Tribe, law enforcement, plead for answers in murder of 20-year-old
The Round Valley Tribal Council joined county and tribal law enforcement to plead with the community for information in the murder of Nicholas Whipple.
The Round Valley community is reeling from the brutal murder of twenty-year-old Nicholas Whipple early Wednesday morning. At a standing-room-only press conference at the Round Valley Tribal Administration Building yesterday, tribal members called out drugs and alcohol, a reluctance to report crimes to law enforcement, and law enforcement itself, for the many unsolved crimes on the reservation.
Tribal council members wept as they pleaded with the community to come forward if they witnessed Whipple’s murder. Lewis Whipple, Vice President of the Round Valley Indian Tribes, listed the names of murdered community members as Nicholas Whipple’s aunt held up pictures of her nephew and women wailed.
“Our people want to cover for these people?” he demanded. “Come on, you guys, I grew up in this community. You raised me. We need you to stand up. Speak!”
One after another, people objected that they have reported crimes, but the violence continues. After the press conference, Valerie Britton, Nicholas Whipple’s great-aunt, predicted that, “After this case, I’ll guarantee you, they’re gonna say, they didn’t have enough evidence to convict him. Regardless of how many witnesses come forward.”
Another woman who did not share her name added that, “That’s why people are afraid to come forward, though. They make a stand, and say something, and then they get retribution.”
Tribal Council member Michelle Downey urged people not to be afraid, even as the community grieves the 2021 shooting murder of Kenneth Whipple, another member of the same family. “We just want to make sure that our community knows how important it is to stand up and speak up for what is right, and know that it’s the right thing to say if you’ve seen who took another person’s life,” she said. “Don’t be afraid. Be strong. We heard from the aunt of Nick today, and she said to be that strong warrior woman. I see we have become those strong warrior women, standing up for our community.”
Details about the crime have not emerged, but as of yesterday afternoon, Sheriff Matthew Kendall said the murder victim was beaten so badly he could not yet confirm if he had also been shot. Asked if witnesses could be protected if they do come forward, he said, “We do a lot of different things to offer anonymity,” like sealing search warrants. He added that during trials, the District Attorney’s Victim Witness Office “works to make sure our victims and witnesses are taken care of.”
Valerie Britton remains skeptical, stating that, “We don’t get services up here. I said that loud and clear in that meeting, because we don’t.” She added that after Whipple’s murder, she counted eighteen law enforcement vehicles in town. “What have they done? Who have they arrested? For that many resources to sit there after a kid was killed?” In addition to two of her nephews, Britton’s brother Michael Pina was killed in 2014. His murder has still not been solved. “You can’t even get over one death before there’s another,” she said. “And then the sheriff’s department wants to come up here and do what? Give us lip service. I’m tired of their lip service.”
Kendall said that, “Some of the things I heard today actually had not ever been reported…you have to remember, sometimes people say, well, I called the Sheriff’s Office, but in fact, they left a message for the Tribal Police Department, or they said, I called Tribal, but they had spoken with one of my deputies. So there is a little confusion there…you know, I think everyone has an absolute right to say that we don't have enough sheriff’s office presence throughout the county. We’re running on a crew that’s as low as any I’ve ever seen, and we’re still doing better than many other counties.”
Britton says familiarity with death comes all too early in Round Valley, saying, “Our young kids are very aware of what death is, and how parents and nieces and nephews and aunts and uncles don’t come back.”
Laura Betts, another tribal member, worries that if the most recent crime isn’t solved soon, it could lead to further violence. “We try to be supportive,” she said; “to say please, think of your younger kids, please don’t go sit in a jail, please don’t go hunt them down.”
Both women believe that people in the community know who the killer is. “I think a lot of people know who committed this crime,” Britton said. “Absolutely.”
Kendall wouldn’t say if there is a suspect. But he thinks yesterday’s meeting may turn up some useful leads. He said his hopes before the press conference were that, “A lot of our tribal leaders would reach out to people in the tribe and say, this affects us. Stop the prison mentality. If you see something, say something. Be a good resident, be a good tribal member, be a good community member. And that was the message that a hundred percent of the tribal council gave, and we already started getting calls of extremely viable witnesses. People who can tell us exactly what happened.”