If you are a missing person, it helps to be white
(Jasmine Moody vanished in Detroit, Michigan on December 4, 2014.)
Jasmine Moody, a 22-year old Texas Women’s University student mysteriously vanished on December 4, 2014, while visiting a friend in Detroit, Michigan. Nearly four years later, police are no closer to figuring out what happened to her. News coverage of her disappearance has long since vanished from the scene too, folding into the phenomenon of what is known as Missing White Woman Syndrome.
Approximately 7:30 p.m., the evening of December 4th, Jasmine was last seen leaving her friend’s home in the vicinity of the 3700 block of Baldwin, in the Van Dyke and Mack area of Detroit. Her family, who lives in Texas, is convinced foul play is involved in Jasmine’s disappearance and disappointed in the police department’s response and ensuing investigation.
“My daughter was real popular. She had a lot of friends. She was very social and energetic,” Jasmine’s mother Lisa Kidd told Dateline. “She always had a smile on her face. Always, always.”
Jasmine had known she wanted to be a nurse since she was 16 and described as a well-rounded student at Texas Woman’s University. According to her stepfather Patrick Kidd, Jasmine was a straight-A student, danced, and was training to be part of the U.S. Armed Forces through her school’s ROTC program.
According to police, Jasmine had developed an online relationship with Brittany Gurley, a woman who lived in Detroit. Just a few months after meeting online, Jasmine and Brittany had developed a strong friendship and Jasmine flew to visit Brittany and her family for Thanksgiving.
On the evening of December 4th, the two women allegedly got into an argument about Jasmine’s social media posts. Brittany and her family would later tell police that Jasmine put on a hoodie and walked out of the house.
Little else is known about her disappearance. No major ground search was conducted, and ongoing media exposure on a national level has been minimal.
In contrast to Jasmine Moody’s case, Lauren Spierer, a 20-year old student at Indiana University, vanished June 3, 2011, after an evening out with friends in Bloomington, Indiana. Lauren, who grew up in Scarsdale, an affluent town in Westchester, New York. Her disappearance quickly garnered national press attention but remains unsolved.
“Lauren’s disappearance has been and continues to be the most heart-wrenching experience of our lives,” Lauren’s family posted on Facebook on June 4, 2018, seven years after her disappearance. “I remember writing a few short months after Lauren’s disappearance that I never thought I would see an October without answers. I could never have imagined we would still be searching for Lauren seven years later. I end this now as I start each morning, hoping today will be the day.”
After an evening out at Kilroy’s Sports Bar with friends, Lauren was last seen on 11th Street and College Avenue in Bloomington at approximately 4:15 a.m. She had left her cell phone and shoes at the bar, presumedly taking her shoes off in the beach-themed bar’s sand-filled courtyard.
National news quickly began covering Lauren’s disappearance while hundreds of volunteers assembled to distribute thousands of fliers and help conduct ground searches of the area. A billboard overlooking the Indiana State Fairgrounds, along Fall Creek Parkway, asks the public for any information that would lead to the whereabouts of Lauren.
(Thousands of flyers of missing person Lauren Spierer have been distributed throughout the country.)
Hundreds of volunteers continued to turn out daily to help the family in their search.
Lauren’s case was profiled on popular America’s Most Wanted in 2011, leading to dozens of leads but not that one the family needed. Over the years, dozens of news media outlets have covered Lauren’s story.
Early on, Lauren’s parents hired private investigators and today, maintain an active Facebook group.
In one very revealing and heartfelt post, Lauren’s mother writes, “I could not have imagined on June 3, 2011, that my life would ever have any semblance of normalcy. Unfortunately, that word will never be applied to our lives. You learn to live with routines which get you through your days, weeks, months, and years. We will never know normal. Some of the things taken for granted in ordinary families are so far removed from ours it’s difficult to fathom. They range from everyday life events, a wedding, a birth and yes sadly death. What I wouldn’t do to hear Lauren’s voice or even just to notice a text on my phone. Something so simple as a text. My heart breaks at the thought of it. Well, those responsible will never be able to imagine. I have said it before and I know it’s redundant but what could have been an accident in a few short hours became a crime. The worst nightmare any parent or sister could imagine.”
Every day Lauren’s family simply hopes for answers. That’s all any family of a missing person could ask for.
Two young women, one black, one white, both ambitious students couldn’t be treated more differently by the media. One becomes nearly a household name, the other nearly forgotten. With absolute certainty, no one can say exactly why.
