A year ago today, Rose Starnes was frantically wondering what happened to her 15-year-old daughter, Yasmin Acree, who disappeared from their Austin home the week earlier.
Last Thursday was the one-year anniversary of Yasmin's disappearance. The family believes she was kidnapped from their home, but Chicago Police can't say for sure. Yasmin turned 16 Oct. 25. Starnes believes Yasmin is still alive, perhaps being held against her will. Family and friends by habit talk about her in the present tense. The family would have thrown a party for Yasmin on her birthday, Starnes said, either at the Congress Parkway home or out at a restaurant. Yasmin loves to eat, her mother said.
Last Thursday, the family had a press conference at the 25th District Police Station at 5555 W. Grand to mark the year she's been gone. They were joined by law enforcement officials, clergy and community leaders. Yasmin's cousin, the Rev. Ira Acree of Greater St. John Bible Church, led the proceedings. They announced a $3,000 reward offered for any information leading to her whereabouts. Yasmin, the group pointed out, is among the nearly 1 million children who go missing each year.
"It's hard but we get along," said Starnes on a Sunday morning in the family's living room. "This one year has been hard because we're nowhere close then where we were in the beginning. We don't know any more then when she came up missing."
A cardboard cut-out made by family and friends with Yasmin's photo and the words "We Miss U/Where are U" sits in the home's first-floor. Police call Starnes every week about the case but there's been no serious leads.
In October, her story appeared on the Maury Povich Show that featured missing children and on America's Most Wanted in December. Producers from the Povich show filmed at the family's home. Yasmin's room, which is in the basement, hasn't changed that much, except for a new bed spread. About a dozen stuffed animals are on the bed. Yasmin's gym shoes are resting on a stool. Her salutatorian plague and trophy for winning an essay contest while at May Elementary School where she was an academic scholar sits on the window sill. Yasmin talked about becoming a fashion designer or a model, and sometimes talked about college.
"She enjoyed reading," said Starnes. "When she finished reading her own books, she'd read her mothers.'"
She also liked watching the Disney Channel, which is one of her favorite stations, her mom said. Yasmin, Starnes added, has some friends but was quiet, mostly stayed at home and went to school. That's why the family never believed she ran away, one of the earlier theories by police shortly after she went missing.
It was Tuesday evening, Jan 15, 2008 when Yasmin was last seen. She went to school that day at Austin Polytech Academy on the Austin High School campus, 231 N. Pine, then to the Austin YMCA, 501 N. Central, after school where she was part of a mentoring program. Her teachers at May school, where Yasmin graduated in 2007, recruited her for the program. Yasmin spent time with her mentor that Tuesday before heading home that evening. Family members saw her. They said she washed clothes in the basement before going to bed. She was gone the next day and hasn't been seen since.
Rev. Ira Acree believes she's alive. The family is concerned that her case has not gotten the type of media attention other missing children have received.
"It gives the impression that people have moved on," he said. "It's also hard on her friends and other youth in our community. They think, 'Would this happen to me if I was missing?' When other kids go missing in other communities, everything stops. Unfortunately, in urban America, when a little girl disappears, they just don't get that 100 percent attention."
Acree also wonders how any children can disappear without a trace.
"We know she just didn't vanish off the face of the earth. I believe in my heart that somebody knows something. My thing is: if there's anyone police have a suspicion about, investigate every lead and no one is off limits."
Some of Yasmin's friends and teachers from Austin Polytech attended last Thursday's press conference. Yasmin's best friend was her cousin Shakenna Banks. They liked to go out or hang out in the basement, Shakenna noted, either listening to music or making up their own songs. Yasmin's favorite artists are Omarion, Lil Wayne and Bow Wow.
"We use to write songs together, and she has a journal and we would just write about what we did that day. Or we would just sing or get on her brother's nerves," Shakenna said.
Yasmin's last birthday with the family was in 2007, but her brother wanted to throw one for her last year. Starnes said the family didn't because Yasmin is not here.
Starnes also thinks her daughter's case has gone largely ignored by much of the media.
"Sometimes I really don't [believe it has gotten the attention it deserves]," she said. "With some people, it all depends. Sometimes they can find people real quick. But maybe that's how I feel because they haven't found her. It's really frustrating too because she's a child. And it's made other kids scared too, that a child could disappear into thin air."
Starnes also talked of feeling useless because, "she's probably out there wondering when someone is going to come and get her."
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