Yasmin Acree

Rose Starnes turned on the television, the morning of May 7, and saw hope.

News reports recounted the daring escape of Amanda Berry and the subsequent rescue of two other missing women from a Cleveland, Ohio house they were held captive in for more than 10 years.

Starnes’ mind immediately turned to her daughter Yasmin Acree. The then-15-year-old went missing five years ago in the late hours of Jan. 15, 2008. She has not been seen or heard from since.

But the rescue of three women re-ignited hope in Starnes. The prolonged absence of her daughter had smothered hope with doubt.

“What happened in Ohio gave me rejuvenation, faith and hope that Yasmin is still alive somewhere also,” said Starnes who was at a dialysis clinic when news broke about the Cleveland rescue.

“Sometimes when it is a long time [with] no trace, no sight or anything, you kind of give up hope,” she added.

Berry, who went missing at 16, was rescued when a neighbor heard her pleas for help on May 6. When police arrived, they found Gina DeJesus and Michelle Knight who both were missing from near where they were held captive. Berry had given birth to a now-6-year-old daughter during her captivity. The homeowner, Ariel Castro, was arrested in connection with the girls’ abduction.

Starnes finds comfort that time does not always seal a missing loved one’s fate. She looks at what happened to Jaycee Dugard who was found some 18 years after her 1991 disappearance in California. She was 11 years old when she disappeared.

“I know God is able to do anything, abundantly, exceedingly, more than we can think or ask,” said Starnes who has relied on faith and prayer to get her through the days without Yasmin. Her daughter, whom Starnes described as fun loving with a passing for reading, would turn 21 this October.


Hundreds every year


Yasmin is among the hundreds of people who go missing each year. In 2011, the FBI’s national crime information center had more than 678,000 missing adult and juvenile records in its database with juveniles making up the majority. Of those, roughly 316,000 were coded as runaways, about 2,500 as abducted by a non-custodial parent, and 384 as abducted by strangers.

In Illinois, there are 94 missing juvenile cases, some dating back to 1974, according to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. Yasmin and the Bradley sisters, who went missing in 2001, are among those listed on the site.

Starnes’ hope in finding her daughter is tempered by sadness. As the sorted details of the three women’s captivity unfolds, Starnes dreads her daughter may share the same fate.

“My worst fear if she is alive, is what she may be going through,” said Starnes, whose health declined after Yasmin’s disappearance. A diabetic, Starnes suffers from kidney failure and high blood pressure. “Sometimes to just even think, it hurts what these missing kids be going through.”

Nearly 70 percent of non-family abductions are sexually motivated, said Robert Hoever of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. There is a variety of reasons why people abduct a child, he explained, including a sexual preference for children or victims of opportunity.

Hoever, the director of special programs in the missing children’s division, noted both girls and boys are targeted. According to the center’s statistics, in 2011 boys accounted for 51 percent of Amber Alerts issued nationwide. In 2011, there were 158 Amber Alerts nationwide for 197 children, 144 of those cases resulted in recovery while 28 were successful or found alive.

According to Hoever, the longer a child is missing, the harder the case is to resolve because clues disappear. That, he added, places the search for missing children in the hands of the public.

“When a child is missing, it is truly a partnership between law enforcement, the media and the public,” Hoever said. “We need the public to get involved.”

Rev. Ira Acree, a cousin of Yasmin, agreed. He hopes the Ohio case and what Charles Ramsey did to help the young women will inspire others to be good Samaritans.

“So many times people see stuff and they just turn their heads,” said Acree, pastor of Greater St. John Bible Church. “I’m hopeful that [Ramsey] inspires somebody who knows something to speak up.”

But public involvement could be somewhat diminished when police quickly classify missing children as runaways, said Natalie Wilson, co-founder of the Black and Missing Foundation. Wilson is especially concerned about the number of missing black children classified as runaways, which was the case with Yasmin and the Chicago police.

“When you are classified as a runaway, you do not receive the Amber Alert, and you do not receive media attention,” said Wilson, who co-founded the Maryland-based nonprofit with her sister, Derrica, who worked in law enforcement.

The two founded the organization to bring attention to missing African Americans who don’t often get as much national media attention as whites. Yasmin’s story was featured on their TVOne cable show Find Our Missing.

Yasmin remained classified a runaway until her family convinced police otherwise. They showed evidence that a door leading to the basement where she slept was kicked in and a padlocked had been cut.

That mishandling of the case by the Chicago Police Department thrust Yasmin’s case in the media spotlight. The family filed a complaint with the police Internal Affairs Division, which ruled in 2009 that the police had missed key evidence in the teen’s disappearance.

When asked why blacks are quickly coded as runaways, Wilson said there is no clear answer. She contends that poor blacks are not taken seriously by police or suspected of being involved in criminal activity.

It also could be a lack of police training, Wilson said, noting that her sister only had two hours of training on missing persons during her six months in the police academy in Falls Church, Va. Another is a police department’s priority. She said in urban cities like Chicago, the focus is on addressing homicides or robberies.

“The focus on missing persons is not the priority,” Wilson said.

She advises families to do everything they can to keep their missing loved ones in the spotlight. Celebrating birthdays or holding candlelight vigils are ways to do that. Last week, Wilson said, proves there is always hope, regardless of how long a person has been missing.

“Never give up,” she said. “Miracles can happen every day. After 10 years, these young women were found alive.”

Yasmin’s case is still open, said Starnes, who gets regular updates from the police. She, too, is hoping for a miracle — the safe return of her daughter. Until then, Yasmin is in her prayers and Starnes’ message to is simple:

“We’re still looking for you. We love you and we’re waiting for you to come home,” she said.