For many families across North America, the holiday season has begun—a season for spending time with family and reflecting on the blessings in your life. For Hania Aguilar’s family however, this joyous time of year has already been marred by her disappearance. On November 5th, 2018, a man dressed in black with a yellow bandana abducted the 13-year-old while she was outside her home at the Rosewood Mobile Home Park in Lumberton, North Carolina
The incident has caused a fresh surge of panic in a town already pockmarked by cases of other missing women, with the Aguilar’s neighbors keeping their children on a much shorter leash. Parents with anxieties of their children becoming vulnerable to local predators have had their every fear validated by a man in black with terrible motives. Teresa Lauderback is one of these hypervigilant parents, “I’m on top of them at the bus stop every morning and make sure they get on the bus before I walk away.” The mayor of Lumberton, Bruce Davis, also commented on the heightened anxiety in his community, citing the multiple inquiries he’s received about the case, “Everybody is concerned and they’re on edge…They ask all the time, and I have to tell them the FBI does not talk to the mayor. In fact, the FBI doesn’t talk to anybody.”
Hania had gone outside that chilly morning to start her aunt’s green SUV when the man in black appeared and snatched her from her own front yard. In the weeks after Hania’s disappearance, local law enforcement and the FBI held press conferences where they implored the community to come forward with any information they might have about the Lumberton teen. Those press briefings slowed to a staccato rhythm that eventually went quiet. As citizen inquiries in the case remain steady, law enforcement has recently suspended all future press-conferences, barring significant developments in the case.
In an effort to kick up further leads, the FBI and law enforcement implored the local deer hunters of Robeson County to check their video devices for any sign of the SUV, a stolen Ford Expedition, used to abduct Hania. “We are at a critical phase in our investigation and need the public’s help,” the press release said. “If we do not reach everyone with video soon, that video could be lost, as many systems will purge the older footage automatically.” The SUV was eventually located off of Quincy Drive, approximately ten miles from Hania’s home. In addition to deer hunters, homeowners were also asked to check any home security systems with video in order to track the SUV’s movements. Police are seeking a man seen in one such surveillance video, who was walking in the area about an hour before Hania was abducted. He was seen walking on Lambeth Street, headed towards the mobile home park in the minutes leading up to Hania’s disappearance. The search for this possible witness has only grown more desperate, as the investigation took a bleak turn.
In the fourth week of the search for Hania, a body was found by law enforcement while searching for the missing teen. The body was discovered off of Wiregrass Road, approximately ten miles from Hania’s home. At that time, there were at least four investigative bodies searching: The FBI, Lumberton PD, the Robeson County Sheriff’s Office, and the SBI. A press release from the superintendent of Robeson County Schools read, “The body is believed to be Hania, but the identity has not yet been confirmed. This is an unfortunate end to an extensive search and we are committed to supporting all students and staff as they cope with the heartbreaking tragedy.” The superintendent also assured the district that they would be increasing all available resources to support the students and staff at Hania’s school, Lumberton Junior High School. Law enforcement have stated that the remains have been sent to a North Carolina state crime lab located in Raleigh for autopsy and identification.
Unfortunately, Hania’s disappearance is another in a series of disappearances and killings that have haunted Lumberton for almost two years. In 2016, an FBI report revealed that there were 393 violent crimes in Lumberton, more than there are days in the year. The FBI’s analysts determined that a single resident of Lumberton has a 1 in 55 chance of being raped, assaulted, or killed. On April 18th, 2017, Christina Bennett, 32, and Rhonda Jones, 36 were both found dead within 100 yards of each other. Bennett’s body was discovered in an abandoned house, and the body of Jones was recovered from a trash can just across the alley. Both bodies were in an advanced stage of composition when they were found. A few months later in June, the remains of missing woman Megan Oxendine were found in another abandoned house within a two-mile radius of Bennett and Jones. Other women, like Cynthia Jacobs, 41, and Abby Lynn Patterson, 20, have also gone missing from this neighborhood, but were never found. The disappearance of Hania Aguilar has reignited community suspicion that there is a singular apex predator in their midst, targeting women for motives unknown. Community member Robert Norris told the media, “The first thing that comes to mind is that she had to have been watched or someone knew her routine. There’s a lot of possibilities…but nobody really knows until she is found and everything can be investigated. You hear these stories on TV, like in California or New York, and never think it could be right in your own backyard. It makes you get a sense of security and awareness about you that you’ve never had before.”
