Indianapolis mother, Chenell Gilbert, still missing

Indianapolis mother, Chenell Gilbert, still missing

Amid civil unrest and a global pandemic, a community is crying out for help in finding their missing loved one. The people in Chenell Gilbert’s life are coming together on the west side of Indianapolis in search of the beloved substitute teacher who went missing on June 9.

The search party was organized by Danyette Smith, who told RTV6, “We need answers. We want to know where she is and we’re out here to today to look for her and hopefully find something that can give us answers to where she is.”

Volunteers are out pounding the pavement, handing out flyers bearing a picture of Chenell and the circumstances surrounding her disappearance to business owners and even leaving them under the mats outside Indianapolis homes, and sharing her story feverishly on social media—anything to keep Chenell’s face in the media amid a global pandemic and global unrest.

Chenell, a loving mother and grandmother, was last seen in the Sungate subdivision near Rockville and Girl School Roads in the first few hours of June 9. “For her children, her friends, her family—this is so unlike her,” Smith told RTV6. “This is just not her. They are extremely weary. We just need answers…On behalf of her daughters, her daughters truly miss her. They cannot wait until she returns home and each hour, each moment is agonizing and definitely scary for them.”

Chenell Gilbert was last seen wearing a black sweatsuit, with a black tote purse and braided hair. The group is asking anyone with information to contact police immediately so Chenelle can be reunited with her children and grandchildren.

All open missing person cases right now are facing a difficult challenge of maintaining media attention. Coverage of the COVID-19 pandemic has been taking media attention away from vulnerable missing persons. However, “There is a full community, a full force. There’s power behind this and we’re here to use that power to look for her,” said Danyette Smith. Anyone with information on Gilbert’s whereabouts is asked to contact the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department at 317-327-3811 or Crime Stoppers at 317-262-TIPS.

Postal carrier, Kierra Coles, still missing after 2 years

Postal carrier, Kierra Coles, still missing after 2 years

Right after his daughter, Kierra Coles, Joseph Coles began living out of his car, keeping vigil in front of the building where she leaved, waiting for her to come home. But in the two years since her disappearance, Coles says that investigators have recently hit a brick wall in the search for Kierra, a then-26 year-old postal worker who was pregnant.

Kierra Coles was last seen leaving her apartment on the morning of October 2, 2018. She lived alone in the apartment on 81st street, and had just moved to the area less than four months ago, according to her mother, Karen Phillips. Kierra was in regular contact with her family, especially her mother. When she didn’t hear from Kierra all day on October 3rd, her mother felt something was wrong, but did not react immediately. After two days of radio silence, Karen Phillips called the Chicago police to conduct a welfare check on her daughter. “I went over to her house to call the police for them to do a well-being check because I had seen her car. So I said, okay she’s probably just in there, maybe she’s asleep or – I don’t know, I just didn’t feel right,” Phillips told the Pittsburg Courier.

The key piece of evidence so far in the case is surveillance footage recovered from a neighbor’s camera, which captured a person believed to be Kierra leaving the building, dressed for work in her postal carrier’s uniform. This has puzzled investigators a great deal, as Kierra called in sick to her job that morning, but still left the apartment dressed for work. The CCTV footage captured Kierra walking up and down the street in front of her building, past her car, before walking out of frame for the last time. Law enforcement and family members have been hoping to find similar CCTV footage that would illuminate more of Kierra’s movements, but no such leads have emerged. When the car was found, her cell phone and purse were inside, along with her lunch bag.

Although they now suspect foul play in the young woman’s disappearance, in the first few weeks of the search, police were not ready to deem Kierra’s disappearance suspicious. Because of Kierra’s age, there are not as many resources in place to locate her—not to mention that adults in the United States, for all intents and purposes, do have the right to go missing if they wish. However, Kierra’s family does not think that she vanished over her own accord, especially given that she was pregnant with her first child.

According to the National Institutes of Health, intimate partner violence affects roughly 300,000 pregnant women every year in the United States. Even more staggering, it knows no sociological boundaries. It affects pregnant women of all ages, colors, education, and religions. Heightened emotions and changes in body chemistry can already be triggers for depression, anxiety, and maladaptive behaviors such as smoking, drugs, and alcohol during pregnancy. It can also trigger intimate partner violence, or what’s more commonly known as domestic violence. The National Institutes of Health also report that homicide is the second-leading cause of injury-related death for pregnant women, superseded only by car accidents. The National Coalition Against Domestic Violence reported that between 1990 and 2004, more than 1300 pregnant women were murdered in the United States, most commonly by gunshot, stabbing, or strangling. More than two-thirds of these women were killed in their first trimester.

