Missing Washington, D.C., teens: What to know

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Missing Washington, D.C., teens: What to know

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Win McNamee/Getty Images
Washington DC Metropolitan Police are refuting inaccurate claims about missing D.C. teens circulating from a viral photo. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)

On March 24, a surge of photos posted by everyday people and celebrities such as Taraji P. Henson and LL Cool J on social media show images with text claiming that 14 girls have disappeared in the last 24 hours in Washington, D.C., and the images have continued to pick up steam.  

WRC reported however, that the information in those images is not entirely true. 

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Here are things to know about the missing teens in Washington:

Police say that 14 teen girls have not disappeared from Washington in one day.

The girls pictured in the viral image went missing at different times. Relisha Tenau Rudd, pictured on the far left of the image, was last seen in Washington on March 1, 2014. Pheonix Coldon was last seen December 18, 2011 in St. Louis. Shaniah Boyd was last seen in Washington. Makayla Randall, pictured on the far right, has been missing since October 1, 2012 and was last seen in Oak Park, Missouri.

WRC reported that police have changed their method of communicating information about missing persons. There has been no increase in the number of missing people. 

The Metropolitan Police Department has changed how it shares information on missing persons.

“We've just been posting them on social media more often,” Metropolitan Police Department spokeswoman Rachel Reid said.

Chanel Dickerson, commander of the Washington police’s Youth and Family Services Division, told The Washington Post that the 211 people reported missing in January reflected  better reporting by families, not an increase in missing teens.

Many of the missing teens are black or Latino.

Outrage over the missing persons comes from a perception that people of color who are missing are not covered in the media as often as white missing persons.

Derrica Wilson, the co-founder and chief executive of the Black and Missing Foundation, which works to raise awareness of missing people of color, told The Huffington Post 40 percent of missing persons in the U.S. are people of color.

Police say there is not a known link between the missing persons and human trafficking.

Police spokeswoman Karimah Bilal told WRC the teens reported missing so far in 2017 left voluntarily. WUSA reported that since many teens left on their own, Amber Alerts have not been issued for them.

“Because of the number of releases, there have been concerns that young girls in the District of Columbia are victims of human trafficking or have been kidnapped,” Bilal said.

“We look at every case closely to make sure that doesn't happen, but to my knowledge, that hasn't been a factor in any of our missing person cases,” Bilal said. 

Washington Mayor Muriel Bowser and Washington police told WUSA they confirmed that there is no link between the missing persons and human trafficking.

Although there is no reported  link, human trafficking is an issue in D.C. The D.C. Human Trafficking Task Force was formed in 2004 to find victims of trafficking and prosecute those who are trafficking victims. Other nongovernmental organizations have also been established to combat the issue.

Those who run away or leave voluntarily may still be in danger.

“We need to find out the underlying reasons that so many young people in the District of Columbia have chosen to leave home voluntarily because they feel they have no other alternatives,” Dickerson told WRC.

The National Conference of State Legislatures said that runaway youths face a higher likelihood and risk of anxiety, depression, suicide, and engaging in survival sex, human trafficking and dealing drugs to meet basic needs, like food, clothing and shelter. The also have an increased likelihood of participating in drug use.

Research from the National Runaway Safeline says family conflict and being thrown out of the house -- sometimes because of a child’s sexual orientation -- are reasons why youths may run away.

“One person missing is one person too many, especially when you’re talking about our young people,” Dickerson said at a Wednesday town hall.

Lawmakers are calling on the FBI to investigate many of the missing persons cases.

The Associated Press reported that Congressional Black Caucus chairman Cedric Richmond, D-La., and Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton, who represents the District of Columbia in Congress, sent a letter Tuesday that called for Attorney General Jeff Sessions and FBI Director James Comey to devote time to investigating the number of missing children in Washington and “determine whether these developments are an anomaly or whether they are indicative of an underlying trend that must be addressed.”

“Ten children of color went missing in our nation's capital in a period of two weeks and at first garnered very little media attention. That's deeply disturbing,” the letter sent to the Justice Department said.

Members of the Washington community are demanding answers.

Community members in Washington and across the country are demanding answers and action from officials and media out of frustration over lack of media coverage of missing black women and girls. A 2010 study from Pace University found black missing children and missing girls were “significantly underrepresented” in TV news coverage. A 2015 study from West Virginia University replicated those findings and showed that those groups were underrepresented compared to the 2014 FBI-reported proportions in which black people and females are reported as missing. That FBI report on missing-person entries showed 37 percent of those reported missing under the age of 21 were black. It found that white children who are missing are underrepresented in TV news.

Members of the community met at a town hall Wednesday and WUSA9 reported that many were frustrated and disappointing with the city’s response.

“Why are we just finding out?” a person asked. 

“I was astounded when I looked at the number of missing African-American females,” Dickerson told WTTG Thursday. “I'm not trying to minimize that other people aren’t missing, but they looked like me and so I just wanted to make sure that every investigation focused on every child thesame way and we get the same exposure to everyone regardless of your race or where you live.”

The number of missing persons in Washington changes daily.

The Metropolitan Police Department reports the number of open and closed missing person cases and has them broken down by year, critical and non-critical, and juvenile and adult. Recent data from the department shows a decrease in reported missing person cases from 2,433 in 2015 to 2,242 in 2016. 

The regularly updated list of missing persons, including flyers of missing persons, are on the Metropolitan Police Department website

Tweets from the Metropolitan Police Department have been removed from this story as the department reported some critical missing teens have been found. 

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