How missing persons cases are handled in Phoenix

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by Kristine Harrington

azfamily.com

Posted on May 13, 2013 at 6:26 PM

Updated Monday, May 13 at 6:40 PM

PHOENIX -- The home of alleged kidnapper, Ariel Castro, is now boarded up, sealed as evidence.

Castro is accused of taking three women and holding them captive in his Cleveland, Ohio home for more than a decade.

The cases of Gina DeJesus and Amanda Berry got a lot of attention but Michelle Knight's case was different. After a few months detectives closed her case because she was an adult and they could no longer reach her family to verify she was still missing. Still, they never verified she was found.

Kym Pasqualini is an advocate for missing persons and is outraged at how Cleveland police handled Knight’s case.

“Everyone knew Amanda and Gina were missing, granted they were children, but no one had heard of Michelle knight,” said Pasqualini. “What we are lacking in this country is a federal mandate that would create a uniform protocol for all law enforcement throughout the country to respond to missing adults in the same fashion.”

Pasqualini says law enforcement was irresponsible closing the case on Michelle Knight and taking her name off the National Crime Information Center database without first verifying her whereabouts.

Knight was 21 years old when she disappeared in 2002. Her mom reported her missing the next day and Cleveland police launched an investigation but closed it just a few months later after they were unable to again reach her Mom.

“Michelle Knight went missing prior to Amanda and Gina and we can only speculate if it would have made a difference or not,” said Pasqualini.

The Phoenix Police Department has a policy in place that would prevent a case from being closed, no matter how old or inactive, without a person being found first.

“Losing contact with your family damages your case but it does not put it to bed,” said Phoenix Police Detective William Andersen. “For Phoenix Police, we instituted a policy where we go back and review things on a 90 day basis.”

Take Aleacia Stancil for example, she went missing in 1994.

“That was a 9 month old child, the mother had the child reported missing then the mother failed to contact police again and herself became the victim of a homicide,” said Andersen. “That child is still listed as missing and will be until she is found.”

Phoenix Police have more than 100 missing adults and children unaccounted for dating back to the 1950s. 

Back in 2008 Phoenix Police identified some discrepancies with their closed cases and thus began an audit of each and every one dating back to 1990. Police wanted to be sure that the missing person in question was legitimately found.

“We've identified 6 cases that were closed inappropriately that we will begin the process of finding them again until can legitimize they are alive and well,” said Andersen.

It's a protocol that Pasqualini would like to see other agencies adopt so something good can be learned from the mistakes made in Cleveland.

“I'd like to see legislation passed that makes a uniform protocol for everyone to follow,” said Pasqualini. “Then we will see fewer people fall through the cracks like Michelle Knight did.”

Advocates and police agree the best thing you can do is follow up with detectives on your unsolved case. 

There is also a website called http://namus.gov/ where, despite law enforcement action, or the lack there of, friends and family can find additional resources to keep their search alive.
 

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