What are the numbers?
As of May 31, 2018, there were 87,608 active missing person cases in the National Crime Information Center (NCIC) database at the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Of the active missing person cases listed in NCIC, 40,108 cases are of missing women and 26,842 are black.
(National Crime Information Center Report)
Names like Chandra Levy, Laci Peterson, Elizabeth Smart, Polly Klaas, Natalie Holloway and Lauren Spierer have become familiar household names. Their missing person cases have dominated the headlines over the years. Cases like Jasmine Moody’s are not rare and unfortunately rarely make the local news.
Historically, whenever a female missing person becomes a national headline, she is almost certain to be a pretty, young white woman.
When was the last time you heard of a missing black female on CNN or other national news outlets?
In an NBC news story “Damsels in Distress” Roy Peter Clark, head of Poynter Institute for Media Studies is quoted, “It’s all about sex,” said Clark. “Young white women give editors and television producers what they want.”
“There are several common threads,” said Clark. “The victims that get the most coverage are female rather than male. They are white, in general, rather than young people of color. They are at least middle class, if not upper middle class.”
Some say the cases fit a narrative pattern that storytellers have used for more than a century, a pattern who design still incorporates remnants of an outmoded view of women and black people and their roles in society.
When it comes to popular stories, Clark said, “there is this perverted, racist view of the world. White is good; black is bad. Blonde is good; dark is bad. Young is good; old is bad. And I think we can find versions of this story going back to the tabloid wars of more than a hundred years ago.”
Regardless of class, color or age, it is clear that there is disproportionate coverage of black missing person cases. Referred to as “Missing White Woman Syndrome” and has led to a number of tough on crime measures named after white women who disappeared such as Suzanne’s Law, Kristen’s Law, Jennifer’s Law, Amber Alert and others.
In a study conducted by Baylor University, “The Invisible Damsel: Differences in How National Media Outlets Framed the Coverage of Missing Black and White Women in the Mid-2000s,” Professors Moody, Dorris and Blackwell concluded that in addition to race and class, factors such as supposed attractiveness, body size, and youthfulness function as unfair criteria in determining newsworthiness in the national news coverage of missing women. In addition, news coverage of missing black women was more likely to focus on the victim’s problems, such as abusive relationships, a troubled past, while coverage of white women tends to focus on roles as mothers or daughters.
Zach Somers, a sociologist at Northwestern University, noted that while there has been extensive research that shows that white people are more likely than people of color to appear in news coverage as victims of violent crime, there is relatively none when it comes to missing person cases.
Victim blaming appears to be compounding the unequal coverage and reinforces the view that black female victims are not only less innocent, but less worthy of rescue relative to white women. Thus, the term “Damsels in Distress.”
Others have blamed “police brutality” for the lack of publicity given to black female missing persons, attributing the silence to a habit of “sexism and patriarchy” in American society.
One group is fighting the imbalance of national media exposure that exists. The Black and Missing Foundation’s mission is to draw more attention to missing African Americans by providing an outlet for spreading the word through technology and print – and their work is making a difference.
By creating relationships with the media, government agencies, and the public, they are increasing the chances of missing black women being covered in the news and ultimately, to bring them home.
Derica and Natalie Wilson, two sisters-in-law, and founders of the Black and Missing Foundation have been profiled in People Magazine, Essence, Ebony, Huffington Post, Washington Post and developed a partnership with TV One. This year they celebrate ten years, helping thousands of families of missing persons and finding nearly 300 people.
“Many times, we are a family’s last resort – their last hope., says co-founder Natalie Wilson. This platform allows us to open our doors for families searching for their missing loved ones and not restrict access to help.”
Black and Missing Foundation have set the example for other groups to follow, especially the media.
Thomas Lauth of Lauth Missing Persons: an Expert in Missing Children and Adults noted, “In the 17 years of conducting missing persons cases for families and non-profit organizations, there is certainly a media and public bias against a missing person of color. When the general public and the media see a blonde 18 year-old on CNN that is missing–as opposed to an African American female on CNN–there is immediate attention to the blonde. Luckily there are non profit organizations such as Black and Missing to help bring more exposure to advocacy to the families for persons of color.”
Finding missing persons is a cooperative effort between the police, media, social service agencies and especially the public. With every news story, the coverage generates leads and increases the chance of that one lead being reported that will assist law enforcement in the investigation, and even close a case.
