Episode 014: Jocelyn Watt & Jade Wagon

October 18, 2021

When two sisters tragically lose their lives, their mother fights for answers and for justice. What happened to Jocelyn and Jade?

Episode Media
Jocelyn Watt
Jade Wagon
Jocelyn Watt & Rudy Perez (Facebook)
Jade Wagon and her children (Riverton PD)
Jocelyn & Rudy’s street blocked off (County10)
Nicole Wagon (Casper Star Tribune)
MMIP Rally (BJ Klophaus – WyoFile)
Episode Sources
Episode Transcript

Welcome back to Bite-Sized Crime! This week I am bringing you a story of two sisters whose lives both ended tragically, and a mother who continues to fight for justice. This episode discusses sensitive topics, so listener discretion is advised.

Jocelyn Watt and Jade Wagon grew up in Riverton, Wyoming, a town of about 10,000 people in the eastern corner of the Wind River Indian Reservation. They were the oldest of five girls in their tight-knit family, led by their mother, Nicole Wagon. Nicole worked hard to foster the strong relationships her daughters had with each other, and she was proud of the young women they were becoming.

The family had a deep faith, combining their Catholic beliefs with the Indigenous practices of their Northern Arapaho heritage. Jocelyn and Jade were especially proud of their culture and were active in their community.

Although the two eldest sisters were close, they were different in many ways. Jocelyn was ambitious and determined. After high school, she moved to New Mexico where she attended the Southwestern Indian Polytechnic Institute. She had dreams of pursuing a career in optometry. When she returned to Riverton in 2011, she took a job at the Red Willow Restaurant in the Wind River Casino. Her partner, Rudy Perez, worked as an electrician in town, and the couple loved traveling together and attending football games. In 2018, Jocelyn began working as an optician at the Riverton Vision Center, keeping her job at the restaurant to supplement her income. 

Jade was the free-spirit of the family. She was known for her sense of humor and her determination to have a good time wherever she went. She had two young children, MaeLeah and Raphael, who she loved dearly. Jade had worked at the Wind River Casino for a short time, but was preparing to attend Wind River Job Corps so that she could learn a trade and eventually find a career in medicine. 

Both Jade and Jocelyn loved spending time outdoors, especially in the beautiful mountains that surrounded Riverton. They were happy to have their family close and to be able to spend time with their mother and sisters, as well as their large group of aunts, uncles, and cousins. 

Unfortunately, their family would soon be broken apart in the most tragic of ways.

On the afternoon of January 5th, 2019, officers from the Riverton Police Department responded to a report of two unresponsive individuals at a home on East Main Street in downtown Riverton. When police arrived at the home, they found the bodies of Jocelyn and Rudy, both dead from gunshot wounds.

Police immediately began investigating Jocelyn’s and Rudy’s deaths as a double homicide. A 24/7 tip line was set up, and investigators canvassed the community. Police Captain Todd Byerly told local news outlets that they were not ruling out the possibility that a suspect or suspects may be on the loose in Riverton. The Riverton Police Department partnered with state and federal agencies, following every lead.

Nicole Wagon threw herself into the case, communicating regularly with law enforcement to make sure her daughter’s case was getting the attention it deserved. Nicole and Jade both became actively involved with the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women campaign – a nationwide movement that advocates for the end of violence against Native women. They attended rallies and walks to raise awareness, and they always carried a picture of Jocelyn to keep her story alive.

However, months passed with no arrests in the case. The families were beyond frustrated. How had two people been murdered in the middle of the day without anyone seeing anything? At a press conference in September of 2019 – eight months after Jocelyn’s and Rudy’s deaths – Nicole implored the people of Riverton to come forward with information. “Jocelyn and Rudy were taken from us by the hands of someone – or someones – way too soon. Please, if you have any information, call the Riverton Police Department… Please, I beg you, don’t allow another family to go through this.”

As the one-year anniversary approached, Jocelyn’s family planned to hold a memorial. But on the day of the service, Jade was nowhere to be seen. Nicole instantly knew something was wrong. There was no way that Jade would miss something so important.

Nicole immediately reported Jade missing, but there were few clues as to where she had gone. Investigators determined that Jade had last been seen leaving her job at the Wind River Casino on January 2nd. Multiple witnesses said they saw her leaving with some unknown people, but other than that, there was nothing to indicate where she had gone or who she had gone with.

Three weeks later, police officers from the Bureau of Indian Affairs discovered Jade’s body in a field near the town of Ethete, approximately 30 miles west of Riverton. The Fremont County coroner would not give any information about the state in which her body was found, saying only that a full autopsy would be performed, results that could take weeks to come back.

It wasn’t until March 6th that Jade’s family got any answers, but they were not the answers they wanted to hear. In a joint news release, the FBI and the Fremont County Coroner’s Office announced that 23-year-old Jade Wagon had died from hypothermia due to environmental exposure and acute methamphetamine intoxication.

Investigators said that they had found no evidence of a violent crime at the scene, and that the autopsy hadn’t revealed any signs of traumatic injuries to Jade’s body. According to the coroner’s report, the methamphetamine levels in Jade’s system were high enough to have caused irrational behavior and confusion. Add to that the freezing temperatures at the time of her disappearance, and it was a recipe for disaster. The coroner ruled that Jade’s death was an accident.

Nicole had a hard time believing that no one had had a hand in Jade’s death. How had Jade ended up thirty miles away from her job, high on meth, without anyone noticing? And who were the unknown individuals who she had been seen with at Wind River? Casinos are among the most surveilled places in the world – investigators must have known more than they were telling.

Nicole’s hunch was right. In February of 2021, a warrant was issued for a suspect in Jade’s case. Unfortunately, investigators are tight-lipped; no names have been released, and no one has been arrested in the eight months since.

Tragically, Jocelyn and Jade are among a growing number of missing and murdered Indigenous people in the state of Wyoming. For years, the actual number was unknown. In July of 2019, Governor Mark Gordon formed the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Peoples Task Force in an attempt to begin collecting data and examining issues in the state’s handling of such cases. In March of 2020, two bills were passed that required law enforcement agencies to include biographical information for every victim. The bills also allowed the Eastern Shoshone and Northern Arapaho communities to implement their own Amber Alert system for the Wind River Reservation.

As much as these steps are a move in the right direction, there is still work to be done. In Wyoming, Indigenous people make up 3% of the state’s population, but 14% of missing persons and 21% of homicide victims. Since 2011, over 700 Indigenous people – mostly girls – have been reported missing in Wyoming.

Nicole Wagon has become a fierce advocate for the missing and murdered Indigenous persons movement in Wyoming. She is dedicated to pursuing justice for Jocelyn and Jade, but also for protecting her three remaining daughters. She told the Casper Star-Tribune, “I know my daughters live with me; they live in my heart. I gave them life… but it’s not easy. You get back up, and you keep going.”

Nicole is known all over the state for her advocacy. She regularly meets with tribal leaders and government officials, organizes and attends rallies, and hangs posters with pictures of missing community members. “I’m going to keep putting their faces out there. You’re going to look. They had a face, they had a life, and you had no right to take it.”

Jocelyn and Jade were both buried at the Arapaho Catholic Cemetery in Riverton. Their family continues to search for answers and is begging the public for assistance.

If you have any information about the deaths of Jocelyn Watt, Jade Wagon, or Rudy Perez, please contact the Riverton Police Department at 307-857-7755. And please share their stories – they deserve to be seen and heard.

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