Teen’s disappearance — highlighted in recent InvestigateWest report — among the first cases taken by new state investigative unit 

By Kelsey Turner / InvestigateWest

The Washington State Attorney General’s Office is working with local police to investigate the disappearance of Indigenous teen Kit Nelson-Mora, who went missing from north-central Washington over two years ago at age 16.

Kit, who uses they/them pronouns, was living in Omak just within the boundaries of the Colville Indian Reservation when they stopped showing up to school at the end of 2021. They dropped off social media and weren’t responding to friends’ or family members’ messages and phone calls. 

Yet it took nearly a year until Kit’s disappearance was reported to police in September 2022, and another several months after that until police started investigating it, InvestigateWest reported this February.   

Now, Washington authorities are taking a deeper look at the case.

The Omak Police Department announced at a City Council meeting on May 6 that it’s collaborating with the Attorney General’s Office’s Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and People (MMIWP) Cold Case Unit to look for Kit. Kit has ancestral ties to the Penticton Indian Band in present-day British Columbia, making them one of 122 missing Indigenous people in Washington, according to the Washington State Patrol.

From left, Charlie, Charlotte and Bonnie Groo stand outside the home where Kit Nelson-Mora was raised in Yakima, Wash. Charlotte holds a photo of Kit, who went missing at age 16. (Jake Parrish/InvestigateWest)

The unit is the first of its kind in the nation, according to the state Attorney General’s Office. And Kit’s is one of the first cases it’s taking on.

Established in 2023, it began taking cases earlier this year, focusing exclusively on helping local and tribal law enforcement agencies solve cases of missing and murdered Indigenous people. This specialized focus, along with a staff of experienced retired law enforcement officers, enables the unit to assist local agencies that might not have the resources to solve these cases on their own, said Brian George, the unit’s chief investigator.

The unit took on Kit’s case in late January after the Omak Police Department reached out asking for assistance, according to the Attorney General’s Office.

Kit’s family is encouraged that more resources are going toward the investigation, said Charlotte Groo, an adopted daughter of Kit’s great-grandparents who grew up as an older sister to Kit. Omak, a town of about 5,000 people, has only one detective, who’s been investigating Kit’s case since January 2023. 

“One man doing the job of that entire city where so much goes on, it’s just not really possible for him to be able to direct resources to every case that needs to be dealt with,” Groo said. “With the Attorney General’s Office coming in and assisting with Kit’s case, I think that they’re going to have a wider variety of things that they can do.”

An investigator with the unit interviewed Groo in late April about Kit’s case, she said. They also connected her with a victim advocate to support Kit’s family members and keep them informed on the investigation.

Groo thinks increased awareness of Kit’s disappearance has encouraged investigators to prioritize their case in recent months. 

Kit Nelson-Mora sells furniture at their mom’s thrift store, The Storehouse Merchantile, in Omak, Wash., in the summer of 2021. (Photo provided by Maliyah Nelson)

“I think a lot of it honestly has to do with media attention growing,” she said. “I think the more people that are paying attention and Kit’s name being spoken out more, they’re like, ‘OK, this really is serious.’”

In April 2023, Washington lawmakers unanimously passed legislation creating the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and People unit within the Attorney General’s Office. The bill passed in response to an August 2022 report by a state task force, which recommended that the Legislature establish a fully funded cold case team of investigators. Less than two years after the report came out, the unit is up and running. 

“Since we’re in our infancy, I think we’re just moving in a positive direction at the moment,” said George, an enrolled member of the Port Gamble S’Klallam Tribe.

Kit Nelson-Mora’s childhood friends, Kayla Shelton, left, and Amythist McCart, walk on the trails by McCart’s grandma’s home in Yakima, Wash., in November 2023. (Jake Parrish/InvestigateWest)

George’s team is working on eight cases across Washington, with three more that will soon become active, he said. No cases have been solved yet, but George thinks some are close.

After the long delay in initially getting police to look into Kit’s disappearance, Groo is pleasantly surprised by how quickly the Cold Case Unit began investigating it. 

“I was concerned when the task force was formed that we were going to have to wait 10 years of nothing until somebody would pick something up,” Groo said. “But I’m grateful that Kit’s case was picked up. I think that this is going to be exactly what we needed.”   

FEATURED IMAGE: Bonnie Groo looks through portraits of her great-grandchild, Kit Nelson-Mora, in her home in Yakima, Wash., in November 2023. (Jake Parrish/InvestigateWest)

InvestigateWest (invw.org) is an independent news nonprofit dedicated to investigative journalism in the Pacific Northwest. Reporter Kelsey Turner can be reached at kelsey@invw.org.