It’s been nearly a month since Austin teen and honor student Yasmine Acree disappeared from her home.
The case has led to an outpouring of support from local community groups and churches working to bring her back home.
Yasmine, cousin of Greater St. John Bible Church’s Rev. Ira Acree, has been missing since Jan. 15. The 15-year-old is a freshmen at Austin Polytech Academy. Last Friday, the academy hosted a prayer vigil for her.
Students and friends attended the vigil, as did members of anti-violence group CeaseFire, The LEADERs Network of West Side pastors, including Rev. Acree, who is one of its leaders, and her mother, Rose Starnes.
CeaseFire organized another vigil on Jan. 31, near Yasmine’s home on Cicero and Congress.
“We wanted to come out and start the search,” said Rev. David Pope, a community organizer with CeaseFire. “We gathered about 30 people and passed out fliers for an hour and a half.”
Yasmine was last seen in her family home on Tuesday Jan. 15. She went to school the previous day, afterward going to the North Lawndale YMCA, where she went three times a week. Yasmine was involved in sports and other extracurricular activities at the Lawndale Y.
Yasmine arrived home later that evening, did a load of laundry and went to bed. She’s not been seen since.
The police investigation thus far has yielded few leads.
The family said there were signs of a break-in in the home’s basement where Yasmine’s room was.
The family said the locks on an outside fence were cut off and the basement door forced open. No items were stolen and Yasmine’s room was undamaged.
Officials at her school also want to set the record straight about her possible state of mind at the time of her disappearance. Police have told the family she might have runaway, but the family discounts that. She had never ran away before, they say.
Some of her fellow students reportedly told investigators that she was tired of life, of school, and everything. But those who know her closely said that wasn’t part of her character.
“Sometimes when students, particularly ones that are 14 and 15 years old, there is a tendency to embellish information,” said Gwen Kram, physical education teacher and coordinator at the academy. “I want to assure that the information gathered leads to her whereabouts. I just feel as though some information has been misconstrued.”
Kram added that she never got the sense that Yasmine was unhappy.
“I saw her everyday, and spoke with her often. She was very friendly with everyone. She loved school [and] never missed a day.”
Starnes also doesn’t believe that her daughter ran away.
“Yasmine wears glasses and her eyesight is not very good without them. However, her glasses are still here. If she’d run away, she certainly would have taken them,” Starnes insisted.
On Monday, Feb. 4 and Friday, Feb. 8, Yasmine’s school conducted formal moments of silence and a school walk-though in her honor.
“I think it was good. It allowed them the chance to pay their respects and express their desire to see her return home safely,” said Lewis Wright, a social worker at the academy.
Wright spoke to Yasmine virtually everyday, he said, and knew her inner workings as well as anyone.
“It is part of the school policy for students to come in and talk to the counselor about their lives, so it was a requirement for her to come in. However, she liked to come in after class and we’d just talk,” Wright recalled. “She was very friendly – one of my favorite students.
“We both used to collect unique stones, and she would inquire about the ones I kept in the office,” he added.
Confidentiality prohibits him from divulging personal things Yasmine shared, but Wright said her disappearance has effected many students.
As a result, his office has been busy counseling students.
“One thing you must realize is that this is a very small student body, only 120 students. So everyone knew Yasmine,” he explained. “I have students come into the office with questions like ‘why do these things happen to good people?'”
Nevertheless, the search goes on as those who know Yasmine continue to keep her in their thoughts.
“The community support has been wonderful,” said Rev. Acree. “We’ve gotten assistance with the search from my congregation, from CAPS, from CeaseFire, from the LEADERs Network. Everybody is working to assure her safe return.”
Acree, usually on the front lines as a community activist helping others, admitted it’s an “unusual position” not being able to effect the outcome of this personal tragedy.
“I just don’t want this case to simply fade away like so many other missing persons cases that are not solved within the first few weeks,” he said. “It has been difficult for me to sleep not knowing what happened, but I am committed to the long haul.”