WASHINGTON - "It is a critical issue, however, the teens have not just vanished," said D.C. Police Youth and Family Services Commander, Chanel Dickerson, when she visited FOX 5 on Thursday, a day after a town hall meeting to discuss missing children cases in the District. "A large number of our missing teens voluntarily leave home and they're found or located within a short time."
Dickerson, who attended the meeting with Acting Police Chief Peter Newsham, says she publicizes information on each of the missing children because she wants to ensure each case receives the same amount of attention at the next.
"I was astounded when I looked at the number of missing African-American females," Dickerson said. "I'm not trying to minimize that other people aren’t missing, but they looked like me and so I just wanted to make sure that every investigation focused on every child same way and we get the same exposure to everyone regardless of your race or where you live."
Dickerson said a large percentage of missing children in the District do return home. "It's a deeper issue," she said. "We need to get to the bottom of why these young people feel that there's no other alternative but to leave home. When they leave home, there's a danger that they could be victimized, mental health issues. And then my biggest concern is they're not going to school."
Dickerson told us that she was familiar with a post on Instagram claiming to be from Chareah Payne, a 17-year-old girl who is missing after she was last seen on Friday in Southwest D.C. The post said she was safe but ran away due to poor foster care conditions. Dickerson said that Chareah could contact her directly and that she would help her.
The commander explained that Amber Alerts are used if authorities have reason to believe a missing child has been kidnapped or abducted and that they may be in imminent danger. She said that not every missing child case meets the criteria for an Amber Alert to be issued. She also defined a ‘critical missing’ case as a missing person who is under 15-years-old or over 65-years-old.
Dickerson says that while none of the recent missing children cases show evidence of sex trafficking, it is always a possibility. She also warns of communicating online with strangers and urges parents to have a current photo of their child on hand.
"One missing person is one person too many," Dickerson said.