Khadijah Britton was a star athlete and a 4.0 student in high school. It was her dream to go to college and play basketball. And her grandfather never missed a game.
“She loved playing basketball… and was really good at it,” Ronnie Hostler told Dateline. “She kept her grades up and wanted to play ball in college - we knew she’d go far in life.”
This month, Khadijah’s younger brother followed in what might have been his sister’s footsteps, as he left for college on a basketball scholarship.
“She was at all his games, tried to coach him, tried to tell him what to do,” Ronnie said with a small laugh. “But she sure would be proud of him if she could see him now.”
But Khadijah hasn’t seen her brother play in nearly four years.
“We all knew she’d do great things,” her aunt, Laura Betts, told Dateline. “We never thought she would be one of the many faces of MMIW.”
Khadijah, a Wailaki member of the Round Valley Indian Tribes, is one of numerous local Indigenous women, who have disappeared or whose murders remain unsolved in Mendocino County, as well as across the country, becoming part of the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women (MMIW) epidemic.
For Khadijah’s family, this crisis hit home when the 23-year-old was abducted at gunpoint from a residence where she had been staying in the Round Valley community of Covelo, California, on February 8, 2018.
Nearly four years later, she is still missing, her family is heartbroken and the community has been left on edge from the abduction, which Mendocino County officials say happened in front of several witnesses.
“There are witnesses - these people saw what happened,” Ronnie told Dateline. “We need these people to come forward. We need their help.”
At the time of her disappearance, Khadijah had recently gotten out of a relationship with her boyfriend of three years, Negie Fallis, according to her aunt, Laura Betts. She told Dateline there had been a history of abuse in the relationship.
Mendocino County Sheriff Matthew Kendall gave an account of the timeline at a press conference in February 2021, stating a deputy was called to Fallis’s home in Covelo, California, on January 30, 2018, regarding a domestic violence incident involving the couple. The next call they received about Khadijah was on February 10, from her family. They told authorities they hadn’t heard from her since February 7.
An investigation was launched and sheriff’s deputies began looking into areas that Khadijah frequented and speaking to witnesses. It was at that time that they discovered that Khadijah’s disappearance was possibly a kidnapping, Sheriff Kendall said at the press conference.
Witnesses told authorities that Negie Fallis arrived at a residence in Covelo, California, where Khadijah had been staying after their breakup, armed with what appeared to be a small derringer pistol, and demanded Khadijah exit the residence and speak with him, according to a press release on the MCSO website.
Witnesses said Khadijah left the residence with Fallis when “a physical altercation occurred between them before they both entered a black Mercedes sedan and left the location.”
Fallis, who Sheriff Kendall told Dateline is considered to be the main person of interest in Khadijah’s disappearance, has been arrested and convicted of multiple crimes, most recently in June of 2020. However, the charges were related to Fallis being a felon found in possession of a firearm and not directly connected to Khadijah’s disappearance.
“We put literally thousands of hours of investigative time into this,” Sheriff Kendall said at a press conference in February 2021. “We have hundreds of documented interviews. We have thousands of hours of searches. We have searched so much that we began to look at the maps where we searched, and started looking for locations where we hadn’t.”
Friends and family have organized extensive searches, helping to cover the vast rural land that’s surrounded by mountains. A reward of $85,000 for information that leads to finding Khadijah has been offered by an anonymous donor. Another $25,000 has been raised by the family for information that leads to a conviction in her case.
In February 2021, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, which joined the Mendocino County Sheriff’s Office for a press conference, offered an additional $10,000 for the arrest and conviction of those responsible for Khadijah’s disappearance, as they announced a renewed effort in the investigation and called for people to come forward with information.
“We are encouraging members of the community to come forward. Somebody knows,” Assistant Special Agent in Charge of Violent Crime in the San Francisco Division of the FBI, Scott Schelble, told the press.
The FBI has been working with the MCSO since March 2018 to “follow leads, process evidence and search for Khadijah.”
“We have provided assistance to evidence response teams through our specialized forensic and laboratory analysis and through leveraging of expertise in specific technical areas,” Schelble said. “We will continue to dedicate their resources, and other federal resources to this case, working closely with the Mendocino County Sheriff’s Office until Khadijah is found.”
He added, “Together with the Mendocino County Sheriff’s Office our goal is to find Khadijah, to find the truth about her disappearance, and to bring justice to those that are responsible for her disappearance.”
Mendocino County Sheriff Matthew Kendall, who has been on the case for about a year, told Dateline he grew up in Covelo with Khadijah’s parents, and said he is fully committed to solving the case “come hell or high-water.”
Sheriff Kendall told Dateline that there have been hurdles in the case regarding conflicting statements from witnesses, and stresses that it’s important that anyone who saw something that day, or knows something, to trust law enforcement and come forward.
“If someone knows something, let us know,” he said. “If you want to remain anonymous, that’s fine. Let’s support each other to be able to bring this to a resolution.”
At the press conference in February, Sheriff Kendall requested that the members of the Round Valley community not only continue to support Khadijah’s family, but also support the Sheriff’s Office in their investigation.
“It is so important that the entire community come together to support this family,” he said.
Khadijah’s family told Dateline they are thankful for the support and while they haven’t gotten any updates or leads recently, they remain hopeful the sheriff and his investigators will find answers.
“We know it takes time, but we’re ready to bring our baby girl home,” her aunt Laura Betts told Dateline. “How much do they want us to beg? How much do they want us to hurt? We need closure.”
Laura remembers her niece as a loving, caring woman who was always helping others. A jokester, she had a giggle that was recognizable across the room.
“She was such a joy,” Laura said. “She had this big heart and kind spirit, always rooting for the underdog.”
Since she went missing, Khadijah’s friends and family have organized searches and marches, and traveled to MMIW events in Sacramento and San Francisco to speak out about Khadijah’s case and bring awareness to the national crisis of violence against Native women. They’ve distributed red and yellow bracelets which read: “Justice 4 Khadijah,” as they sing and dance to the song, “Say Her Name,” which has become a mantra for her family to keep Khadijah’s spirit alive and her case at the forefront of the community.
When her story is told, Laura said they receive messages from women who have suffered at the hands of domestic abuse. There are even some who say they were able to break free - because of Khadijah.
“And still, here she is, helping someone,” Laura said. “She hasn’t been here for years and she’s still helping others - in some way.”
Laura said Khadijah’s parents are worn down by the past few years, but continue to stay strong as they fight to bring their daughter home.
“They don’t have hate for anyone,” Laura said. “Of course we’d like to see the person who did this brought to justice, but we also just want peace.”
Khadijah’s grandfather Ronnie will turn 79 in September. He told Dateline he wants answers now.
“They’ve been telling me for years that it takes time,” Ronnie said. “But I don’t have time. Time isn’t on my side. There are people who want us to be silent. But the silence is why my granddaughter is still missing.”
Ronnie told Dateline he intends to continue fighting for his granddaughter until he no longer can.
“I made a vow to never let them forget Khadijah,” he said. “And I won’t … I won’t let them forget her.”
Anyone with information on Khadijah’s whereabouts is urged to call Mendocino County Sheriff’s Office at 707-234-2100, San Francisco Division of the FBI by phone at (415) 553-7400 or online at tips.fbi.gov.