The community gathered on Wednesday to support Hania’s family. Hania’s mother has appeared in media coverage throughout the search, often with her priest at her side, telling the cameras, “I don’t have words to describe how I feel.” Despite the fear and confusion surrounding her daughter’s disappearance, she is a rock as she delivers a message to the abductor, in Spanish, “Return my daughter. I need her. I am suffering for her. Her sisters are, too.” Further commenting on this investigation’s ‘tragic end,’ the superintendent of Robeson County Schools declared, “We are keeping Hania in our thoughts and will continue to pray for her family and each other as the investigation continues.”
Carie McMichael is the Communication and Media Specialist for Lauth Investigations. She regularly writes on missing person and investigation topics. For more information, please visit our website.
The news cycles this week have been dominated by another missing persons case in middle America, where a familiar refrain is ringing out across the media: “This does not happen here.” It’s a repeated sound byte from law enforcement and Barron, Wisconsin citizens alike as search efforts continue for 13-year-old Jayme Closs, who remains missing following the murder of her parents in their home on October 15th, 2018.
A mysterious 911 call led law enforcement to the Closs home that evening. The dispatcher could not reach the person on the end of the line; however, a commotion could be heard in the background. The 911 call log later revealed the call made from Denise Closs’ cell phone came from inside the Closs home. The call log does not offer useful information about who made the call, the nature of the disturbance, or the content of what was said—if anything. The dispatcher characterized the commotion as “a lot of yelling.” Responding officers noticed signs of forced entry when they arrived at the scene, their description quoted across media claims the door appeared to have been “kicked in.” Inside the house, they discovered James Closs, 56, and Denise Closs, 46, shot to death around 1 AM on October 15th. Their 13-year-old daughter, Jayme, was nowhere to be found on the premises.
Law enforcement officials have fielded more than 1,000 tips from citizens hoping to help find Jayme, but no solid leads have emerged from the tip line. In recent decades, developments in technology used by law enforcement have closed mile-wide gaps in missing persons investigations, especially those of minors, where every second counts. One of these developments is the growing ubiquity of surveillance cameras and CCTV footage in public places and on private property. Jayme Closs’s disappearance has caused many online armchair detectives to draw parallels between her case and that of Mollie Tibbetts, another Midwestern young woman who went missing from sleepy Brooklyn, Iowa over the summer. The major break in her case came from a surveillance camera in which the suspect’s car was seen driving back and forth on the stretch of road where Mollie was known to regularly jog. Private investigator, Thomas Lauth, notes while Jayme disappeared from a town comparable to Brooklyn, the lack of surveillance cameras in comparison to larger municipalities will likely hinder the investigation. In addition, Lauth told Vice, although law enforcement released an Amber Alert, it likely did not unearth credible leads because authorities did not release information about any vehicles associated with Jayme’s disappearance. “Amber Alerts are effective when there is a vehicle description that goes with it. The public is very important in a case like this if there was a vehicle on the actual Amber Alert.”
Now as the search enters its second week, Chris Fitzgerald of the Barron County Sheriff’s Department is turning to the public for more help. In a press release on Monday, the department expressed a need for droves of volunteers to continue the expanding search for Jayme on Tuesday, October 23rd. “Two thousand volunteers are needed and should report to the staging area at 1883 Hwy 25, Barron, WI… Jayme remains missing and endangered and has been added to the top of the FBI’s Missing Persons list, and is currently on digital billboards nationwide,” said Sheriff Chris Fitzgerald in the press release.
