Town hall meeting held to discuss missing children in DC

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FOX 5 was the first to report D.C. police were tweeting about an unusually high number of missing children. According to city officials, there is not an uptick in missing persons cases, but community members remain frustrated.

On Wednesday night, a town hall-style meeting was held at Excel Academy Public Charter School in Southeast D.C., which was hosted by Ward 8 Councilmember Trayon White.

Hundreds of people packed the room for this meeting while there were many others who could not even get in the door. The heart of this forum – what is going on and what is being done to cut down on the number of missing children in the District.

With a lack of answers about why these kids are going missing –many of them teenage girls – is leading to fear on the streets. There is a real problem with runaways in the city, but as many point out, those girls are either running away from something or toward something.

“The difficult thing is some of these kids do go missing multiple times,” said Acting Police Chief Peter Newsham. “When they go missing, guess what? You have a child out there and there are people in our community that will prey on those children.”

Some community members lined up to speak to city officials. The meeting also became heated, with people shouting criticisms at the city leaders.

Back in February, FOX 5 first noticed an alarming amount of tweets detailing missing girl cases. In the past 24 hours, there were four new cases at one time.

The statistics do not show an spike in missing person cases among juveniles when compared to previous years, which is perhaps even more alarming. Here is the number of juveniles reported missing over the last five years, according to D.C. police’s website:

2017: 501 (as of March 22)
2016: 2,242
2015: 2,433
2014: 2,222
2013: 2,067
2012: 2,610

The reason we are noticing more about these missing person cases is due to efforts by a new Commander Chanel Dickerson. She decided to make sure every case gets the same attention and is posted on social media.

RELATED: New commander brings extra awareness to missing DC children

In fact, until a few weeks ago, D.C. police’s website only listed one missing person – the high-profile case of Relisha Rudd. Their website now been updated and there are at least 10 active missing cases involving girls 18 years old and under.

“One child missing is one too many,” said Derrica Wilson, president of the Black and Missing Foundation. “It is not so much about the numbers. It is about the ones that are missing, what we can do to get them safe.”

There is concern about the role social media plays, particularly when it comes to the threat of human trafficking.

“It is a blessing and it is a curse,” said Wilson. “We are utilizing this tool to get these faces out there to find the missing and they are using these tools to recruit.”

On Wednesday, a post on Instagram claiming to be from Chareah Payne, who is currently missing after she was last seen on Friday in Southwest D.C., said she was safe but ran away due to poor foster care conditions. Her whereabouts remain unknown.

“Just because you see text from your loved one or you see a Facebook post from your loved one, it doesn’t necessarily mean they are okay,” Chief Newsham warned. “We got to keep looking for them until we get them back home.”

Mayor Muriel Bowser is promising more effort will be made to follow up once a child is found and reunited with their family.

“We are also figuring out how we can better support that family so that kids are in school, kids are in safe homes or we identify other solutions for that family,” said Bowser.

There was an outcry for additional mental health services for children at the meeting and some people were also irate over the fact that we see a lack of Amber Alerts for all these missing persons cases.

The police chief pointed out under federal guidelines, police need to have a reasonable belief that an abduction has occurred and that the child is imminent danger of serious bodily injury or death. Newsham said their hands are tied under the federal guidelines with a lot of cases, but he urged for people to contact lawmakers if they want to see a change with Amber Alerts.

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