Thursday, August 04, 2005

Adult Missing Persons: a difficult protocol

This morning's Inky, in follow up to recent media attention to Latoyia Figueroa's disappearance, has printed a story on the difficulty of missing persons cases when the one whose disappeared is an adult. Since January 1st of this year, Philadelphia PD has taken 4,500 reports of missing persons of which a little over 81% were children. How police and the media have handled reports of missing children has changed over the years; in the 70's, police frequently 3 days (or longer) to accept a missing persons report - even for children. Now, thanks to guidelines developed by the Center for Missing & Exploited Children (they have a nice java banner, which I've included below) and Amber Alerts, parents have some outlet and information to assist them in the search for their missing children.

When it comes to adults, however, things are just plain muddy as they have a right to just disappear.
[emphasis added]

"We try to handle all the missing-persons cases the same. There's a protocol," Police Commissioner Sylvester M. Johnson said yesterday. "A couple, the news just blow it up."When it comes to a missing person, whether the individual is endangered determines the level of police involvement, said Inspector William Colarulo, a department spokesman. Investigators look for a crime scene, any breaks in routine, the person's lifestyle and past behavior.

"Latoyia Figueroa had no history of disappearing. She is five months pregnant, has a 7-year-old daughter, was gainfully employed, and went to that job. That's not the type of person who disappears. That raises a red flag and would warrant immediate attention," Colarulo said.

"But if we had a person who had marital problems, in debt, a history of disappearing, not gainfully employed, taking off days at a time, would we still take a report? Absolutely. But would it be given the same amount of attention as a person who fits the schematic as Latoyia Figueroa? The answer is no."

Other prime examples who were unlikely candidates for just taking off are Richard Petrone & Danielle Imbo.

The last adult missing-persons case in Philadelphia that generated the same amount of media attention as Figueroa's concerned Danielle Imbo and Richard Petrone Jr., who were last seen leaving a South Street bar on Feb. 19. Like Figueroa, they were not the disappearing kind. Imbo, 34, of South Jersey, and Petrone, 35, of Philadelphia, each had a child, a job, and a close-knit family.

Yet neither of them - nor Petrone's 2001 Dodge Dakota - has been found. Their credit cards and cellular telephones have not been used. They have made no attempts to contact their families.

The Imbo and Petrone families, like the Figueroa family, made themselves available to the media, organized high-profile searches, and helped raise large reward funds.

This is exactly what Bruno of the National Center for Missing Adults advises families to do: give the media "something new to report, create an event," just make something happen to keep their loved one in the public eye.

The article in the Inky cites 4 adult missing persons in our area (Brenwanda "Brennie" Smith & Eulace "Bam" King, in addition to Petrone & Imbo). There are 9 people (including King, who disappeared 5/3/03) listed on their long-term missing web page. The only information I found regarding Brennie Smith, a 24-year old Septa driver who disappeared Feb. 1997 was the possible connection to Juan Covington, who's recently been charged with 2 murders and is being investigated in Smith's disappearance.

As a result of discussions with folks like Karl, Tulin, Matt, Jane, etc. , we hope to be able to set up a java script banner and link with at least local, if not national, organizations to at least provide another route for publicizing missing persons cases. If whatever we come up with and/or Tazzy & Piggy's Missing Monday campaign helps one family, we've done something worthwhile.

UPDATE 9Aug05: Brennie Smith now has a blog dedicated to the search for her (it also includes posts regarding other local missing persons as well.

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1 comment:

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