SE OF BROWNING — The search and recovery efforts southeast of Browning for missing three-year-old Arden Pepion continued on Sunday.
At this point, authorities have no indication that Arden was abducted, and are continuing to investigate the circumstances of her disappearance.
She was last seen on Thursday at about 7 p.m. in the vicinity of Joe Show East Road off of US Highway 89. Arden was wearing a purple jacket with a unicorn design on the front, a grey under-sweater, black leggings, and black boots with green trim.
The search effort for Arden shifted to a recovery mission on Saturday afternoon. Officials said that "based on the elements and duration of time that has passed since she was last seen, we have come to realize that it is now a recovery."
On Sunday, the water flow was being diverted from the area of the search along Two Medicine River into an irrigation ditch, which normally doesn't happen until late spring.
"There was a report at one time of shoe tracks going that way and so that was kind of their lead into looking out there," Blackfeet Tribe public information officer James McNeely said. " It was snowing that night when she disappeared so that’s why they’re utilizing that now because of the proximity of the house to the river, that’s why they’re basing their decision on that right now.”
The search teams consist solely of trained personnel at this time, and they have covered a 10-mile stretch of river so far. One of the volunteer searchers, who is not acting in an official capacity, said on Saturday that helicopters, divers, drones, dogs, and professional search teams are participating.
She also noted that searchers have encountered a bear, a mountain lion, and coyotes. She added that people also leave gates open with cattle, horses, and bison in danger of getting on the road and causing an accident.
"The community support is amazing as well as everyone that jumped to donate their time and effort," she added.
“Right now we have close to one hundred volunteers that are from other agencies that are trained to do this, and we have such a short section of the river and with the mass amount of people, we can cover more ground with less people," Incident Control Commander Marti Grinsell explained. "It’s not that I didn’t want all the community volunteers, it’s the fact that where we’re pointing all of our searches, we kind of need more of the trained people coming in and assisting with that.”
Though community members are not able to directly assist in the search at this point, volunteers have set up a "cook shack" for search personnel to get hot food and beverages, thanks to community donations. WATCH:
“We’re all family here, we’re close-knit. The Blackfeet people come together as a community in a time of need, especially at the time where we’re having a crisis," Margi St. Goddard explained. "Everybody feels for this child, she’s an innocent baby. we all want to come out to help to bring her home to the family.”