UPDATE: In a statement on Facebook Friday, Upham’s family say they believe that Misty Upham accidentally fell to her death.
She did not commit suicide. We believe she ran into the wooded area behind her apartment to hide from the police. The area in question has a hidden drop off and evidence suggests that she slipped and fell off of the steep embankment when she tried to get out of a view from the road.
The body of actress Misty Upham, 32, was found at the bottom of a steep cliff in in a densely wooded area of Auburn, Wash., on Thursday, a spokeswoman for the family confirmed.
Upham, who had appeared in “August: Osage County” among other films, was first reported missing by her father on Oct. 6, a day after she was last seen leaving her sister’s apartment on the Muckleshoot Indian Reservation in Auburn. At the time, police said that they did not consider Upham to be “endangered,” nor did they consider her disappearance to be suspicious.
But Tracy Rector, a friend of Upham’s who is serving as a family spokeswoman, said the actress’s relatives are furious that Auburn police did nothing to aid in the search. Upham was found by a search party of friends and family on Thursday.
“The family pleaded for the police department to look for her; they pleaded for dogs,” Rector said in an interview with The Post on Friday. Long-standing tensions between police and Native Americans on the Muckleshoot Reservation might have played a role, Rector said.
“Unfortunately, it feels like 1950’s racism in many ways,” said Rector, a Seattle-based filmmaker. “The family is concerned that Misty was considered just another Native person and treated as such. Even that is unacceptable. Native lives matter. It doesn’t matter what her skin color was.”
The area is considered a “checkerboard reservation,” where tribal land is interspersed with areas that are under the jurisdiction of the city of Auburn. Rector said there is a long history of tensions between Native people and law enforcement in Auburn.
Auburn Police Commander Steve Stocker strongly denied accusations that the department did not do enough, though he acknowledged that no search party was put together for Upham.
“We felt like we put effort into it; the family obviously doesn’t believe that the efforts were enough but we handled it as we felt was appropriate,” Stocker told The Post.
Stocker said that when the family reported Upham missing, a detective was assigned to the case and had been following tips and leads about her whereabouts — though none led police to the area where Upham’s body was ultimately found.
“We did take it seriously,” Stocker said. “Our detective put a lot of time into it. The detective is very sad over this, because she was really hoping to find Misty.”
According to Rector, Upham’s uncle formed his own search party this week with friends and volunteers. Based on tips from the community, the group zeroed in on a search area that included a beautiful, remote and — in some parts — dangerous trail overlooking the White River in Auburn.
“Many people have fallen in that area,” Rector said. “It is also an area that people go to because it’s above the river. It’s a really beautiful wooded space, a lot of people just go there for privacy.”
Upham’s body was found at the bottom of an 150-foot ravine, said Rector. The search party first found her purse with her belongings. One of the men tied a rope around a tree then climbed to the bottom where he spotted the body, said Rector, who had been helping with the search that day.
Upham suffered from anxiety and had been taking medication for bipolar disorder, her father said; but she was no longer on the medication, he said.
“Misty has suffered from mental illness most of her life, Charles Upham said in a Facebook post on Oct. 14. “With the help of her medical team and family support she is able to manage it well. She is not a nut case.”
He said his daughter “was last wearing a purple sweater, black t-shirt, grey sweat pants, silver tennis shoes. She has cut her hair short. She has cut scars on both arms and a birth mark on the back near her neck. She was carrying a white cell phone and a California ID.”
In announcing her disappearance to the media, Upham’s father said that the family believed the actress was endangered because of a medical condition.
But Stocker, the Auburn police commander, said he was “not aware of them raising any medical concerns.”
Upham delivered a critically acclaimed performance in the film “Frozen River,” and she played an untitled role in the box office hit “Django Unchained.”
But it was her role in “August: Osage County,” starring Meryl Streep and Julia Roberts, that earned her an ensemble Screen Actor’s Guild Award nomination. She considered it her big break.
“At the time when I received that life-changing phone call, I was paying my bills as a housecleaner,” Upham wrote in an essay for the Daily Beast. “That’s what I hoped to convey when I landed the role of Johnna in August: Osage County, a young Native American woman who answers an ad for a housekeeper and caregiver for Violet Weston, a troubled matriarch played by Meryl Streep. I wanted to bring the humanity and dignity of this woman to the big screen.”
As a rare Native American actress in a prominent Hollywood role, Upham felt an immense amount of responsibility with that distinction, said Rector.
“She crashed the glass ceiling. She’s gone farther than any other Native actress. She talked about how much pressure that was,” Rector said. “She knew, being a role model, that she had to navigate the waters of Hollywood and this created an immense amount of stress. She knew that she had to manager her anxiety.”
The last time anyone saw Upham, leaving her sister’s home, she was “distraught,” Rector said.
“There was nothing specifically that triggered her to leave that day,” Rector said. “She left and she was upset and the family just knew that something was wrong. And they knew that she needed help.”
Upham had recently moved to Washington state to be with her father after he suffered a stroke. Charles Upham told Rector that the family had planned to relocate to Los Angeles after his recovery, and that his daughter had auditions in place and work lined up.
The family does not believe she was suicidal, and they do not believe she took her own life, Rector said. The King County Medical Examiner’s office is expected to release an autopsy report on the manner of death Friday afternoon.
Update 6:07 p.m: More from the Upham family statement on Facebook, in which they allege that Misty Upham feared Auburn police department officers:
Misty was afraid of the Auburn PD officiers with good reason. In an incident prior to her disappearance, the Auburn PD came to pick up Misty on an involuntary transport to the ER. She was cuffed and placed in a police car. Some of the officiers began to taunt and tease her while she was in the car. Because it was dark they couldn’t see that we, her family, were outside our apartment just across the street witnessing this behavior. They were tapping on the window making faces at her. Misty was crying and she told them you can’t treat me like this I’m a movie actress and I will use my connections to expose you. Then another officer walked up to her asked “are you a movie star?, then why don’t complain to George Clooney!” After Misty arrived at the ER we went to see her and she has a swollen jaw, black eye and scratches and bruises on her shoulder. I asked the ER staff what happened and they said Misty was brought in like that. Misty said she couldn’t remember what happened but thats why she feared the police.
I asked Misty to call the Auburn PD and ask to speak to the commander. When she was connected to, whom we believe was Commander Stocker she made a verbal complaint. The official asked her “what are you going to do about it?” She replied I’m doing it, I’m telling you so you do something about it.” The APD official told her unless she wanted to file a formal complaint the matter would not be pursued. The day the APD was called to do another Involuntary transport Misty left the apartment where she was staying. When we tried to follow her Auburn PD officiers told us they wanted to check for inside. We told them that Misty may have walked around the side of the apartment but they made us to go back inside. They asked if we were hiding her and took time to search the apartment and get a description of what she was wearing. By the time they finished Misty was gone. We believe that if we were not otherwise occupied we may have found Misty before she got hurt. It is a tragic that Misty slipped and fell to her death trying avoid the police, it’s tragic that she did not get the proper medication to treat her mental illness from her mental health care givers at Valley Cities Mental Health, it is tragic that the Auburn PD refused to help offer to find or at least change her Missing status to “Endangered” to allow other agencies to get involved.
[This post has been updated.]