Online attention of DC missing kids brings new awareness

WASHINGTON — When D.C. police recently boosted their online postings of missing people, it raised alarm as the public learned, maybe for the first time, the high number of cases, especially including children. 

Many cases are quickly resolved; others, including the 2014 disappearance of 8-year-old Relisha Rudd, are not and remain unsolved.

D.C. police had 3,547 missing persons cases in 2016, with 2,443 deemed critical. All missing people in D.C. under the age of 15 and over the age of 65 are designated as critical.

Of all those cases, just six remain open.

When a minor returns home after being listed as missing by the police, a uniformed officer is sent to the address to confirm the missing person has returned, according to D.C. police. The officer conducts an interview to determine where the minor has been and whether a crime was committed.

“An officer must confirm the child’s whereabouts and conduct an interview with all missing children who have returned or been located,” said Karimah Bilal of the police department’s office of communication.

With fresh attention cast on those who go missing, including runaway children, concerned parents and community activists gathered outside Ballou High School in Southeast D.C. Monday afternoon.

“The reason that you runaway … is because there is a legitimate fear,” said D.C. school board member Markus Batchelor. “We’re here to quell that fear.”

Dave Johnson and color commentator Devon McTavish.

Dave Johnson and Gordon Bradley, former Washington Diplomats Coach, at the first D.C. United game broadcast in 1996.

Dave Johnson receives a “Thank You” card at a recent game. With him is sideline reporter Claudia Pagán and color commentator Devon McTavish.

Dave Johnson and the MLS Cup Trophy after a 1999 MLS Cup Win.


Batchelor led a group distributing fliers to students with phone numbers and links to websites where they can find help — and perhaps avoid running away from home and into the arms of danger.

“Runaways, they’re in grave danger and we need to work harder to find them quickly,” said Henderson Long, who heads a group called Missing and Exploited East of the River.

Long continues to work to find Relisha Rudd and he welcomes all the fresh attention on those who are missing in D.C.

But he insisted on making one thing clear. “There has been no uptick in missing persons in Washington, D.C., missing children,” Long said.

He said the police decision to use social media to spread the word about missing kids caused some confusion.

“People saw all these pictures of all these missing kids and they was like ‘what’s going on in D. C.?'” Long said. “We welcome the added awareness.”

Valencia Harris was also among those who turned out Monday. She is the mother of Unique Harris, who vanished in October 2010. She handed out fliers of her missing daughter.

“My daughter was abducted from her home, in the middle of the night,” Harris said.

She’s concerned that all the recent attention on missing kids, including those who promptly return home, could take attention away from long-standing missing cases, including her daughter’s and Relisha Rudd’s.

Harris said she recently met with acting police Chief Peter Newsham, who assured her a fresh look at her daughter’s case.

Mike Murillo

Mike Murillo is a reporter and anchor at WTOP. Before joining WTOP in 2013, he worked in radio in Orlando, New York City and Philadelphia.

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