By Leonard E. Colvin
New Journal and Guide
Two weeks after her stepfather reported her missing and a region-wide effort to find her was undertaken, Kadence S. Morrell, 15, of Norfolk, was safely located in Tolleson, Arizona.
The Norfolk Police, FBI, and other officials have not announced why she left home, prompting her stepfather to call for help.
“We are so happy that she is safe and coming home! Thank you for all of your help,” said Kadence Morrell’s stepfather to a News Channel 3 reporter.
Arizona police told News 3 they found Kadence Morrell on August 15, in an apartment.
Norfolk Police announced in a tweet that she was last seen on August 3, 2022.
Her father reported that an FBI Advocate Norfolk detective flew to Arizona to bring her back home.
Leading up to her being found, there was a public outcry, daily media coverage via tv and social media, and updates from Norfolk Police.
Door-by-door searches were organized and flyers with the 15-year-old’s image were tacked to doors and tree trunks.
Among the organizations that quickly stepped up to lend their support was the Black and Missing Foundation (BAMF), a national education and advocacy program.
Natalie Wilson co-founded BAMF with her sister-in-law Derrica Wilson in 2008.
BAMF’s small staff located in the Washington, D.C. area monitored the activities related to Morrell until they were resolved.
She said she was relieved that Morrell, who is a child of color, was found. But, she said, “there are so many adults and children still missing, many of them are not located and their families never find out where they are.”
Wilson said she founded BAMF when a young Black girl named Tamika Houston was missing in Spartanburg, South Carolina.
She said that the case struggled to get press coverage.
At the same time, three white women were also missing and they received “around the clock coverage from local and national police and media,” said Wilson.
“We do not know of any Black or brown person, who at that time went missing and received so much media coverage,” said Wilson.
Since the BAMF was founded, the number of missing adults and children of color has jumped to 40 percent.
Blacks make up just 13 percent of the nation’s population.
Wilson said that on average BAMF receives about 25 cases a month from the police, media, and families, of people who go missing, “who often have no one to turn to.”
The submissions that BAMF receive are just a fraction of the cases, she said.
She said 50 percent of the people are either found safe and well or dead and another 50 percent are never found. The age range and gender vary from toddlers to teen, females and males, adults and the elderly.
Many elderly people suffering from Alzheimer’s or dementia “walk away from their homes and go missing” for short or extended periods of time, Wilson said.
In the case of youths, they come in contact with “pimps, pedophiles and sex traffickers” online and are “persuaded to leave their homes,” she said.
Wilson said incidents of children being lured from their homes spiked during the COVID-19 Pandemic when many of them were relegated to interacting with the world via the internet. While many girls are snared in the sex-trafficking web, young Black men make up 30 percent of the victims. Currently in Virginia, four-year-old Codi Bigby, who is an African American boy, has been missing for seven months.
Wilson said one of the factors BAMF encounters is the marginalization of the cases related to people of color who go missing. Police often classify them as “runaways,” so they may not get proper media coverage or be placed on Amber Alert.
There are at least 240 people aged 18 and older who have gone missing in the state. They include 22 people from Richmond, 14 each from Norfolk and Chesapeake, and 13 from Virginia Beach.
The Virginia Department of Criminal Justice Services created a resource guide for families on the first steps they should take when a member goes missing.
According to the department, Virginia does not have a waiting period in order to file a missing person case. As a result, law enforcement agencies can send out an alert right away if they deem it necessary.
In Virginia, the Ashanti Alert System is used for missing and endangered persons. There also is a national Ashanti Alert Act.
Wilson said that around 2008 during the rash of young white women who were reported missing, the late PBS News Anchor Gwen Ifill coined the term “Missing White Girl” syndrome, denoting the high priority they get from the media and police compared to African American women, specifically.
“They have a tendency to ‘adultify’ African Americans girls,” she said. “They are stereotyped as sexually loose and ‘fast’.”
Wilson said recently she encountered a Black woman, a friend who was in law enforcement, who went to file a Missing Person report when she could not find her daughter.
“The police officer asked her… ‘How do you know your daughter is not laying up with some man and not missing?’” recalled Wilson. “Well, my friend walked away and did not want to confront the officer. But she found the resources to find her daughter.”
Wilson said the girl had been kidnapped while pumping gas by four men with guns, raped, and was held captive.
“Your age, gender, zip code, and race,” Wilson said, “shouldn’t be a barrier to engaging the system when a person goes missing. Not all young Black men are thugs or criminals. We are already facing psychological stress from the hard reality of life we hear in the news and the music.”
Wilson said to deter children from being missing or victims of sex trafficking, she recommends “that we become vigilant and monitor the activities of our children online where most victims meet the people.”
She said cellphones and personal computers are devices that allow people to interact and share images, of “us taking pictures of ourselves on vacation in front of hotels or even plates of food,” at
dinner. She said there are people who are skillfully monitoring our activities online.
She recalled when the image of missing people was placed on the side of milk cartons and people were asked to submit reports to police if they spotted them.
She said the media, police and the community must work together to stop the trend.
On August 21 in Los Angeles, Natalie Wilson and her sister-in-law, Derrica Wilson received an award on behalf of BAMF from The African-American Film Critics Association (AAFCA) for a docu-series “Black and Missing” which received the Best Documentary award.
“Now we all must become our own personal and digital milk cartons,” Wilson said. “We cannot turn a blind eye to this. Our community, media, and law enforcement must help give families support and help in locating their loved ones.”
For more information about the Black and Missing Foundation, go to Black and Missing | Missing Men, Women and Children | Report a Missing Person (blackandmissinginc.com)