

"That was the last time I was able to tell him that I love him," she said.

She expressed frustration with the fact that her son's killer or killers have not been brought to justice, a theme echoed by many of the rally's speakers in regard to other missing or murdered indigenous people.

More:Body found in Shiprock is missing detainee who police say evaded officers while handcuffed

Zachariah Juwaun Shorty

"I feel that my son's death was handled poorly … ," she said, noting that his unidentified body was held in Farmington for two days before being sent to the Office of the Medical Investigator in Albuquerque.

It was only after Randall-Shorty and her family learned of a rumor about the body of a John Doe having been discovered in San Juan County and sent to Albuquerque that Shorty's mother said she was able to determine what had happened to her son.

"I had to call OMI myself to get confirmation," she said, blasting the FBI and various other law enforcement agencies for a breakdown in communication.

She also criticized the public perception of her son that emerged in the wake of his murder. Shorty had pleaded guilty to a felony county of trafficking controlled substances in 2019 and was sentenced to probation, according to The Daily Times archives.

"He was perceived as an addict. I feel that is why his case isn't going anywhere," she said, characterizing her son as a loving and caring man before she added another description of him that brought a note of humor to the somber gathering.

"He was handsome, and he knew it," Randall-Shorty said to a smattering of laughter from the audience. "I take credit for that."

She noted her son's talent for lightening the atmosphere in such unhappy circumstances.

More:San Juan County man formally charged, accused of desecrating two Aztec churches with graffiti

A participant in a walk and rally raising awareness about missing and murdered indigenous people holds a sign on behalf of a missing woman Nov. 13 in Berg Park in Farmington.

"Zach had a way of turning bad situations into something funny," she said.

Her son left behind a young daughter who will never know what it was like to be taught to ride a bike or drive a car by her father, Randall-Shorty said.

She said she wants to see those responsible for his death to be held accountable and said she will continue to speak out on his behalf.

"They say justice will bring peace to me," Randall-Shorty said. "I'm waiting for that."

Navajo Nation Council Delegate Amber Kanazbah Crotty also spoke, giving voice to the frustration of many family members and friends of missing and murdered indigenous people whose cases go unresolved.

"This violence keeps happening, and there's no response, there's no real outcry," she said.

She turned to Randall-Shorty and assured her that others shared her grief and anger.

"You're not alone," Crotty said. "And his life mattered."

Participants in a march and memorial for missing and murdered indigenous people enter Farmington's Berg Park on Nov. 13.

Randall-Shorty's sister, Navajo Nation Council Delegate Eugenia Charles-Newton, also spoke, noting that Shorty's murder is only the latest in a long list of unsolved cases involving indigenous people.

"We're standing here at another march asking for justice because we know justice hasn't been served yet," she said, adding that such pleas seem to always fall on deaf ears.

Charles-Newton said someone in the community knows what happened to Shorty but is afraid to come forward to share that information.

"It's a shame that that's where we're at today," she said.

More:Kirtland mother searches for information on her son's killer as FBI offers $5,000 reward

The FBI has offered a $5,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the person or person's responsible for Shorty's death. Anyone with information is asked to call 505-889-1300 or visit tips.fbi.gov.

The rally was organized by the 4 Corners Coalition for Justice, Missing and Murdered Dine Relatives and Naalkid Productions.

Mike Easterling can be reached at 505-564-4610 or measterling@daily-times.com. Support local journalism with a digital subscription.