Family and friends of Yasmin Acree, who went missing from Austin in January 2008, gathered on Oct. 25 to remember the girl on what would have been her 20th birthday and announced that the reward for helping find her has been increased to $10,000.

Pastor Cy Fields, head of New Landmark Missionary Baptist Church, announced the reward at Yasmin’s vigil, at Greater St. John Bible Church, 1256 N. Waller.

Since Yasmin went missing, family and friends have commemorated her birthday by passing out fliers and holding rallies urging police to make more inquiries about her case. But this year, loved ones took another route.

“Today is pretty much a statement of desperation,” said the Rev. Ira J. Acree, Yasmin’s cousin and pastor at Greater St. John Bible Church. “We really wanted to invoke divine intervention, because for many of us, there’s no closure.”

About 20 family members and friends held candles and gathered in a semicircle around the front of the church, singing religious songs and praying for Yasmin’s safe return.

Yasmin was a freshman honors student at Austin Polytechnical Academy when she went missing Jan. 15, 2008, from the home of Rose Starnes, her adoptive mother.

There have been different breaks in the case, including the discovery of a diary that revealed a man who lived near Yasmin and was later charged in the rape of five women and attempted murder might have been interested in her.

But Thursday night, Chicago police said there have been no recent developments in the case.

Some relatives and a state legislative candidate said the case did not initially gain as much attention as it should have because Yasmin is African-American.

“Sometimes in [African-American] communities, we have less resources and see less response compared to other communities,” said Patricia Van Pelt Watkins, candidate for the Illinois State Senate, who is running unopposed in next week’s election.

Rev. Acree said he thinks the police were initially inclined to say Yasmin, because of her race, was not kidnapped but ran away from home.

A complaint was made by the family against area police for an improper investigation of Starnes’ home, including waiting two days after Yasmin was reported missing to recover a broken padlock from the house, said Rev. Acree. The complaint was sustained.

Starnes said police still call her once a week to tell her about any updates. She said people have reported seeing Yasmin in Texas, Canada, Wisconsin, Indiana, Missouri and other states, but camera evidence in those places have proven all of those claims false.

Yasmin was featured in a documentary called “Find Our Missing” in January, which may have gained national attention for the case and may explain the phone calls to Chicago police from various states.

Starnes said she was only angry with the “blue uniform” police officers for not properly responding to the initial missing-person report. She added that she is happy with detectives and does not want to hold a grudge against the Chicago Police Department – she just wants to know where her daughter is.

“Today, I got a lot of encouragement,” Starnes said. “I was feeling down and at a loss of hope.”

Rev. Acree said the vigil was also important to show his cousin that she is not forgotten, wherever she is.

“What if she’s being held hostage somewhere and finds out we’re not doing anything for her on her birthday?” said Rev. Acree. “This is just something we have to do.”