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Five years later, family of Shacaiah Blue Harding is still searching for answers

Shacaiah Blue Harding
Posted at 11:31 AM, Mar 24, 2024

Continuing to say the name "Shacaiah Blue Harding" is important for the missing woman's family, after the then-19-year-old disappeared from their world in July of 2018.

“All we want is someone to say her name and know that she’s out there and that we care and we’re trying everything we can to find her,” Michael Harding, Shacaiah's older brother, said recently.

Harding said the last time he saw his sister was a month before she was reported missing. She had stopped by his home to give him a birthday present.

“She always told me how proud she was of me and how happy like, I was somebody she could look up to,” Harding said.

Shacaiah was battling a methamphetamine addiction, but was still trying to live life on her own and be an adult, Harding said. Her stopping by at his house was a typical occurrence, so when she came by a few days before his birthday to drop off the present, Harding says he slept through most of her visit because he had just finished working a long shift.

“I didn’t...I wasn’t thinking that was the last day I was going to see her,” Harding said through tears.

Harding said his sister's missing persons report was taken in August of 2018. It wasn't until three years later that his sister's case took a heartbreaking turn when the family learned Shacaiah may be a victim of human trafficking.

“Who knows where she could have gone,” Harding said. “These predators are out there and they’re waiting and it’s tough. And you never want it to be you.”

Michael Harding, Shacaiah's older brother
Michael Harding, Shacaiah's older brother

The family went to Arizona last year to search for Shacaiah, believing she may have been involved in the Northern Cheyenne tribe members being targeted in an Arizona sober-living home scam, but they never found her.

While he couldn't speak about the investigation with MTN News, Harding has his theories on who is responsible for trafficking his sister and said it was a man whom Shacaiah was babysitting for who manipulated her into thinking she didn't have a community that cared about her.

But she did. “That’s all I want is for her to know, and for those people that are responsible, is that we’ll never stop looking for her. As long as I’m alive I know I’ll never stop,” Harding said.

Shacaiah's family said one of the last places she was seen was at the Tumbleweed Runaway Center, a non-profit that provides services to runaway, homeless and vulnerable youth.

Family of missing Billings woman Shacaiah Blue Harding still searching for answers 5 years later

Georgia Cady, the executive director of the program, sees the sad reality many runaways face in the Billings area.

“Probably 90% of our kids that come into our drop-in resource center have been trafficked, more survival sex, so for a place to stay, something to eat, a drug habit,” Cady said. “Within 48 hours of hitting the streets, you will be approached to be trafficked.”

It's a problem that Penny Ronning is dedicated to fighting.

“I’m the daughter of a trafficking survivor, so this has been the entirety of my life,” Ronning said.

Ronning is a co-founder and co-chair of the Yellowstone Human Trafficking Task Force, a non-profit that helps agencies investigate and prosecute human traffickers, assist victims of trafficking and increase community awareness. Prior to the creation of the task force in 2016, Montana had one federal conviction on human trafficking.

Family of missing Billings woman Shacaiah Blue Harding still searching for answers 5 years later

“I am very proud to say that since then, we have now had more than 40 convictions on the federal level and more than 70 at the state level,” Ronning said.

Ronning noted that those are just the convictions and that there are more waiting on sentencing. But Ronning remains adamant that we can't just arrest our way out of the problem. She said there needs to be more conversations surrounding those who pay for sex.

“Why do we have so many men in this state willing and able to pay $150-to-$900 an hour to rape an individual? Because with human trafficking there is never consent,” Ronning said.

It's something Harding is left to think about every day.

“It’s wrong, it’s really wrong that these people can think that they can just pick somebody and choose them to be a slave,” Harding said.

But he won't give up hope. He said hearing survivors of human trafficking speak is what continues to give him hope that his sister is still out there. He is holding on to hope that she will return to their family, meet her nieces and nephews, and get to celebrate with the family again.

“The first year, they had a birthday party, they had a cake. That was so hard. And that was just the first year, you know, we’re on year five, going on year six. So, that just puts in perspective how hard it's been,” Harding said.

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