Barron is a town of around 3,300 people, so two thousand volunteers? That’s more than half the town turning up to search, but it could serve as a coping mechanism for some who cannot wrap their heads around Jayme’s disappearance. Many in the community say not knowing her fate is the worst part, leaving them in a stagnate stasis of fear, where they don’t forget to lock their doors or fail to be vigilant of their children. But the Barron County Sheriff’s Department just might meet their requirement of 2,000 as support for Jayme and her family only continues to grow and expand. On Monday, the Barron Area School District held “A Gathering of Hope” as a chance for the community to gather in solidarity for Jayme and to connect the community with support resources, such as counseling services. It’s a familiar atmosphere, the kind felt in the community Brooklyn, Iowa, following the death of Mollie Tibbetts. Mollie and Jayme were both young women who vanished from small towns under peculiar or perilous circumstances—their absence disrupting their entire communities as citizens begin shaking their heads, “This does not happen here.”
Carie McMichael is the Communication and Media Specialist for Lauth Investigations International, a private investigation firm based in Indianapolis, Indiana–delivering proactive and diligent solutions for over 30 years. For more information, please visit our website.
When we think of missing persons, we often think of victims who have likely befallen violence at the hands of another. Either they have been killed and their remains concealed, or they were abducted and are being held against their will somewhere. While there are many circumstances under which a person can go missing, those who go missing with mental illness can be some of the most difficult to find. The intricate layered mesh of mental health issues combined with the complexities of a missing persons investigation make for a maddening puzzle that plagues both the heart and the mind.
Nationwide interest in missing persons cases most often occurs when the victim is a child or a young adult. News coverage of the Mollie Tibbetts case made it all the way to Washington D.C., with politicians and activists alike invoking her name. Few things attract viewers to news cycles like coverage of a case involving a missing toddler, like that of Lucas Hernandez earlier this year. Cases involving missing adults draw far less attention from both media and law enforcement, despite the fact in 2017, nearly 500k missing persons files collected by the National Crime Information Center (NCIC), 150k were persons who went missing over the age of 21.
According to the non-profit Missing People, just because a person is reported as missing does not mean law enforcement will necessarily see it that way. There are many reasons a person might disappear of their own volition. After all, adults are free to conduct their lives as they see fit, beholden to no one so long as they do not break the law. Perhaps they’re a battered spouse attempting to escape their partner, or a person escaping harassment on behalf of people in their community, or maybe they just want a fresh start. These assumptions leave missing adult cases with a high threshold to prove the person is in danger.
Take for instance the case of Molly Dattilo, a woman who went missing from Indianapolis in July of 2004. She was a student at Eastern Kentucky University taking summer classes at an IUPUI campus in Indianapolis, trying to finish her education in her fifth year at 22 years old. On the night she went missing, her movements are well-documented. After dropping off a job application at a local Wendy’s restaurant, she bought supplies for school and for her personal hobbies, as well as made a change to her IUPUI schedule. At 11:00 that night, she placed a phone call from a booth at a Thorton’s gas station. When her vehicle was discovered, all of her personal belongings were left behind inside, including her wallet, cell phone, and several more job applications. From what we know, it doesn’t appear Molly had any intentions of running away, or starting over in a new place, so why did it take law enforcement months to get involved in her disappearance?
What the Johnny Gosch bill did to change how law enforcement reacts to missing child cases, Molly’s Law did for how law enforcement reacts to cases involving missing adults. The law crafted important procedures for executing investigations into missing adult cases in the state of Indiana, and assists law enforcement and the victims’ families communicate and work in tandem to find their missing loved ones. Governor Mitch Daniels signed the law in 2007, defining once and for all what constituted “high risk” in adult missing person cases and how to obtain information relevant to finding that adult. The law also states law enforcement may enter missing person’s information into the NCIC database as soon as two hours after the person is reported missing. According to the FBI, “A person of any age who is missing and who is under proven physical/mental disability or is senile, thereby subjecting that person or others to personal and immediate danger,” is the requirement for having their information placed in the NCIC database. This can be the difference between your loved one ending up in jail versus the hospital when confronted by law enforcement, whether they are looking for them or not.
