Jermain Charlo’s birthday celebration buoys heavy hearts and raises awareness of the missing young lady
MISSOULA — Many emotions were felt last Tuesday at Jermain Charlo’s 24th birthday celebration. It was held on Highway 93 beneath a billboard displaying a giant portrait of her on one side, and the missing person information about her on the other.
Twenty-four balloons and lanterns went up on April 23rd, as a message to Jermain that she is still in the hearts and minds of her family, friends and community members. Each lantern carried a handwritten message to Jermain letting her know that she remains on their minds and in their hearts, and that they will never ever give up searching for her.
“It’s both sad and enlightening at the same time,” said Jermain’s 13-year-old cousin Sarah Still Smoking. “But we are here to show we care.”
Jermain Charlo was reported missing in Missoula last June near the Orange Street Market.
“It’s her birthday and we should celebrate. Show we care and it’s a testimony of power and unity,” said Still Smoking, the youngest person to testify at the Montana Senate Hanna’s Act hearing. “And a time to say our prayers.”
Jermain’s grandmother Vicki Velarde, said the celebration was to let people know who Jermain is and share stories about her.
A ledge of photos and artwork was displayed on a dirt mound beneath the billboard of Jermain against the backdrop of an overcast Montana sky. When balloons were being handed out to those who gathered the sun began to peek through around the grey.
Small paintings told the story of Jermain’s dream to go to the Institute of American Indian Arts in New Mexico.
“She would make a great actress too,” said her grandmother Vicki, adding that Jermain was also a writer. “She would always be writing like crazy.”
Missoula detective Guy Baker was invited by the family to be at Jermain’s birthday celebration, and he graciously accepted. “I had to be here for the family,” he said.
“We are here (to celebrate her birthday) just as a way to remind everyone she is still missing and how badly her family misses her,” said Jermain’s aunt Valenda Morigeau. “It hurts not to celebrate it with her,” Morigeau said.
The family gathered intimately before the public or media was invited to the birthday. As the family remembered quietly together and later with the public, vehicles along the highway honked and waved every so often. “People driving by looking over helps spread the word about Jermain,” Morigeau said. “You just don’t know where people are coming from or going.”
Morigeau said it’s hopeful to know someone who sees them at the foot of Jermain’s billboard would spread the message. “Someone might tell someone who tells someone that might know something,” she said. “The word is being spread; which is really nice.”
Claire Charlo, Jermain’s cousin, said she sensed some healing for the family and community that joined together for the birthday celebration. “It’s hard to imagine what her (Jermain) parents and grandparents, and family are going through,” she said. “[Being here] we can share the pain and help in healing.”
Charlo said the coming together at the billboard was good. “I’m still learning more about her,” she said.
According to Baker, Charlo’s case is still active. Several persons of interest have been investigated and leads are still being developed and pursued in the ongoing effort to find Jermain.
If you have information about Jermain Charlo, call (406) 396-3261 or (406) 675-4700.