Kierra’s family has noted that they have received few updates from police since she was reported missing, but that USPS had been regularly in touch. Karen told 107.5 WGCI, “The postal inspector, he has been calling and checking in saying, ‘We are doing all we can. There’s things that we can’t tell you right now, but we’re doing all we can.’ I’m just guessing they just want to have facts together, they don’t want to give me bits and pieces.” The USPS has offered a $25,000 reward for anyone providing information that leads to Kierra’s safe return, and has been assisting in the investigation since it opened. As Kierra’s case continues to garner national attention, non-profits such as Black and Missing have placed Kierra’s name, picture, and case information on their website in hopes of spreading her story throughout the country.

Anyone with information on Coles’ whereabouts should call Area South detectives at (312) 747-8274.

LaShaya Stine, Still Missing After 4 Years

LaShaya Stine, Still Missing After 4 Years

The family of LaShaya Stine is still waiting anxiously for answers in her mysterious disappearance. LaShaya was 16 years old and living in Aurora, Colorado with her family when she disappeared in 2016. For almost four years, investigators have been trying to answer the curious questions about that night, including why would a young teen girl suddenly leave her house in the middle of the night?

LaShaya Stine was a bright and diligent student who was on the honor roll at George Washington High School in Aurora. She was on the professional track to become a nurse and devote her life to caring for others. Great things were on the horizon for her, including an internship with the University of Chicago hospital and a potential new job opportunity.

The night of July 15, LaShaya Stine was mentally preparing for that job interview the next day. When her mother, Sabrina Jones, went to bed that evening, LaShaya was still in the house. The next morning, when Sabrina went to wake her daughter for her job interview, she realized Sabrina was gone. Sabrina grabbed the phone and called her daughter’s cell number, but the line went straight to voicemail. The family combed the neighborhood looking for her, but turned up nothing. That’s when the family contacted the authorities and filed a missing person report.

Unfortunately, the investigators at the time treated LaShaya’s case as that of a runaway. It’s not uncommon, when a missing person case gets labeled as a “runaway” case, that investigators will be slow to act or less than thorough when it comes to following up with leads. Another case might be prioritized over a “runaway” case because it deals with a subject who doesn’t want to be found. It wasn’t until a week after her disappearance was reported that the police chief put a new set of eyes on the case.

CCTV footage near LaShaya’s home revealed that she was out walking along East Montview Boulevard around 2:30 am. When investigators showed the footage to her mother, Sabrina Jones said that it was likely her daughter had gone to meet someone, and had every intention to return to the house—seeing as how all of her personal effects, including her wallet and cell phone, had been left behind. The next logical step was to interview the people in LaShaya’s life, primarily her friends. HOweve,r after multiple interviews with LaShaya’s ex-boyfriend and close friends, police still had not generated any promising leads. Seeing as how the investigators had no proof of foul play, it was extremely difficult for them to move forward.

In the years since LaShaya Stine was reported missing, there have been multiple alleged sightings of LaShaya that corroborate theories that she might have become a victim of sex trafficking, such as her coming and going from motels that were known for facilitating sexwork. The witnesses claimed she was in the custody of a man who might have been transporting her across state lines. One girl who was successfully recovered from sex trafficking claimed to have been trafficked with LaShaya, and described a scar on her chest. Despite police follow up, LaShaya was never found at any of the alleged sightings.

The FBI has joined the search for LaShaya, and the case is still being investigated.  If you have any sort of information regarding this case, please contact the Aurora Police Department at 303-739-6164 and Metro Denver Crime Stoppers at 720-913-7867.

The Aurora Police Department, Metro Denver Crime Stoppers and FBI are offering rewards totaling $15,000 for information that helps them find LaShaya.

How Missing Person Organizations Benefit Us All

How Missing Person Organizations Benefit Us All

Tragedies can affect communities and society as a whole. Sometimes it only takes one person to make a difference that impacts us all.

Missing Person organizations support families in their time of crisis, and missing person investigators help them get the support they need.
(Morgan Nick vanished on June 9, 1995, in the small town of Alma, Ark.)

It was 24 years ago, on June 9, 1995, that a little girl vanished at a Little League baseball game in the small town of Alma, Ark., within the River Valley at the edge of the majestic Ozark Mountains. Beautiful Morgan Chauntel Nick, age 6, with long blonde hair and blue eyes has not been seen since.

Morgan Nick is the eldest of three other children. She loved cats and according to her mother Colleen Nick, she was a shy little girl. A Girl Scout, Morgan loved bubble gum and said she wanted to be a doctor or a circus performer when she grew up.