The case of Kristen Modafferi also had a significant impact on law enforcement investigations into missing adults. While Kristen was only 18 at the time of her disappearance, her age still precluded the investigation from valuable resources that might have assisted in finding her. Twenty years later, her case still remains one of the most baffling missing person cases to date. As a reaction to her case, the National Center for Missing Adults was created, one of the first of its kind. Kristen’s Act, signed into law by Bill Clinton in 2000, provided federal funding to organizations like the National Center for Missing Adults. The center lost funding in 2004 after Kristen’s Act expired and continues with the help of donations and volunteer efforts.
It is clear missing adult investigations are far more complicated than missing minors. Now when you throw the numerous complexities of mental illness into the intricate layers of a missing adult investigation, the waters become murky in record time. That’s why the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) recommends acting as soon as possible when a loved one with mental illness goes missing, first by calling the police. Information is key to finding any missing person, so providing law enforcement with all the information you can remember will be instrumental to locating them. Not just identifying information, but also details about their schedule or their daily routine can inform law enforcement of the missing adult’s habits. If your mentally ill loved one is missing for more than three days, you should request law enforcement enter their name onto the FBI’s NCIC list as an “endangered adult.” In addition to contacting the police, NAMI also suggests reaching out to the missing person’s friends and coworkers to see if they’ve heard from them.
Just like with any missing persons case, you should create a flyer with the person’s picture and include the following information:
- Home state and town
- Photo of their Vehicle
- Where they were last seen
- Phone number of police department and name of investigator
Once you’ve got a flyer, check nearby hospitals, churches, homeless shelters, and libraries for your loved one, posting flyers where permitted. Getting your missing loved one’s face out there is crucial to their being found. Even more important than posting flyers is creating a social media page with the same information in order to spread the missing person’s face throughout the internet at high speeds. Getting a person’s case to go viral can often draw in helpful tips to law enforcement that can lead to resolution in the case. It is crucial you emphasize the specifics of your loved one’s mental illness so anyone who sees them can react appropriately. It’s important to remain diligent in sharing the person’s picture and their story. The internet offers the average individual an opportunity to cultivate interest in their loved one’s case in a way they cannot control with mainstream media, making it a vital tool in the modern-day missing persons investigation.
When dealing with a missing person with mental illness, it’s important you seek the advice of professionals who are familiar with the complexities of their disease. Even if you have known the person for many years, only an expert can speak with certainty to the details of their illness. Contacting your local NAMI affiliate or another accredited mental health organization can put you in touch with people and resources valuable in locating your missing loved one. Remember, these are vulnerable people who might feel threatened, or as if they have no way out. Mental health professionals can help provide answers as to why a loved one disappeared in the first place. Regardless of the specific circumstances, it’s important to have an expert on hand to advise both law enforcement and the family of the intricacies of the person’s mental illness and what they might do next.
The disheartening thing is once a missing adult with mental illness has been located, law enforcement is not obligated to detain them unless they have committed a crime or are a danger to themselves and others. They cannot hold them against their will, and they cannot force them to take their medication unless they have been compelled to do so by a court order. It’s not always a happy ending when a missing adult with mental illness is found. Take for instance the case of Christopher Aaron Moreland. His mother, Elise Cash, had given up all hope her son with paranoid schizophrenia would ever be returned to her. After a pattern of increasingly paranoid and suspicious behavior, Christopher had disappeared, leaving a three-month supply of his anti-psychotic medication behind. After fifteen years without answers, Cash was contacted by a woman who said she had found Cash’s son. When the mother was finally reunited with her son, he did not recognize her and refused to return home with her—he even went as far as threatening to call the police if she did not leave him alone. In 2011, he was arrested on a felony possession of marijuana charge, which landed him in jail. This provided Cash with some relief, because at least now she knew where her son was at all times.
