An apparent spike in missing teens in our nation’s capital has led to a social media firestorm — one that is getting results from some of the same officials who have attempted to downplay the significance of the missing persons data.
As Crime Online reported last week, the number of black and Hispanic teens to go missing since the beginning of 2017 — over 500 juveniles — had created fears of possible human trafficking.
But as it turns out, this alarming number has been the norm for years. D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser said in a press conference earlier this month that there was “no evidence to suggest an increase in missing persons,” continuing:
The number of missing persons reports has remained constant since 2014. What has changed is our way of getting that information out quickly and the tools that we are using to get that out.
And while some of those tools may contributed to the spread of some inaccurate information — for example, a tweet went viral last week claiming that 14 girls had gone missing in 24 hours, which was not true — the social media chatter has forced a spotlight on a problem that is certainly concerning, even if it’s not particularly new.
According to the most recent missing persons statistics from the Metropolitan Police Department, the rate of missing juveniles — 527 since January 1 — is on track with missing persons rates for previous years. In 2016, 2,242 juveniles went missing in total, and 99 percent of those cases were solved. According to the MPD’s website, which is updated daily, there is currently a total of 18 unsolved juvenile missing person cases, including four that have carried over from previous years.
The missing juvenile cases sometimes open and close quickly because the teens leave home voluntarily, only to return or be returned by authorities. But some of these so-called runaways may be running from unsafe situations. One of the teens who had been listed among D.C.’s “critical missing” spoke to WUSA9, telling a reporter there that she wasn’t actually missing — she had just fled a foster home and had been sleeping in the laundry room of an apartment building because she felt she had nowhere else to go.
“I left because I felt like my foster mother was mistreating me,” the unidentified teen told the news station. “My friend texted me and said I was on TV and she sent me a screen shot of the missing person flyer, and then people were texting me videos of them crying.”
The teen girl said she didn’t tell anyone where she was because she did not want to get sent back to the foster home, but she had been continuing to go to school. Her mother is reportedly a drug addict and her grandmother had been raising her until she died.
She told WUSA9 that she hoped government officials would do something to improve the foster system.
“I turned myself in so I can hopefully help someone else,” she said. “If you are on the run, you may not want to go back, but I would prefer you go back because people on the streets are getting killed.”
Another teen whose face circulated on the “critical missing” flyers contacted WUSA9 to say that she, too, hadn’t actually been missing. Instead, she had not reported to a group home she had been scheduled to move into because there was no space available for her yet, and she went to live with her father temporarily because she did not want to stay any longer at her previous group home.
“I wanted to get out of my old home as soon as possible,” Vaneshia Weaver told the news station. “It had mice, roaches, and was just unsanitary.”
On Monday, Mayor Bowser announced new initiatives to help address the missing and runaway teen problem in Washington, D.C., according to CrimeWatch Daily. One of them, the Missing Persons Evaluation and Reconnection Resources Collaborative, will work to address problems that have led teens to leave voluntarily and provide resources to help improve conditions.
The plan will also assign more MPD officers to the Youth and Family Services Division.
“One missing young person, is one too many, and these new initiatives will help us do more to find and protect young people, particularly young girls of color, across our city,” Mayor Bowser said in a statement.