When it comes to missing persons there is no black and white, there are only families who are missing their daughters, siblings missing their sisters, children who are missing their mothers. There is no rich or poor, only families, human beings experiencing the most traumatic experience of their lifetimes.
People . . . who need our help.
For more of Kym Pasqualini’s work in missing persons, please visit her website, Missing Leads , or log on to Facebook and join the conversation on the Missing Leads Discusssion page!
According to the National Crime Information Center (NCIC) at the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), there are 86,927 active missing persons cases as of April 30, 2018. These cases include juvenile disappearances, endangered missing, involuntary or “non-family” abductions, those with disabilities, catastrophe victims and those entered into NCIC as “other.”
When a person we love goes missing, a time of great emotional turmoil and intense ambiguity follows. Dr. Pauline Boss said decades ago, having a loved one go missing is one of the most traumatic of human experiences.
Not only are families trying to manage the trauma of “not knowing” where their loved one is, they must quickly learn to maneuver the legal system. When do you report a loved one missing? What happens when police get involved? What can you do to help find a missing person? These are just a few of the questions a family of a missing person is facing.
Unfortunately, there is no handbook to fully educate someone as to what do to and how to emotionally handle the initial shock or help maintain the energy needed to find a loved one who has mysteriously vanished. However, there are many things you can do to help find a missing loved one and help reduce stress for family members.
There are various contributors to cause a person to go missing. A family member may suffer from Alzheimer’s or mental illness, they may be a victim of domestic violence, live a “high risk” lifestyle, even be a victim of a vehicular accident. There are also disappearances that cannot be immediately explained.
The key to increasing the chances of finding a missing person safe is acting fast and initiating a search effort as soon as possible. From making the initial missing person report and engaging the public to hiring a private investigator, there is much to expedite finding a missing loved one.
1. Contact Authorities
Making a police report is the first and most vital step in initiating a search for a missing person. Filing a police report ensures local law enforcement is alerted to the disappearance and can assess the situation to determine if the person may be in danger and if an investigation needs to be conducted.
When a child goes missing, law enforcement is required by federal mandate to take the report immediately and enter the child’s information into the National Crime Information Center at the FBI. However, when an adult goes missing, law enforcement is not required to take an immediate report or enter the person into NCIC and may cite a 24-48 hour waiting period as policy. There is no federal mandate requiring law enforcement to wait to take a report. It helps to be calm while insisting they take a report.
Though many law enforcement agencies will take an immediate report, it is recommended to inform officers of anything to classify the person as endangered such as needing medications for a medical condition, suffering from mental illness, being a danger to themselves or others, a domestic violence situation, any threats the person may have received, a situation where it is out of normal behavior to vanish for any length of time. For example, if a mother regularly picks up her child at daycare and fails to arrive to pick their child up, this would be considered out of the behavioral norm.
Be prepared to provide authorities with the missing person’s descriptive information, a current photograph, a list of places the person frequents, list of friends and family, description of the missing person’s vehicle, a list of possessions missing or left behind, etc.
Once a report has been filed, be sure to keep a copy. Also request the NCIC number (this reflects the person has been entered into the national FBI database and available nationwide to all law enforcement, medical examiners, and Coroners).
Regardless of the circumstance of the disappearance, making a police report is beneficial.
2. Keep a Log
Keeping a log with the full names and contact information of all people you talk to is important in maintaining good communication with everyone involved in the search for the missing person and staying organized.
It is easy to feel overwhelmed when making numerous phone calls, sending emails, etc. Keeping a log is a simple but important way to stay organized and maintain effectiveness, in addition to reducing stress.
3. Contact Family, Friends and Coworkers
Many times, a simple lack of communication can occur, and a missing person can be found by contacting family, friends, and coworkers.
Even after making a missing person report to police, be sure to reach out to others to find out if they have seen the individual or told where the person may be going. Life can become busy and simple miscommunication can contribute to a person being out of touch for extended periods of time. Cover all your bases by calling or texting friends to find out if they have heard from the missing person.
4. Social Networks
Social networks like Facebook can be integral to the search for a missing person from the moment the person is missing to an ongoing search if necessary.
Look at the missing person’s social media pages for their last posts, any information about their plans and even state of mind. Look to see if they received any harassing or strange communications from others.
Contact Facebook friends and ask if they have heard from or seen the missing person. It is important to provide any pertinent information you receive from others to the investigating law enforcement agency.