Dementia is not a mental illness, but adults with dementia are the most vulnerable adults who disappear. Dementia and mental illness do share some qualities, most significantly that they are disorders of the brain. Their brain chemistry is fundamentally different from the average human, leading to a myriad of brain disorders from Alzheimer’s to paranoid schizophrenia. As a result, investigating the disappearance of these persons becomes complicated. Adults with Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia are prone to what’s known as “wandering.” There are millions of stories of individuals whose aging parents simply wandered away from the property—or from their side—one day. Kimberly Kelly is the founder and current director of Project Far from Home, an educational program tailored to train law enforcement and search and rescue teams how to respond to calls concerning missing adults with Alzheimer’s or dementia. Kelly told HuffPost, “With 5.5 million people with the disease, and 70 percent wandering away at least once, you can do the math. Even [if] it is a 10-minute wandering episode versus a 10-day episode, you’re still looking at potentially 3 million people who would be walking away any given year. It’s huge.”
It’s a startling statistic of epidemic proportions, but rarely is it covered in the media. And even more terrifying, it has the potential to become much worse as the baby boomers continue to age. That’s an estimated 16.5 million individuals who will suffer from Alzheimer’s before the year 2050. In the case of Alzheimer’s and dementia patients, they are adults who cannot afford anything less than immediate response from family and law enforcement. When they cannot remember where they are, where they wanted to go, or how to get back home, they are the definition of endangered. Help for Alzhemier’s Families is a resource website with invaluable information for caregivers. They recommend acting immediately when you realized your loved one with dementia is missing. Conduct a thorough, but expedient search for them in the area where they were last seen—allowing no more than 15 minutes. Monica Moreno is the director of Early-Stage Initiatives for the Alzheimer’s Association. According to her, “Those who wander are often found within a half mile of home or the starting location of the incident.” The first 24 hours after your loved one goes missing is crucial, so if you find no sign of them, call 911. Brace yourself and your memory, as your knowledge about the adult’s habits and behaviors will be crucial to aiding law enforcement in locating them unharmed.
Caregivers and loved ones should inform law enforcement of the specifics of their disease so they can issue a Silver Alert. A Silver Alert is like an Amber Alert, except instead of missing children, it concerns missing adults with dementia and other mental disabilities. The scope of the alert varies by state, most specifically persons over 65 who have been medically diagnosed by a medical professional as having a mental disability. Some states recognize persons of any age with a mental disability under the Silver Alert. One of the first nationally-recognized cases that laid the groundwork for this alert was the disappearance of Mattie Moore in 2004. She was a 68-year-old Alzheimer’s patient from Atlanta. After Mattie’s body was located 500 yards from her house, the city of Atlanta invented “Mattie’s Call” as a concentrated effort to support responders in search of missing adults with dementia. Today, there are few states that do not have programs formally known as Silver Alerts, or programs that are similar.
The Department of Justice responded to the epidemic of missing persons in the United States by creating the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System (NamUS). According to them, humanity is running out of time to develop a cure before there is a major spike in missing persons cases due to wandering dementia patients. Caregivers and families should register their loved one with NamUs to increase the likelihood that they will be found and identified.
An avenue often unexplored by families of missing adults with mental illness is hiring a private investigator. After all, law enforcement is equipped with the tools and experience to find missing adults, especially ones with mental illnesses. However, private investigators have similar experience and tools as law enforcement, and can give your loved one’s case the focus it demands. Depending on how well-staffed a police department is, the average investigator can juggle between 30-40 cases, leaving your missing loved one with mental illness as a file on someone’s desk. On average, private investigators handle between three and four cases at a time, meaning your missing loved one’s case gets the attention and dedication it deserves. Law enforcement is not obligated to notify the family of a missing adult with mental illness if they locate them, unless they fall under the supervision of the court. A private investigator is restricted by law on the information they can release once an adult with mental illness has been located, but they can inform the missing adult that their family is concerned about them, and the private investigator can relay the message to the family that their loved one has been found.
