GROVE, Okla. (NewsNation Now) — In March of 2019, 25-year-old Aubrey Dameron left her family home at 3:30 in the morning in the small town of Grove, Oklahoma, telling her mom she was going to meet someone.
She hasn’t been seen since.
The family believes a hate crime is at the root of Dameron’s disappearance. Dameron is a transgender Indigenous woman — part of the Cherokee Nation.
Her family — working with little in terms of evidence, clues or leads — wonders if her choice to transition is behind her disappearance.
“As a person, she had the biggest heart … I mean, she loved people, she loved life,” her aunt said.
When Pam Smith talks about her niece, she prefers to think of the good times.
“First thing she would do is (say) ‘Aunt Pam, I love you! How are you doing?’ And a great big hug and a big sloppy kiss on the cheek,” Smith said. “And sometimes I get irritated. But, you know, what I wouldn’t give to have one of those right now.”
It’s been almost three years since she’s had one of those kisses.
“Told me she was wearing a black jacket, black skirt, black boots and black netting hose.” her mom said.
She then left the family home and slipped into the night. Her phone last pinged at a mobile home park just a few hundred yards from her own house.
“My immediate thought is that it’s a hate crime. That was my very first thing,” her uncle said.
Christian Fencer is Dameron’s uncle. But being six months apart, they are more like siblings. They are also each other’s closest confidantes, having come out to each other as gay before sharing it with the world.
“Being in Grove. It’s not really diverse whatsoever,” Fencer said. “There’s not really a lot of things that go on outside of the ordinary. And once there are, then it’s looked at as abnormal or weird or lacking, for lack of other words.”
Grove, population approximately 7,000, is about 90 miles outside Tulsa.Fencer remembers he and Aubrey being bullied, kids shouting derogatory slurs and hurling rocks at them after school.
Daneron’s transition is not something often seen in rural Oklahoma or within the Cherokee Nation of which she was a citizen.
Her aunt and uncle feel that could be the reason not only behind her disappearance but also the reason why they say police told the family they couldn’t do much to investigate.
“We don’t think she’s a missing person. Uh, because she’s transgender,” her relatives recall being told by a law enforcement authority.
“Because she’s native?”
“He says no, because of her lifestyle. So you’re telling me that my niece’s life isn’t worth searching for? And he says, ‘That’s not what I’m saying.’ I said, ‘That’s exactly what you’re saying.’ He said, ‘Well, we don’t have the resources.'”
The resources still haven’t come.For almost three years the family has organized their own searches, drained ponds, set up a Facebook page and put up missing-person flyers all over town.
A NewsNation crew visited Dameron’s home, the last place she was seen.
Eventually, the crew caught up to her mother in the next town over.
“You’re the first camera crew I’m ever speaking to,” said Jennifer Byrd, Dameron’s mother.
Her mother was the last person to see her. She says she has no idea what happened to her daughter but does believe she’s dead.
“I felt my child pass. A year ago,” Bryd said. “A mother and a child has a bond. And I felt it. I hit the floor.”
Dameron’s mother also says the family hasn’t received the help from the investigators they were hoping for.
Authorities remain tight-lipped on the case. The Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation and the local sheriff’s office turned down requests for an interview. And the FBI has not returned phone calls.
But even with few leads, little evidence, and limited support from law enforcement, her uncle still believes he will someday know what happened to Daneron.
“I believe that we will eventually get the answers that we received, we deserve,” he said. “I believe that someone’s going to come forward, and the entire thing’s just gonna blow open.”
Until then, her aunt and uncle say they will keep digging for answers.
“She was my keeper. And now I don’t have a keeper,” her uncle said. “I just keep pushing forward.”
“You know, if, if she is alive, you know, I would let her know that we’re not giving up,” her aunt said. “We’re still looking. And I’ll never give up.”
And when asked what she would tell her daughter if she were alive, her mom said, “I would tell her that I love her so much. And to come home. Come home to me.”
Anyone with information about Aubrey Dameron’s disappearance is urged to contact the FBI at (800) CALL-FBI.