(The baseball park in Alma, Ark., where Morgan Nick vanished.)

The evening of her disappearance, a friend of the Nick family had invited them to a baseball game about 30 minutes away. Colleen told Dateline; the game started late at approximately 9:00 p.m. that night.

Morgan sat in the bleachers with her mom nearly the entirety of the game but towards the end, two kids, a boy and a girl, a few years older than Morgan, asked if Morgan could go catch fireflies with them.

Colleen recalls initially telling Morgan no, but other parents told the worried mother that the kids play in the parking lot all of the time and would be safe.

Colleen ended up telling Morgan she could go play with the other children. “She threw her arms around my neck, kissed my cheek, then the kids all ran out to the parking lot,” said Colleen. “I could turn my head and see she was right there in sight. I checked on them three or four times.”

At the end of the baseball game, Colleen watched as the team walked off the field, momentarily looking away from Morgan who was playing behind the bleachers. When she turned around, she could see the two other children, but Morgan was no longer with them.

Colleen asked the children where Morgan was, and they told her Morgan was at her car emptying sand out of her shoes. “Already, when I couldn’t see Morgan, my heart started beating really fast,” Colleen said in a Dateline interview. “We were somewhere we hadn’t been before. She wouldn’t go anywhere by herself, and there wasn’t even anywhere to go,” Colleen said. “There was no concession stands, no bathrooms.”

Confusion and panic set in for Colleen.

Within minutes a spectator called the police to report Morgan missing. Police responded within six minutes.

Chief Russell White of the Alma Police Department told Dateline that the initial officer on the scene immediately suspected “we might have a bigger problem.” “They did have a lot of manpower or resources, but they did a whole lot right that first night,” Colleen said.

“The other two kids that were playing with Morgan separately told the police about a creepy man in a red pick-up truck with a white camper shell on the back,” Colleen said.

Authorities immediately began an intensive investigation.

“We reached out for help from local agencies, the state police, the FBI,” Chief White said. “We were running a pretty big crew. The FBI brought in lots of extra people and resources and we did not have, like a computer system that could handle this kind of case, which helped tremendously.”

According to Colleen, Morgan’s case files fill up an entire room at the police department. “We have tons of tips coming in every week,” Chief White said. “It’s very unusual for a 24-year-old case to still have so many leads.”

Despite the thousands of leads received in Morgan’s case, she remains missing.

(Colleen Nick, mother of 6-year-old Morgan Nick who vanished June 9, 1995, from Alma, Ark.)

A Mother Fights Back

“She’s not a number. She’s not a statistic. She’s not a case file. She is a daughter, a sister, a granddaughter, a friend. And she is someone worth fighting for,” Colleen told Dateline. “If you’re not on the front line fighting for your daughter, no one else will. So, it is my job to make sure she never gets lost. Until someone can prove to me that Morgan is not coming home, then I am going to fight for her.”

In the years following Morgan’s disappearance, Colleen started the Morgan Nick Foundation to help prevent other families from going through what she has experienced, to raise awareness of other missing children, and educate the public on safety for children. The foundation also provides crucial support to other families of missing children.

Over the years Colleen has received a countless number of recognitions and awards from the FBI, state of Arkansas, to the International Homicide Investigator’s Association, for her work throughout the state of Arkansas throughout the country.

“When something so tragic happens to your child, there is a need to do something of great value,” said Colleen. “We are trying to fill the gap that wasn’t filled when we needed it the most.”

24 years later, Colleen continues to selflessly work within her community and nationwide to the benefit of families and children throughout the country.

The National Impact of John Walsh

(Adam Walsh, age 6, who was abducted from a Sears department store and murdered July 27, 1981, in Hollywood, Fla.)

We often forget there is a personal story behind many monumental efforts in this nation and John Walsh is certainly the epitome.

Adam Walsh, age 6, was a little boy whose disappearance and murder changed the way society looked at missing children.

On the afternoon of July 27, 1981, Adam’s mother took him shopping at a local mall in Hollywood, Fla. Reve Walsh had wanted to inquire about the price of a lamp at the Sears department store.

Momentarily, Reve left Adam at an Atari video game display where several other little boys were taking turns playing on the display. When Reve returned, she couldn’t find Adam or the other boys and was told by the store manager that the security guard had asked them all to leave the store.

Adam was paged over the intercom as his mother searched the store and mall for about an hour. She then called the Hollywood Police Department at approximately 1:55 p.m. to report Adam missing.

Tragically, on August 10, 1981, a severed head of a child was found in a drainage canal alongside the Florida Turnpike in Vero Beach, about 130 miles from Hollywood. It was confirmed it was Adam. His body has never been found.

