ESSENCE Special Report: How D.C.'s Disappearing Girls Highlight The Nation's Black and Missing Problem
When Kennedi High, a 16-year-old with autism, didn’t come home from school in early March, her family in Baltimore knew something was terribly wrong.
At a press conference assembled by city police in the days following the disappearance, her mother pleaded for the teen’s safe return.
About 24 hours later, authorities announced that the youngster had been located alive, miles from home. Thanks in part to media publicity, social media and tipsters, the 10th grader was found in an apartment in Prince Georges County, Maryland. She wasn’t alone — the teen might have met someone via a dating app before being “taken advantage of,” law enforcement officials said.
The case, still under investigation, is far from isolated. Across America, thousands of Black women, girls and gender non-conforming individuals are among the missing. They may be snatched by strangers, or abducted by family members. Some are mentally ill or injured. Still others are runaways.
“We see that girls run away more frequently than boys,” said Robert Lowery, Jr., vice president of the Missing Children Division at the Center for Missing & Exploited Children. “And young people in foster care homes face heightened risks.”
“They may be fleeing an abusive situation or have been lured away by an adult offender,” he continued. “Sadly, even if they’ve left of their own volition, they’re very vulnerable to the dangers of child sex trafficking or gang activity.”
In the nation’s capital, Mayor Muriel Bowser recently joined top brass in the Metropolitan Police Department to highlight D.C.’s use of technology to improve public safety and combat crime. It followed an outcry over media reports and chatter in the blogosphere, which suggested an alarming number of reports of missing persons, many of them Black and Latino women and girls.
Yet officials insist they’ve actually closed about 90 percent of cases, and said the situation wasn’t what it appeared to be. In 2016, a new commander in the department’s Youth and Family Services Division opted to begin aggressively using social media to generate immediate public attention for missing persons.
On March 9, 2017, the department’s Twitter feed noted: “There isn’t a spike in missing people in D.C., we’re just using social media more to help locate them. Sorry to alarm you.”
Still, those tweets generated significant public attention, what with photos of the missing that were at times haunting, disquieting, or strikingly normal. Brief descriptions hinted at their lives.