UPDATE, FRIDAY, 4:40 PM: The King County Medical Examiner in Washington state has positively identified Misty Upham’s body, which was discovered the day before by a family-led search party at the bottom of a ravine near her apartment in Auburn, WA. Upham died on October 5, the state coroner said, according to Reuters — one day before her family had reported her missing. The cause and manner of her death remain under investigation.
Earlier today, Upham’s family continued to criticize local police for their lack of cooperation in the search. In a Facebook post, the family accused the Auburn Police Department of having a role in Upham’s disappearance, relating previous run-ins between her and officers and suggesting Upham slipped down the 150-foot embankment after “she ran into the wooded area behind her apartment to hide from the police.”
PREVIOUS, THURSDAY, 8:32 PM: Misty Upham, who was nominated for an Indie Spirit Award in 2009 for her role in the feature film Frozen River, was found dead in the woods in Auburn, WA, today after going missing earlier this month. She was 32. Filmmaker friend Tracy Rector, speaking on behalf of the family, confirmed that the Native American actress was found by a search party led by uncle Robert Upham. She was later identified by family members. “The main thing her family wants people to know is that the Auburn Police Department would not cooperate in looking for Misty,” Rector told Deadline. “There’s a long history of police harassment and friction between the police and the Muckleshoot community here, and her family feels they dropped the ball and Misty perhaps would have been found if the police had taken it seriously.”
“Misty was a talented and kind soul who will be greatly missed,” said Upham’s manager Richard Kerner. “My deepest condolences to her family and friends.”
Upham, whose recent credits included the Oscar-nominated August: Osage County and Django Unchained, was reported missing by her family October 6. Her body was found this afternoon near the White River less than an hour outside Seattle, according to that city’s KIRO-TV. A search party of three found Upham’s purse and ID and later discovered her body at the bottom of a 150-foot ravine, the Seattle Times reported. The body was not immediately ID’d but the paper quoted a police spokesman as saying there was a “good chance” it was Upham. The King County Coroner’s office is expected to make a statement tomorrow.
Upham truly broke through with Frozen River, an indie drama written and directed by Courtney Hunt. A standout at the 2008 Sundance Film Festival where it premiered, it starred Upham and Melissa Leo as two single, desperate moms who become part of a smuggling operation across the St. Lawrence River separating the U.S. and Canada on a Mohawk reservation. Leo was nominated for a Best Actress Oscar and Hunt for Original Screenplay.
Two years earlier, in a poignant essay for the Native American Indigenous Cinema and Arts, she described the struggles of a minority actress in Hollywood, where at the time she had been “in and out of Hollywood looking for work for the past seven years.”
She wrote: “In a business that has exploited and ignored our people I have only found dead-ends. We need romantic comedies, gross-out and mockery comedies, horror and thrillers, teen movies and love-stories. All these and more will be a positive step towards the future of Native Americans in the world and film industry; an industry that that offers us not only the chance to play the parts of heroes, love interests and warriors, but also of villains, dorks and dangerous, brokenhearted products of circumstance.”
Upham has worked steadily and most recently appeared in Cake, the Jennifer Aniston-starrer that premiered last month at the Toronto Film Festival.
Earlier this week on October 12, Upham’s father Charles issued a statement via Facebook revealing his daughter’s struggles with mental illness and his frustration at the Auburn Police Department’s lack of mobilization. He also emphasized that he did not believe Upham would take her own life. “We have requested help from the Muckleshoot tribe for search teams but they do not have funding for that. We are petitioning Auburn PD to implement the ENDANGERED MISSING PERSONS PLAN. This will allow law enforcement to search for her and bring her into medical care when they find her. But they feel she does not fit the profile at this time. The detective on the case assured our family that Auburn PD is doing everything they can to find Misty. But then they release a press statement and say they are not looking for her. These mixed messages are confusing.”
“I think Misty may have walked into nearby woods and got hurt and can’t reach help or I think she may have had an encounter with someone who may have caused her harm,” he continued. “I believe she would contact us if she could. I feel that if she is found soon she may have a chance to survive. But time is slipping away.”