Friends and family of Austin teen Yasmine Acree held hands and prayed outside Greater St. John Bible Church last Thursday at a vigil for the 15-year-old girl, who’s been missing since Jan. 15. Yasmine is the cousin of Greater St. John Pastor Ira Acree.
At a press conference held afterward inside the church, 1256 N. Waller, friends and family sat in the sanctuary while Acree and other members of the Leaders’ Network, a group of West Side clergy, joined Yasmine’s mother, Rose Starnes, at the podium.
The press conference was scheduled not only to call attention to Yasmine’s case, but also to criticize Chicago print and broadcast media, which have largely ignored this missing-person’s case, supporters insist.
“We have been very disappointed in the media because, in Chicago, it seems that when people are missing, in certain communities there is a sense of urgency,” said Pastor Acree. “That doesn’t appear to be the case with this 15-year-old.”
Yasmine’s case received some local TV coverage early on but none from the mainstream newspapers.
“Yasmine, being a 15-year-old, deserves an even greater extent of coverage because she is a minor,” Acree said.
He and other family members offered thanks to community media, including Austin Weekly News, for offering ongoing coverage of her disappearance. Yasmine was last seen late in the evening Jan. 15, in the family’s Austin home. Family members believe she was abducted after discovering a broken lock on a normally secured outside gate.
Rose Starnes said police stopped giving her weekly updates on the case months ago, and have not heard from them since, except for a phone call a few days before the July 3 vigil.
Starnes and others close to the case said Yasmine was not the type of child who would run away.
“We can verify after talking with people in different aspects of Yasmine’s life that it would be totally out of character for her to just disappear on her own,” said Rev. Marshall Hatch, pastor of New Mt. Pilgrim Church and member of the LEADER’s Network. “We have no reason to believe that she somehow just ran away. All the evidence says that some adult is responsible for her disappearance. They are criminals, and police should find them and bring the minor back home.”
Acree added that family wants police to conduct thorough interviews with everyone connected to the case, including a young man believed to be Yasmine’s boyfriend. He said they believe the boy is not involved in her disappearance, but police have not yet questioned the young man or his mother.
The Austin pastor also publicly questioned for the first time whether his group’s fight against police misconduct has caused law enforcement to slack off on the case.
The network played a significant role in dismantling the Chicago Police Department’s Office of Professional Standards, which opponents claimed failed to properly address police misconduct allegations. The OPS was replaced by the Independent Police Review Authority, which Acree and the network strongly advocated for.
“I began to wonder why there’s been no sense of urgency in finding a missing teen?” said Acree. “I’m also aware that I have been personally involved as an activist. I’m aware of my personal activism against the bad apples that are part of the police department. Every time we made a case, we said these bad apples only represented a small remnant of the police department, and that small remnant needed to be taken off the force.
“I would hate to think, as I look around and see no sense of urgency, that this is a form of payback and retaliation for my group that I help lead,” he added. “I would hate to think that because Yasmine’s life means so much and she is innocent. She has done nothing wrong.”
Acree asked police to treat this case as they would if a teen went missing in, say, Bridgeport or Lincoln Park. The family also encouraged Yasmine’s friends and members of the community to write letters to the Chicago newspapers concerning Yasmine’s disappearance.