Still trying to find Aliayah
I know—it’s been nine days since I promised to finish this blog. My apologies, as I really didn’t mean for this much time to elapse. Working to promote my book, my health issues and, my favorite pastime—volunteer work of my own—have taken priority. And now I’m behind on several other topics I must blog about, that pertain to upcoming events related to Sister of Silence.
However, this is too important a topic to leave you hanging. And since Oct. 7, when I wrote the first part, several more children, teens, and even babies, have gone missing (both here locally and around the country). Given that, you’ll want to know what else Ken Lanning (one of the most well-respected experts in this field) told me.
As a missing child search (like the one for Aliayah Lunsford) continues without results, the suspect pool naturally becomes smaller. “The family becomes more suspect as time and all other avenues are eliminated,” Lanning said.
Since the three-week search for the three-year-old missing Weston, W.Va., girl yielded little more than frustration, that’s probably why the media reported that authorities were looking into any connection Aliayah’s stepfather, Ralph Lunsford, might have to her disappearance.
Again, I need to remind you that Lanning and I spoke about missing child cases in general, so nothing he said can be applied specifically to this one case. But what he did say can help you to better understand such cases.
First of all, the people—professional and otherwise—who end up searching for children like Aliayah far outnumber those who search for, say, children who are like I once was. (That type of abuse is called “acquaintance molestation.” I discuss it in my book, and it’s what Lanning says is the norm in most cases that involve missing children or child sexual abuse.)
“If they appeared to be abducted and sexually abused by strangers, an army of people show up (to search),” Lanning said, including such groups as the FBI’s CARD (Child Abduction Rapid Deployment) team.
“It seems to tap into a primal fear that some stranger’s going to come kidnap your child,” Lanning said. These “long-term missing child cases,” create an unbelievable level of emotion that evolves and grows as the search continues, he added.
Conversely speaking, though, if a child is abused by a family member or close acquaintance, “we’re lucky is we get one person to investigate that case,” Lanning said.
But Lanning says the facts prove—and I agree, based on my own experience, as well as my own research—that missing child or child sexual abuse cases involve someone within the family, or someone the family knows and trusts.
Two other factors come into play with missing children. First, there’s what Lanning refers to as “shrinking the window of opportunity.” That’s what happens when a parent tells police they last saw their child at, say, 1:05 p.m. By 1:10 p.m., when they went to check on the child, it was gone.
“That’s a five-minute window,” Lanning said, “but what happens is they finally tell you (after many hours or even days) they didn’t realize the child was missing until four hours later.”
Did they lie? Are they trying to cover up a crime? Not usually. Lanning said most parents are too embarrassed to admit they left their child without oversight for that long—or else they truly believe that only five minutes DID elapse. “They’re not lying to you, but what they’re telling you is not accurate,” he said.
In the meantime, police and searchers were operating under the premise the child had only been gone for five minutes—when, in reality, a four-hour window allows much more time and distance to be covered by the child (if it left of its own accord), or the abductor who took the child.
Second, some people say police respond more favorably to cases involving white missing children. Lanning disagrees—and so do I. But based on his experience with missing child cases, two factors do come into play.
“The classic case involves a picture of a cute child with big eyes, that gets shown (on TV) over and over,” Lanning said. “The cuter the child, the more the media eats it up. They love visuals, and if you have moving visuals (like home video), that’s great.”
But some families don’t take pictures. Maybe they don’t have that luxury, or maybe their lives are just too chaotic. And chaos, according to Lanning, is a huge factor in convincing the authorities to investigate a missing child case.
These cases involve “poorer people who generally live a more chaotic lifestyle,” Lanning said.
What does that mean as far as a potential investigation or search, when such a family discovers its child is missing? Sadly, the chaos hampers police response and a subsequent search.
Lanning cited this hypothetic example, based on similar cases he investigated while with the FBI:
At 9 a.m. a distraught mother calls 911 to report her child is missing. When she is asked what time she last saw the child, the mother says “3 a.m.” This leads the dispatcher, or police officer (if one is dispatched to the scene), to ask why she didn’t report the child’s disappearance earlier.
Mother: Well, I thought my ex-husband came and got her in the middle of the night, while I was asleep.
Officer: What makes you think that?
Mother: Well, he’s done it four times before.
This, Lanning said, is not uncommon in families where chaos is the norm.
Or, police are told the parent didn’t report the disappearance sooner because he (or she) believed the child had gone to visit “Aunt Martha.” Such visits have, in the past, often turned into three, or four-day stays, so the parent didn’t even realize the child was missing.
Compounding the problem even further, Lanning says, is what happens when the police learn that “Aunt Martha” really isn’t a relative at all—but just a nearby neighbor the family calls by that name.
Such factors highlight the challenging nature of investigating any missing child cases. Nonetheless, people like me will continue to volunteer to look for these children, just as police will spend the resources to investigate these cases.
It sure would be nice if no more children disappeared or were abducted, but that’s just not the reality of our lives today, is it? The reality is though, that most of the time, the harm (inflicted by other people) that comes to children, comes to them through the adults who are supposed to love and protect them, as well as the adults we think we know and trust enough to let our children spend time with.