(John Walsh, creator and host of America’s Most Wanted which first aired in 1988. Photo courtesy of Fox 5 News.)

A Legacy

Early on, Adam’s parents John and Reve Walsh were critical of the police investigation which led to John’s anti-crime activism and the creation of America’s Most Wanted which he is well known for.

Lesser known is his impact on laws and organizations for missing children. During the 1980s, John and other child advocates lobbied Congress to pass a law that would protect missing children and educate the public on the importance of child safety resulting in the Missing Children’s Assistance Act and the first national clearinghouse of information for missing children.

National Center for Missing & Exploited Children

In 1984, the United States Congress passed the Missing Children’s Assistance Act, signed by President Ronald Reagan creating the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children (NCMEC) and a 24-hour hotline 1-800-THE-LOST.

Headquartered in Arlington, Virginia, NCMEC has regional office in California, Florida, New York and Texas.

According to NCMEC, in 2018 there were 424,066 entries of missing children in the FBI National Crime Information Center (NCIC).

35 years later, NCMEC provides support to thousands of families of missing children each year, missing children’s case management, provides training to law enforcement agencies throughout the country, and offers numerous educational programs that fight child exploitation, sex trafficking, and provides critical information to keep our children safe.

Black & Missing Foundation

Tamika Huston vanished into thin air on or around May 27, 2004, from Spartanburg, S.C. and subsequently found murdered.

Spartanburg was Derrica Wilson’s hometown and she recalls watching as Tamika’s family struggled to gain any media coverage on a local or national level while Tamika was missing. A few months later, Natalee Holloway – a white woman – went missing and dominated news headlines, becoming a household name.

“It was heartbreaking to see the difference in the media attention these two cases were getting,” Derrica told Jet Magazine.

(Natalie (left) and Derrica Wilson, co-founders of Black and Missing Foundation. Photo courtesy of Jet Magazine.)

Derrica and her sister-in-law Natalie decided to team up to ensure other families did not face the obscurity that Tamika’s family had experienced. “We combined our professional backgrounds – mine in law enforcement and Natalie’s in media – to create an organization that joins the very important elements in the field of missing persons,” said Derrica.

Founded in 2008, a veteran law enforcement official and a public relations specialist began channeling their skills for a greater good.

Eleven years later, Black and Missing Foundation has become the primary voice for minority missing providing a platform of hope for the overwhelming number of missing persons of color.

AMBER Alert

(Amber Hagerman was abducted and murdered on January 13, 1996, in Arlington, Texas.)

On the afternoon of January 13, 1996, 9-year-old Amber Hagerman was last seen riding her bike in a parking lot near her home in Arlington, Texas. A witness reported seeing a man in a black, flat-bed truck snatch Amber from her bicycle.

Four days later, Amber’s body was found in a creek approximately 3.2 miles from her home. Her murder remains unsolved.

Area residents were outraged and began calling radio and television stations to vent their anger and to also offer suggestions to prevent such crimes in the future. One resident, Diana Simone suggested utilizing the Emergency Alert System (EAS) to notify the public when a child has been abducted so the public could also assist in the search. Simone followed up with a letter, with her only request to ensure the program would be dedicated to Amber Hagerman.

The program was eventually taken to NCMEC with a request to implement a national initiative that would eventually become known as the AMBER Alert. What began as a local effort in the area of the Dallas-Fort Worth area has grown into a seamless system used by every state in the country. Since the inception of the program in 1996, through December 31, 2018, 956 children have been safely recovered specifically as a result of an AMBER Alert being issued.

 “When something so tragic happens to your child, there is a need to do something of great value,” as Colleen said. “We are trying to fill the gap that wasn’t filled when we needed it the most.” Most certainly, the advancements made in the last 35 years are proof the efforts of one person can make a difference.

VIRGINIA FAMILIES OBSERVE 2ND ANNUAL MISSING PERSONS DAY

VIRGINIA FAMILIES OBSERVE 2ND ANNUAL MISSING PERSONS DAY

VIRGINIA OBSERVES 2ND ANNUAL MISSING PERSONS DAY

In every state in America, there are families still waiting for their children to come home. Analysis of state by state data from the Federal Bureau of Investigation estimates at any given time in the U.S., there are an average of 90,000 open missing persons cases, with at least 15 states having between 5 and in excess of 10 open cases per 100,000 people. The void left by these missing persons create a ripple effect on the entire country. In a growing trend, more and more states are establishing their own Missing Persons Day to shed additional light as to the details surrounding all open missing persons cases and provide support for the families still enduring the loss of their missing loved one.

