An Instagram post describing how 14 Black girls went missing during a 24 hour period in the District of Columbia went viral, drawing national attention. A spokesperson for the Metropolitan Police Department Aquita Brown told the AFRO on March 27 that there is not a spike in missing person cases, just an increase in publicity. She said the department has been using social media to publicize missing person cases since last year.

District of Columbia Public School (DCPS) students march in D.C. March 28 to use their first amendment right to call for
the White House and the Justice Department to do more in reference to the city’s missing Black and Latino girls. (Photos by Rob Roberts)

Even though, “the departments have always used social media to announce these cases,” Brown said. “The increase of press releases and social media gradually occurred when new leadership took over the unit in December.”

Though the report was false, the attention shed light on a District issue and sparked a flurry of response.

As of March 28, there have been 828 missing person cases, with nearly 65 percent of those cases involving juveniles, according to data from the department. D.C. police share fliers on social media of missing person cases. The fliers include the name, age, photo, and where the person was last seen.

Most missing persons appear to be people of color. There are currently 29 unfound people in D.C. and all those people are either Black or Hispanic, according to police reports.

In response to the uproar, the Congressional Black Caucus called on federal authorities to help find the city’s missing girls on March 21. In a letter addressed to Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Federal Bureau of Investigation Director James Comey, the CBC asked for an investigation into the disappearances. “It is essential that the Department of Justice and the FBI use all of the tools at their disposal to help local officials investigate these events, and return these children to their parents as quickly as possible,” the letter said.

CBC Chairman Cedric Richmond (D-La.) and Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) signed off on the letter together, stating that authorities often assume missing children of color are runaways and not victims of abduction.

Brown said that the missing individuals are runaways who leave home voluntarily, “We have no indication that these individuals are being kidnapped or snatched off the street,” she said. “Our concern is to find them as soon as possible, and ensure their safety.” Most missing persons are located within 24 to 48 hours, Brown added.

Norton also introduced legislation on March 24 to require the U.S. Department of Justice’s Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention to collect and publish national demographic data on missing youngsters. Norton’s office did not respond for comment on her legislation in time for publication.

Also, in response to the news of the District’s missing teenagers, Mayor Muriel Bowser launched six initiatives on March 24 to help solve missing children cases and address the issues that are causing youth to leave their homes.

“We are doubling down and enforcing policies that better publicize when our youth go missing, invests more resources to address why youth go missing, and provides more police to help investigate cases of missing youth,” Kevin Harris, a spokesperson for the mayor, told the AFRO March 27.

The initiatives include a boost in officer staffing within the Children and Family Services Division, broadening the information provided on police social accounts and webpages for missing persons, and providing grant funding to community non profits to assist runaway youth and their parents.

Harris said the number of missing children reports is declining and the department has a case closure rate of 95 percent, but there is still progress to be made. “If we want to make more significant headway in lowering the numbers of children reported missing, we have to deal with the underlying causes for why they left home in the first place, he said. “These initiatives will help us to focus our energies not just on quickly locating our missing youth, but hopefully ensuring they don’t go missing again.”