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Family of murdered boy is frustrated by 'slow response' from Billings police

Family of murdered 12-year-old in Billings say they're frustrated by slow response
Posted at 5:52 PM, Mar 19, 2024

BILLINGS — The family of a 12-year-old boy found dead in Billings last week in a suspected homicide is searching for answers and is frustrated following what they perceive was a slow law enforcement response.

Andy Paul Beartusk Martinez was missing for weeks before his body was found in a shed Friday at a home on the 900 block of Terry Avenue. According to the Yellowstone County Coroner's Office, he was shot in the head.

His family has been left to grapple with the discovery.

"Andy was a very caring young man, child," his aunt, Julia Garza, said on Monday. "I'm upset with, just the complete disregard of my nephew when the family was calling saying he is not a runaway."

According to the family, his 19-year-old sister tried to report him missing several times.

Lt. Matt Lennick with the Billings Police Department said the sister initially tried to report him missing on February 23, but she wasn't his legal guardian and didn't know his birth date.

"Even though they (police) couldn't fill out the report, (they) followed up on the leads that she was able to provide him, where she thought he probably was," Lennick said.

According to Lennick, law enforcement didn't hear back from anyone in the family until March 7 when Martinez's father contacted the agency to report him missing.

“We have an internal policy, 12 and under we don’t do runaways. We file it as a missing person," Lennick said.

But the family thinks more should have been done right away.

"There should have been an Amber Alert sent out," Garza said.

Family of murdered 12-year-old in Billings say they're frustrated by slow response

Charlene Sleeper, the founder of Missing Murdered Indigenous People of Billings, said that Matinez fit the criteria for a Missing Endangered Person Advisory, or MEPA, to be sent out by the Montana Department of Justice.

"At bare minimum, a Missing Endangered Person Advisory should have been issued on this case," Sleeper said.

According to Lennick, police tried to do both but were denied by the state Department of Justice, which authorizes Amber Alerts and MEPAs.

“They (police) reached out to the state because we had enough information on a couple of leads that led us to believe he was in danger, but because of the totality of the situation, the timeline that elapsed between when he had actually left and when we got the initial report, the Amber Alert was denied,” Lennick said.

A MEPA is used to track runaways and missing children, children involved in custody disputes, and missing adults. The criteria for issuing a MEPA are:

  • Do the circumstances fail to meet the criteria for an AMBER Alert?
  • Is the person missing under unexplained, involuntary or suspicious circumstances?
  • Is the person believed to be in danger because of age, health, mental or physical disability, or environmental or weather conditions; to be in the company of a potentially dangerous person; or is there some other factor that may put the person in peril?
  • Is there information that could assist the public in the safe recovery of the missing person? The initial advisory will include any available information, like name, age, physical description, date of birth and where the person was last seen. It might also include information about whether the person has a health condition or physical or mental disability.

A MEPA expires 24 hours after it's been issued even if the person hasn’t been found.
The other tool used by the Montana Department of Justice is the AMBER Alert; the criteria for issuing one are:

  • There is reasonable belief by law enforcement that a child has been abducted or has disappeared under suspicious circumstances.
  • The missing child is age 17 years or younger, or has a proven mental or physical disability.
  • The law enforcement agency believes the child is in imminent danger of serious bodily injury or death.
  • There is enough descriptive information about the victim and abduction for law enforcement to issue an AMBER Alert to assist in the recovery of the child.
  • The child’s name and other critical data elements, including the Child Abduction flag, have been entered into the National Crime Information Center (NCIC) computer.

Lennick said detectives were urgently working on the case, because of the child's age, but the agency was working with individuals, aside from the family, who were not cooperative and they didn't have the last location Martinez was at or who he was with until later in the investigation.
"We're dealing with this element of individuals who provide a lot of false information on the front end. So, they're (police) following up on all these leads here and in Pryor because they're being told, 'Well I talked to him to him here,' You know, it takes time to develop those leads. Whether they're untrue or inaccurate," Lennick said.

Lennick said it was the middle of last week when detectives told him they were starting to develop leads that led them to believe that Martinez was in danger.

"This case never just sat. It was always in someone's hands," Lennick said. "That’s the distinction because there's a lot of community blowback, like, the PD (police department) thought this kid was just a runaway. Well, he was a runaway. He ran away like that is literally the first line of the call is, 'We are reporting him missing because he ran away.'”

Martinez's mother is incarcerated in Wyoming, and his father lives in California. MTN News was unable to determine why his father waited to report him missing until March 7. His aunt said that she is upset by the way the investigation was handled.

"I've never seen so much disorganization. I really feel that it could have been handled way better," Garza said. "He (Martinez) was just a very vibrant kid who had a future ahead of him that was cut very short."

Sleeper added that more urgency should have surrounded the case.

"They didn't do a search urgency intake with the report. They (police) didn't fill out the missing persons report. She (Martinez's sister) had to, I believe, try at least two or three times and I believe it was on the third attempt that they were successful in getting the missing persons report filed," Sleeper said. "As far as the Billings Police Department goes, I do believe it is under-resourced and under-staffed and they do need a lot in the way of training."

Lennick said that during the investigation, detectives found information that led them back to the home where Martinez's body was found, and officers were able to get a search warrant. A 13-year-old was arrested on suspicion of tampering with evidence in connection with the crime, and a 19-year-old, who was not identified by police, was named a person of interest.

"Everything was done exactly the way it should have been done," Lennick said. "When everything is able to be presented when it's completely done, it will clearly show the department did everything it was supposed to do."

On Sunday during the vigil held for Martinez on the corner of the street where he was found, his aunt read a statement that said in part:

"As we struggle to grasp and preserve our heritage, our families, and our history, I will briefly relate the story of my nephew, Andy. A twelve-year-old boy, who was taken from us through violence and murder. It’s difficult to articulate the words to describe how I am feeling, as his family processes this loss. I know that I am upset, frustrated, and angry.
"I have questions that I fear will never be answered: Why did this happen? How did the very foundation of this life, his family, his tribal community, and the agencies within this community let him down?

"Why did those in power and control, and those situated in institutions funded to help children like Andy fail him?... People with authority and control like Lt. Lennick, who downgraded Andy’s status to the media without proper investigation and confirmed that Andy was safe and well.

"Lt. Lennick redacted and issued a new statement three days after the initial degrading statement that painted Andy a runaway. LT. Lennick's redaction stated Andy was endangered. Endangered. A word used for animals who are near extinction. We will not let Andy’s story end here."