Aubrey Dameron was a voice for those who weren’t always heard. She opened her home to those who needed shelter. She stood up for those who were bullied. And she forgave those who spewed words of hate toward her because of who she was.
But in March 2019, her voice went silent.
The 25-year-old citizen of the Cherokee Nation lived on the outskirts of Grove, part of the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma. According her aunt, Pam Smith, Aubrey had returned to her family’s home the previous summer, where she lived with her mother, brother, and stepfather.
Pam Smith and Aubrey’s uncle Christian Fencer are the siblings of Aubrey’s mother, Jen Byrd, and have become spokespeople for the family, as they rally to find their niece.
Pam told Dateline that Aubrey’s mother reported to police that in the early morning hours of March 9, 2019, she woke up around 3:30 a.m. and saw Aubrey leaving the house. Aubrey told her family members, including her brother, who was in the living room, that she was meeting up with a friend.
When she didn’t return home or answer calls to her cell, her family grew worried and reported her missing.
And when Pam heard that her niece was missing, she became concerned because Aubrey was dependent on medication and she had left behind her medication and her purse. She added that the area is rural and there is nowhere within walking distance where Aubrey would have gone.
Pam said she and Christian were also concerned because they feared Aubrey, a transgender woman in the process of transitioning, may have been the victim of a hate crime. Pam told Dateline her niece was given a hard time when she told her friends and family in high school.
“There were people who mocked her and called her transphobic slurs,” Pam said. “But she stayed true to herself. And she never wanted revenge. Instead she would pray for them.”
Aubrey, also known by her nickname “Shorty” by her loved ones, had returned from having surgery in New Mexico the summer before she vanished. Pam said her niece referred to herself as a two-spirit, a Native American term describing people possessing a blend of male and female spirits.
“She was finding out who she was,” Pam said. “That person was Aubrey.”
A missing persons report was filed with the Delaware County Sheriff’s Office on March 11, but Pam said they struggled to get support from the authorities.
“It just seemed like no one cared,” she said, adding that they felt the authorities blamed Aubrey’s “high-risk lifestyle” for her disappearance.
In the two years since Aubrey vanished, her family has found national support from Indigenous groups who have joined them in stepping up to raise awareness of Aubrey’s case. They’ve conducted several searches, many times with the help of the MMIWUSA.
“The MMIWUSA has been phenomenal,” Pam said. “They’re truly an asset for families who go through something like this.
On March 23, 2019, a team searched near the family home and found a bloody sock about a half mile away, Pam said. She added that the sheriff’s office submitted it to the Oklahoma State Bureau Investigation, but said they never received conclusive results.
The Delaware County Sheriff’s Office confirmed that Aubrey’s case was initially investigated by their agency, but referred all questions to the FBI, which has not yet responded to Dateline.
More than two years after Aubrey’s disappearance, her family hasn’t given up their search for answers - and for Aubrey. They created a Facebook page called Missing-Aubrey Dameron from Grove, Oklahoma, which is devoted to finding her.
Through social media, they have received assistance and support from Crossroads K9 SAR in Louisiana, which helped in a search using their specially-trained dogs. But a search in November 2019 turned up nothing.
“It’s high-risk to be native and missing - and high-risk to be transgender and missing,” Pam said. “And Aubrey was both.”
Aubrey’s last Facebook post, on Feb. 25, 2019, shows a sign that reads: “You’re never too important to be nice to people.”
“And that was how Aubrey felt,” Pam said. “She was always there to help others in need. And she was there to be their voice.”
Aubrey’s family is hoping to raise greater awareness for Aubrey’s case - and others around the country.
“She was a voice for those who needed a voice,” Pam told Dateline. “Now, we’re her voice. And this is not the time to be silent.”
Aubrey is described as being 5’10” and weighing about 150 pounds. She has two tattoos: a triquetra symbol on her back and the word “Shorty” on her upper left arm.
Her DNA profile is in databases for the OSBI, the National Crime Information Center and the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System.
Anyone with information about Aubrey’s case is asked to call the FBI at (918) 664-3300 or the Cherokee Nation Marshal Service (918) 207-3800.