When a loved one goes missing, as private investigator Thomas Lauth says, “the family become members of a club no one wants to join.” And when a loved one with mental illness goes missing, it can exacerbate the fear and dread. Taking action right away will help ensure the investigation gets off to a strong start. Provide information to investigators and spread your loved one’s name and story for the world to see. As Elise Cash said in a post in a Facebook group for locating missing adults, “All it takes is ONE PERSON to recognize Chris somewhere.” Seeking the advice of professionals can not only help you locate the missing adult, but also process the trauma of losing them. It’s just as important for the families of missing adults to take care of themselves while they continue their search. Find solidarity in the social media groups and pages seeking to provide support for families of missing persons. Not only will there be a network of empathetic people to prop you up, but these communities can often kick up new leads for investigators that might lead to a resolution in your case. While missing adults may not receive the same Amber Alerts children do, they still need people to look for them. And when an adult with mental illness goes missing, it’s going to take a network of educated and informed individuals to find them.
Carie McMichael is the Communication and Media Specialist for Lauth Investigations International, a private investigation firm based in Indianapolis, Indiana–delivering proactive and diligent solutions for over 30 years. For more information, please visit our website.
(Kiera Bergman has been missing from Glendale, Ariz., since August 4, 2018.)
Kiera Lanae Bergman, 19, was last seen by her best friend and roommate, Destiny Hall-Chand. The two young women worked together at a Glendale furniture store, just west of Phoenix, Arizona.
Hall-Chand told the Arizona Republic that she and Bergman were at work on August 4, when Bergman became upset and asked to leave work early. According to Hall-Chand, Bergman’s ex-boyfriend picked her up.
When Hall-Chand returned to their Glendale apartment near 51st Avenue and Thunderbird Road, Bergman was not there but her car, keys, wallet, and purse were.
Hall-Chand said she sent numerous texts to Bergman and eventually received a response she deemed strange.
After Bergman failed to come home or show up for work the following day, Hall-Chand called the Phoenix Police Department and filed a missing person report.
“She was saying that she was going to go out with some guy she met at the store a couple days ago, which is something that’s not like her,” Hall-Chand told KPHO-TV. “That’s not something she would do.”
Bergman reportedly told Hall-Chand she would contact her as soon as she got a phone charger.
That was 14 days ago.
(Kiera Bergman was last known to be at her Glendale, Ariz., apartment on August 4, 2018.)
“Her family is concerned for her welfare,” said Phoenix Police in a press release.
Bergman moved from San Diego to Glendale in March, to be with her boyfriend. Family members told the Arizona Republic he and Bergman had split up before her disappearance.
Kiersten Bragg, Bergman’s mother left her home in San Diego to travel to Phoenix to search for her daughter.
Bragg told Good Morning America it wasn’t like Bergman to be out of contact, adding she last spoke to her daughter via text on July 30, but she wasn’t “her normal, happy self.”
“If we knew something, our minds wouldn’t be racing and thinking of all the different possibilities.”
In addition, Bragg told ABC News that prior to the breakup with Bergman’s ex-boyfriend, they frequently fought and her daughter did not seem as happy as she was before. After the couple split, Bergman moved into an apartment with Hall-Chand.
AZ Central reported the boyfriend says he has been questioned regarding Bergman’s disappearance.
Those concerned for Bergman’s safety have more questions than answers.
Jon-Christopher Clark, 23, told the HuffPost “I didn’t want to do anything that would give an indication I was hiding anything but also didn’t want anything on the record that would have them say I was doing anything or had any part in this.”
“I told them I would not like a lie detector test because, “One, they are not admissible in court, and two, whatever you guys gather from that is basically your interpretation on my feelings,’” Clark continued. “So, I didn’t want [investigators] to pretty much gather [their] conclusions off of something that is not guaranteed.”
Investigators picked Clark up at a hotel last Monday and transported him to the police station for questioning.
Clark has been dating Bergman since December of last year and has
(Jon-Christopher Clark was dating Keira Bergman since December 2017.)
consistently denied he was involved in Bergman’s disappearance. Police have not named Clark as a suspect.
While it is common for police to ask the significant other of a missing person to come to the station to talk, Clark claims he wasn’t given the opportunity to voluntarily come in as he alleges 20 tactical officers surrounded him while checking out of a local hotel.