Last year, an overwhelming 600 open missing persons cases in the state of Virginia prompted the state General Assembly to establish the first Missing Persons Day in the Commonwealth. This year, Virginia recognized Missing Persons Day with an event on Saturday, April 28th. Dozens of affected family members shared their experiences surrounding their missing loved ones. Events like these give families the opportunity to network and find support in one another. Women like Trina Murphy, whose niece Alexis Murphy went missing five years ago, appreciates the empathy of those present at the event, “It really means everything—I mean, to be in the presence of people who have gone through what you continue to go through is very important for your healing process.”

Toni Jacobs’s daughter, Keeshae Jacobs, 21, disappeared over a year ago in September of 2016. “Her phone kept going to voicemail, and it’s been going to voicemail ever since.” Despite the loss of her child, Jacobs has turned her pain into advocacy and spreading awareness to other parents. Carol Adams of the Richmond Police Department was next to Jacobs at Saturday’s event. She advised the crowd, “We want to teach parents to be vigilant about where their children are, who they’re interacting with. Don’t meet up with strangers without knowing where you’re going because it could be a ploy to kidnap you.”

A statewide Missing Persons Day has helped shine light on non-profit organizations like Help Save the Next Girl. It was founded by Gil Harrington, in honor of her daughter, Morgan, who was abducted and found murdered in 2009. The non-profit’s website offers their specific call to action, “We seek to sensitize young women and girls to predatory danger. Our foundation fosters mutual respect and camaraderie with young men, and we are committed to be an active, imaginative presence on campuses and in clubs and violence prevention forums across the country.” Foundations like Help Save the Next Girl spread awareness about the predation that often leads to both children and adults being reported missing.

Another non-profit organization like Help Save the Next Girl is the Black and Missing Foundation, Inc. It was founded in 2008 by a veteran law enforcement officer and a public relations specialist, the Black and Missing Foundation’s mission statement is to, “to bring awareness to missing persons of color; provide vital resources and tools to missing person’s families and friends and to educate the minority community on personal safety.” The foundation organizes informational campaigns and public forums using a variety of media in order to reach an underserved community. The families of missing persons of color face a very specific problem in getting the name and face of their loved one out there in media for the country to see because of a phenomenon called “missing white woman syndrome.” According to NPR, “a phrase coined by Gwen Ifill, the late PBS anchor. It refers to the mainstream media’s seeming fascination with covering missing or endangered white women — like Laci Peterson or Natalee Holloway — and its seeming disinterest in cases involving missing people of color.” As a result, the names and faces of missing persons of color often tragically do not make national news, unlike the cases of Laci Peterson or Natalee Holloway. Organizations like the Black and Missing Foundation, Inc. work tirelessly to combat this issue and spread awareness about missing persons of color across the country.

Missing Persons Day is not only an opportunity with victims’ families to network with one another, but also for families to network with law enforcement to update the open files on their missing loved ones, including updating their photograph. David Morris, an officer with the Roanoke Police Department told CBS 10, “This gives us an opportunity to talk to the individuals and their family members, update them on any case files or any information we’ve come across. Just try to provide them with any kind of closure that we can and just reaffirm that we are still investigating these cases and these cases have not gone silent.” David Morris went on to say his best advice for anyone who has a missing person in their family is to keep an open line of communication with investigators.

The epidemic of missing persons in the United States has not only led to states invoking their own Missing Persons Days, but also to the creation of the National Center for Missing Adults. The center was founded as a response to the disappearance of Kristen Modafferi of Charlotte, North Carolina. Because she was not a minor at the time of her disappearance, resources in finding her were limited. Representative Sue Myrick introduced the bill in 1999, and President Bill Clinton signed it into law in 2000. During its short tenure, the law “provided assistance to law enforcement and families in missing persons cases of those over the age of 17” and authorized $1M per year to support organizations including the National Center for Missing Adults.” Funding for Kristen’s Act ran out in 2005 but continues with volunteer support.

According to Independent Missing Persons Investigator, Thomas Lauth of www.lauthmissingpersons.com, “Daily, families have to deal with the crisis of a loved one and while some families receive law enforcement and media attention others fall by the wayside and into the unknown.  Specifically, missing adults who often times are considered by law enforcement to be missing on their own accord or adults suffering from mental illness and their path inadvertently places them into homelessness. A day of recognition for any missing adult or child should always be recognized.”

For more information on Gil Harrington’s non-profit organization, Help Save the Next Girl, please visit their website at www.helpsavethenextgirl.com/.

For more information on the Black and Missing Foundation, please visit their website at www.blackandmissinginc.com/.

For more information on establishing a Missing Persons Day in your state, please visit the official website of your state’s legislature.

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.