Also, Facebook and Instagram are the perfect places to obtain current photographs of the missing person to be provided to law enforcement and to make fliers.
5. Contact Jails, Homeless Shelters, Hospitals and Morgues
It is important to remain cognizant of law enforcement’s limitations when searching for a missing person, especially adults as they have a right to go missing if they so choose.
As difficult as it can be, it is necessary to contact hospitals and morgues to see if the individual is injured in the hospital or unidentified in a morgue. This can be a very difficult task and you may want to ask a friend or family member to help make the calls.
6. Register the Missing Person with Organizations Offering Resources
If you are searching for a missing child, call the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children (NCMEC) as soon as possible. NCMEC specializes in providing services for families and children who are missing. NCMEC can be reached at 1-800-THE-LOST (800-843-5678).
For families searching for someone with mental illness, the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) provides resources for families. Their website also offers many resources.
Contact the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System (NAMUS) at www.findthemissing.org or www.namus.org. NAMUS is a powerful resource where information about missing persons is entered by family members of missing persons, the criminal justice community, law enforcement, and medical examiners and is publicly accessible.
7. Make a One-Page Flyer
Make a one-page flyer of the missing person. The flyer should contain the following:
- Preferably two current photographs of the missing person
- Full name
- Height, Weight, Age
- Photo of vehicle and license plate
- Place last seen
- Phone number of investigating law enforcement
*NOTE: It is recommended you never place your own phone number or contact information on a missing person flyer. First, it is very important calls are handled by a professional so as not to compromise an investigation. Second, many times families will receive cruel, harassing, and misleading calls from the public and it is very important to protect yourself and your family by buffering these calls.
Engage the public by asking community store owners to hang signs in their place of businesses. Place one at your local post office and anywhere you can legally hang a public notice.
8. Create a Website and Social Media Page
Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest and other social network sites can be instrumental when searching for a missing loved one, especially if they are not found immediately. With any missing person case, it is important to maintain awareness and keep the public engaged in the search.
- Create a site with an engaging name like “Find Jane Doe” or “Missing Jane Smith”. This will help bring your page up in Google and related search results.
- Post recent pictures and include specific descriptive information to include the clothing they were last wearing, jewelry, glasses, tattoos, scars, etc.
- Upload a PDF version of the flier so others can share and download to post in their communities.
- If your loved one has a mental illness, you may want to simply say the person is “endangered” due to a medical condition or vulnerable and needs medications.
- Add links to any news stories.
- Upload a video and make a personal public appeal.
- Make sure to provide the investigating law enforcement agency’s number and encourage people to call them directly with information and leads.
9. Alert your Local Newspapers and Media
Getting local media to assist can sometimes be difficult. News stations are not likely to cover a missing person story unless it comes from law enforcement. It is much easier if law enforcement puts out a press release indicating a person is in danger. Speak to the detectives and ask if they will issue a press release.
10. Hiring a Private Investigator
When is it time to hire a private investigator? There is no easy answer, but it is encouraged to consult with one early on, especially if the person has not returned home within a few days.
Because there is only so much law enforcement can do, at times finding the missing person requires additional assistance, both professional and specialized.
A missing person private investigator has access to databases and systems the general public does not, making finding a missing person a much easier task. An experienced private detective with experience working with law enforcement can be an asset to a missing person investigation, and can ease the burden off families, allowing family and friends to concentrate on other efforts, like social networking and keeping the public engaged.
Experienced private investigators can access information, interview witnesses and community members in order to generate new leads for an investigation, sharing information with the investigating law enforcement agency to ensure all rocks are being overturned.
Because their missing person private investigation services are being paid for, a private investigator will ensure locating the missing person has their full attention.
It is also advisable to look for a missing person private investigator who has experience working with media, so they may comment on the case without compromising law enforcement’s investigation.
About Kym L. Pasqualini
Kym Pasqualini is founder and served as CEO for the Nation’s Missing Children Organization and National Center for Missing Adults from 1994-2010. Kym has worked with media world-wide and quoted in publications such as People Magazine, Cosmopolitan, Glamour. Kym has appeared in local and national media to include CNN, FOX, BBC, Montel Williams and the John Walsh Show. Kym continues to work with families of the missing and law enforcement nationwide.
Kym has started the website, www.missingleads.com, and the facebook discussion group, https://www.facebook.com/groups/missingleads focusing on locating clues and keeping focus on cold missing persons and unsolved homicide cases.