“They handcuffed me, put me in the back of a car and. When we got to the interview room [they] handcuffed me to a table the entire time,” Clark said.
Chris Bragg, Bergman’s father is concerned something tragic has happened to his daughter.
Bragg was told Hall-Chand and Clark called police together, but Clark left before police arrived which he thinks strange. Bragg acknowledges he left before police arrived, saying he was staying with a friend and was unable to connect with Phoenix Police detectives until they picked him up at the hotel on Monday.
“They served a search warrant on my phone, car, the pace I was staying at and talked to all my friends and family,” Clark said. “DNA was one of the stipulations of the court order, so they took my DNA — did swabs, all kinds of fingerprints, my wrists, hands, everything — and took numerous pictures of me and my tattoos.”
Clark claims to have fully cooperated with investigators, except for voluntarily agreeing to take the polygraph.
Bragg took a tour of his daughter’s apartment last week and noted his daughter’s bedroom was the only room in the house that evidence had been removed by crime scene technicians.
“The bedding was stripped off the bed, taken as evidence, but aside from that, it looked like a college kid’s apartment,” Bragg went on to tell HuffPost. “It didn’t have a whole lot of furniture and wasn’t really nice.”
The scariest part of this whole situation is Bragg claims detectives told him they had found his daughter’s personal items in a very strange place in the home.
“Her ID for work, her purse with her wallet, ID and credit cards, was found thrown in the back of her closet,” Bragg said. “That is strange. What woman throws her purse in the back of her closet?”
When HuffPost called Phoenix Police, they would not confirm or deny Bergman’s personal belongings were found in a closet.
Bragg calls his daughter’s disappearance devastating.
“We just want her back, Bragg said. “Please just call the police. A piece of our heart is missing, and without it we don’t feel whole. It’s heartbreaking. Pleas somebody saqy something.”
(Kiera Bergman’s mother and family old vigil outside her daughter’s apartment in Glendale, Ariz.)
At a vigil family and friends held at Bergman’s apartment on the evening of August 11, her friend Hall-Chand told KPHO TV and KTVK TV that she doesn’t know what to think about her best friend’s disappearance. “I don’t know. I don’t know what to think, I don’t know what to believe, I don’t know,” she said. “It’s just, I know there’s something wrong. I’m just hoping she’ll come home, and everything will be OK.”
Phoenix Police Public Information Sergeant Vincent Lewis told KNBC that investigators are stymied in their search for the missing young woman and there is no information obtained through their investigation that determines she is a victim of foul play.’
However, Bergman’s family believe something horrible has happened to her.
“She’s a beautiful, sweet, super talented young woman,” says Bragg when describing her missing daughter. “She’s caring, she’s very strong-minded, she’s just a sweet loving person.”
Bergman’s mother told the Arizona Republic she had a message for her daughter. “Wherever you are, if you can hear this, if you can see or hear it, just know we are doing everything we can and fighting so hard to find you.”
(Flowers sit outside Keira Bergman’s Glendale Ariz., apartment, placed there by family and friends.)
Keira Bergman’s disappearance has caught the attention of national news and appeared in USA Today and Newsweek and one private investigator that has worked many missing person cases in the state of Arizona.
Thomas Lauth. Founder of Lauth Missing Persons has worked over twenty-years on missing person cases and considered an expert in the field. The family and friends give various and multiple accounts of arguments between Kiera and Jon Christopher Clark, and it would seem the hostility grew worse around the time of Kiera’s disappearance. Mr. Clarks excuse for not submitting to the polygraph is not supportive of someone wanting to clear his name and allow investigators to focus their efforts elsewhere. Mr. Clark’s behavior following Kiera’s disappearance is highly suspicious and he should submit to a polygraph.
In the United States, as of May 31, 2018, there were 87,608 actives missing person cases in the National Crime Information Center at the Federal Bureau of Investigation. There were 2,286 listed as missing within the state of Arizona.
Anyone with information should call the Phoenix Police Department at 602-534-2121.
For more information on missing persons investigations, please visit our website.
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!