Overview of Rosalita Longee
Rosalita Faye Longee faced considerable challenges from her very first minutes of life. 10 days after she was born on February 4, 1997, she underwent surgery at Children’s Hospital Colorado for a condition called stridor, in which the soft tissue in her throat closed up and resulted in her being unable to breathe properly due to an obstructed airway. Her grandmother, Verlynn Longee, flew from Montana where she was living at the time to be by her granddaughter's side. Something about the tiny fighting spirit in Rosalita moved Verlynn far beyond the usual grandmother-granddaughter bond; Verlynn wanted to take little Rose home with her and raise her. When Rose was 2 years old, her mother Kimberly agreed and signed the paperwork granting Verlynn permanent custody.
Rosalita was always the apple of her grandmother's eye; they had relocated to Washington State and the Yakama reservation, and she attended Wapato, WA schools. In her younger years, Rosalita -- who by now went by the nickname Rose -- loved school, especially math and art classes. She adored babies and was incredibly helpful to the family, which -- in addition to Verlynn -- consisted of numerous aunties and uncles, as Verlynn had raised 10 children. Rose loved helping people and initially wanted to be a nurse. Later on, she wanted to join the army. Rose considered Verlynn to be her mother, but as she grew, she started testing the boundaries of her relatives. But in the end, she always ended up listening to her grandmother and her aunt Elsie Longee.
Like many young people at this time in life, Rose started struggling, and eventually quit high school at age 16. But she was going for her GED and was still hard-working and helpful at home. Things changed when she fell in with a questionable crowd and ultimately started experimenting with drugs. Verlynn helped her by offering treatment, but treatment only works when the individual is ready to accept it. And Rose wasn't quite ready yet. She started staying with her boyfriend, Isaiah Andrews, though she was welcome to come and go -- or even stay -- at Verlynn's home as long as she was not drunk or high.
Rose is a beautiful young woman who loved to take selfies and post them on her Facebook page. And why wouldn't she; though she had her struggles, she also had her whole life ahead of her. On June 30, 2015, the day 18-year-old Rose Longee vanished, she had tried to go to her grandmother's home to see her family. Unfortunately, it was evident Rose was high, and Verlynn had an ironclad rule in her house - no one who was drunk or high could come inside. This rule applied to anyone and everyone in their circle. Gently, she told Rose that she couldn't have that influence around her little sister Makayla or her young cousin, but assured her that she was welcome home as soon as she was sober. Later that evening, around 10:00 pm, there was a knock at the door and when Verlynn asked who it was, a still not sober Rose answered. Verlynn steeled herself and turned Rose away again, as she felt she had no choice and it was in Rose's best interests not to enable her in using substances.
After Verlynn turned Rose away on that summer evening, no one has ever seen or heard from Rose again. She vanished into the warm June night, and Verlynn has deeply regretted her decision not to open the door ever since. Verlynn has spent the last almost 7 years desperately fighting to keep attention on Rose's case in an attempt to find out what happened to her. Over the years she has heard rumors and stories about Rose being spotted at homeless camps, and she's followed up on every lead, to no avail. She's even had to endure stories that Rose was beaten up and put in a trunk, and that she’s buried in White Swan, an unincorporated community located on the Yakama Indian reservation -- either buried alive or dismembered. Verlynn has been seen at the Union Gospel Mission in Yakima, and other places where people gather on Naches Avenue. She's been out there tirelessly showing the dozens of photos of Rose that she has on her phone -- selfies of Rose, photos with her boyfriend, her little sister, her cousin.
Almost seven years later, Rose has yet to be found. Although most of the country has forgotten about her case -- assuming they were ever aware of it in the first place -- her grandmother continues to search for her in homeless shelters, treatment centers, cheap hotels, and large crowds. Rose would be 22 years old this year. Her family misses her terribly, and her grandmother lives with the guilt of her decision not to enable Rose to this day, despite it being born of the best intentions.
In a sad coda to Rose's disappearance, her boyfriend, 20-year-old Isaiah Andrews, was shot to death in his backyard in Wapato, WA in 2017 in what was apparently a drive-by shooting. Andrews and Rose, who were the same age, met as students at Wapato High School and had been together romantically for a few years. Verlynn feels that Andrews had known something about Rose's disappearance and that he may have been ready to go to tribal authorities with this knowledge. But he was killed before he could speak to anyone, and Verlynn thinks that may have been the reason he died. A man named Deryk Alexander Donato pleaded guilty in February 2018 to the voluntary manslaughter of Andrews. Verlynn has not given up on the belief that Rose will be found. In 2019, Rose's mom Kimberly joined Verlynn in a visit to Yakima, where they questioned groups of people in homeless camps and shelters and circulated Rose's photos. Kimberly also gave DNA to aid investigators, because the mitochondrial DNA from a biological mother provides a direct genetic lineage. Verlynn and other relatives share Rose's story in as many ways as they can, including posters, setting up a profile on The Charley Project, and submitting information to NamUs.
On September 11, 2021, a woman named Gabby Petito was reported missing by her family. Within hours, the entire country -- perhaps the world -- knew about the lovely young woman who vanished; the media had exploded with her story and nearly everyone could pick her face out of a crowd. Eight days after she was reported missing, Gabby's remains were found in the Bridger-Teton National Park in Wyoming. While this story is of course tragic and devastating in its own right, the disparity of attention, interest, and resources put towards the two cases stands in stark contrast. When young, attractive white women and girls go missing in America, the nation responds and is quick to rally around their families and fight for justice.
With women of color, the wheels of justice grind slowly - if at all - and media attention is all but non-existent. Verlynn and the family are fully aware of this disparity, but it hasn't dampened their determination to find justice for Rose. She and the family are in regular contact with Yakama Nation Tribal Police and the FBI, who are investigating Rose’s disappearance, and they continue to report everything they hear. Verlynn, through her Facebook page, is also active in fundraising for other missing and murdered indigenous women and men.