SEATTLE/LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - “August: Osage County” actress Misty Upham’s body, found at the bottom of a deep river embankment near Seattle, was officially identified on Friday by a Washington state coroner, more than a week after her family reported her missing.
The King County Medical Examiner said the 32-year-old Native American actress died on Oct. 5, but the cause and manner of death were still under investigation.
The actress’ family accused police in Auburn, Washington, about 20 miles south of Seattle, of making little effort to find Upham.
A search party organized by the family found a body believed to be Upham on Thursday at the bottom of a 150-foot (46-meter) embankment in Auburn near the Muckleshoot Indian Reservation. A purse with Upham’s identification was at the scene and foul play was not suspected, Auburn police said.
Police have said they did not consider Upham, who is from the Blackfeet tribal nation, to be in danger, and they could do little because she was an adult who left her residence on her own.
Family friend Tracy Rector, a filmmaker who was part of family-organized groups that searched for Upham and has been a spokeswoman for the family, said the actress suffered from anxiety and bi-polar disorder and was without medication when her father reported her missing on Oct. 6.
“They chose not to act when the family pleaded with them to help,” Rector said of Auburn police. “It was not in Misty’s character to disappear ... They went to the police repeatedly.”
Rector said Upham’s case strikes at the long-standing tension between the Native American community on the Muckleshoot Reservation and Auburn police, which she said has often been unresponsive and antagonistic.
“There were a number of people who came up to me that said, ‘We’ve been dealing with this ever since we can remember. For many, many years our people are not safe with Auburn police’,” Rector said.
The Auburn Police Department did not respond to a message seeking comment on its relations with the local Native American community.
“The family can’t dismiss that did the police just see Misty as another native and did not respond accordingly as if they would if she was a Caucasian resident,” Rector said. “That’s the reality of that area. There’s still quite a bit of racism.”
Police said they responded to a suicide call from an apartment where Upham had been living on Oct. 5, but the actress had already left by the time they were able to respond.
Rector said Upham’s family does not feel she committed suicide because the area where she apparently fell to her death is where many others have fallen.
Upham was nominated for an Independent Spirit Award for her supporting role in the 2008 crime drama “Frozen River,” and played a caregiver for Meryl Streep’s cancer-ridden character in last year’s ensemble drama “August: Osage County.”
Reporting by Eric Kelsey; Editing by Piya Sinha-Roy and Andre Grenon