Selena Not Afraid died from hypothermia, autopsy shows
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Selena Not Afraid died from hypothermia, autopsy shows

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The Hardin teen found dead 20 days after she went missing died of hypothermia, according to the preliminary autopsy report. 

The autopsy of Selena Not Afraid, 16, was performed Wednesday by a state medical examiner in Billings, said Big Horn County Undersheriff Eric Winburn.

A toxicology report has not yet been completed and may take several weeks. Until the toxicology report is completed investigators won't know if Selena had alcohol or other substances in her system, Winburn said. 

The medical examiner did not provide the sheriff's office with a time of death, and the autopsy discovered no evidence of violence, Winburn said.

"No broken bones, no bullet wounds, and no violence to her body," he said. 

The sheriff's office is concluding its own investigation into her death, but tying up "loose ends" before reports go to County Attorney Jay Harris. 

On Tuesday, Harris requested that all evidence in the investigation be handed over to the County Attorney's office for review.

In a press release, Harris said the investigation was still criminal, and criticized the early characterization from the sheriff's office that "foul play was not suspected." 

The attorney's office would pursue any provable criminal activities surrounding the circumstances of Selena's disappearance, Harris said. 

Selena's body was found on Jan. 20 about a mile southwest of the rest stop where she was last seen New Year's Day. 

She had purportedly walked away from the rest stop around 2 p.m. while waiting with another woman for a ride. 

When the ride arrived, Selena was gone. Selena wasn't found in a search that night. That night saw temperatures dip into the 20s and saw some light rain, according to the National Weather Service.

She was not wearing adequate clothing for the cold weather, according to the missing person report issued on New Year's Day.

While hypothermia is most likely to happen in very cold temperatures, it can occur even at cool temperatures above 40 degrees if a person becomes chilled from rain, sweat, or submersion in cold water, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Wind can also expedite the onset of hypothermia.

According to the CDC:

  • "Hypothermia is caused by prolonged exposures to very cold temperatures. When exposed to cold temperatures, your body begins to lose heat faster than it’s produced. Lengthy exposures will eventually use up your body’s stored energy, which leads to lower body temperature.
  • "Body temperature that is too low affects the brain, making the victim unable to think clearly or move well. This makes hypothermia especially dangerous, because a person may not know that it’s happening and won’t be able to do anything about it."

Searches were conducted for 20 days by volunteers, and local and federal agencies. She was found by a Department of the Interior team during a systematic grid search. 

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