When Lisa Lonehill saw her 21-year-old daughter, Larissa, in the afternoon of Oct. 2, she had a terrible feeling it might be the last time.
So far, her fears have been realized.
They were in the back porch of a Rapid City townhouse, discussing Larissa’s recent quarrel with her older sister, Carol Piper. Two weeks earlier, Piper had told Larissa to leave Piper’s rented townhouse where Larissa would sometimes stay when she came to Rapid City from Manderson, on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation.
“I told her,” Larissa's mother recalls saying, “whatever she did to upset Carol, just don’t do it again.”
Larissa then left with her boyfriend and a female friend after saying they wanted to go to the nearby Rushmore Mall.
Six months later, on Tuesday, the Rapid City Police Department announced a $5,000 reward for help in solving the case of Larissa’s disappearance. Her mother is the last family member known to have seen her.
Detectives believe Larissa is dead and buried within a 100-mile radius of Rapid City, said Capt. James Johns, head of the department's Criminal Investigations Division.
It was the first time authorities publicized Larissa’s disappearance, which Johns said police began investigating in November. He emphasized it remains a missing person case, and not a homicide investigation.
At the press conference, Larissa's mother sat beside Johns. When her turn at the lectern came, she cried as she spoke about Larissa’s 2-year-old daughter who was missing her mom, and asked anyone with information on Larissa to come forward.
Larissa is among the 85 names on the FBI database of people reported missing in South Dakota as of March 31, according to figures from the state Attorney General’s Office. Half of the missing persons are 21 or younger.
Her family’s knowledge of Larissa’s whereabouts ended on the morning of Oct. 3, when she texted a cousin to say she was with two male friends from Pine Ridge.
“They found her at her boyfriend’s house, so they took her,” Larissa's mom, 55, said in a phone interview Thursday. Larissa’s boyfriend thought one of the men was her cousin since Larissa introduced him as such, even though they were not related, Lisa said.
One of Larissa’s brothers reported her missing to the Rapid City police a few days later, said Lisa, after Larissa’s boyfriend told the family she could not be found.
One of the men who reportedly picked up Larissa said he dropped her off at a party, Piper said in an interview Thursday. The other man, she said, denied being with Larissa that day.
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Piper, 30, is convinced they were the last people to see Larissa.
Larissa’s relationship with the men involved drugs, Piper said, citing text messages she saw. She kicked her sister out of the townhouse, Piper said, after a brother told her Larissa had been smoking meth in the bathroom.
“I don’t regret it at all,” Piper said of asking her sister to leave. Larissa's mother said she also believes Larissa was involved in illegal drugs.
Piper wanted the public to know that Larissa was a wonderful mother, sister and aunt. She regularly read to Piper’s five young children and picked up house chores waiting to be done.
The last time the sisters spoke, several days after their fight, Piper said she told Larissa to seek substance abuse treatment. Before saying goodbye, they apparently told each other “I love you.”
Larissa's mother, who is back home in Manderson, misses Larissa’s thoughtfulness and cheerful attitude. Larissa, for instance, would prepare a hot pad whenever her mother’s stomach pain acted up.
The sixth of eight children, Larissa went to school on the reservation but did not finish high school. The young woman did not work because she lost her identification card, and Larissa's mother said she sometimes wondered where her daughter got her spending money.
Larissa’s daughter is under the custody of the father’s family, Lisa said. She said Larissa regularly visited the child even if she had to hitchhike or walk to a neighboring town where the girl lived.
Since Larissa’s disappearance, her family has received various unverified information about her location. One of them was from a man who tried to extort money by saying he needed $500 to help bring Larissa back from Florida. Another was from a self-described psychic who said the young woman was buried underneath rocks at a quarry.
“I’m so confused,” Larissa's mother said. “This drives me crazy, wondering who could have done this to her and why.” Evident in her words was the tug-of-war between hoping her daughter was alive and thinking she was gone for good.
Lisa’s chronic stomach pain has been exacerbated by her daughter’s disappearance, on top of other family worries.
The eldest of her four daughters and the youngest of her four sons are both in jail on Pine Ridge. Her eldest son is in an alcohol treatment program. Her second son died of an illness last year, three weeks after Larissa disappeared. Lisa just broke up with a boyfriend who she said has a drinking problem. And she is raising the 6-month-old son of her daughter who is in jail.
Being with her grandchildren is what keeps her going, Lisa said, along with the hope of seeing Larissa again.
One evening last month, the family conducted a traditional Lakota ceremony for Larissa. Afterward, Lisa served dinner for the gathering of about 20 people. The table fare included spaghetti, fried rice and a cake Lisa made to celebrate Larissa’s 22nd birthday that day.