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Delegate Proposing Missing Children’s Plan

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Phylicia Barnes was found dead in April.  The teen went missing in December, 2010.

Phylicia Barnes was found dead in April. The teen went missing in December, 2010.

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ANNAPOLIS, Md. (AP) — A state delegate from Baltimore is proposing the creation of a plan that would kick in whenever a Maryland child goes missing. Delegate Jill Carter and missing persons advocates gathered Wednesday to discuss a bill aimed at improving cooperation between state agencies and advocacy groups.

“Phylicia’s Law” is named in memory of North Carolina teen Phylicia Barnes, who disappeared in 2010 while visiting Baltimore and was found dead months later. Carter plans to introduce it this session.

The case spurred broader interest in missing persons cases and experts and community members discovered gaps as they helped law enforcement search for Barnes. Some were concerned that the fact that Barnes was black kept the case from getting the media attention it deserved, but her father, Russell, said pressure from a missing person’s family plays a role more than race.

“We really want this bill to take off with wings,” he said. “But Phylicia is just one in a million.”

There are several laws around the country bearing the names of missing children, but the Black and Missing Foundation said they had not heard of any named for a missing minority child and this bill could be the first, according to spokeswoman Natalie Wilson.

“It came to their attention, and now to mine, that there are severe gaps and holes in Maryland’s process and procedures for finding missing children,” she said. “Phylicia Barnes’ tragedy is one that we know about, but sadly there are hundreds of nameless and faceless and voiceless children that we never shine a light on.”

Because there’s little attention paid to many cases, there’s no public outcry about the size of the problem, Carter said.

The bill, which is still a draft, would require state officials to oversee efforts to find children and ensure that local law enforcement, missing children’s organizations, experts and families work together to find children. It would also have to publish the names and relevant information about missing children and annual statistics.

A plan is needed to make sure every missing child is sought and better oversight and accountability in the process will help improve the process in the future, criminal profiler Pat Brown said.

“We can’t continue to ignore the problem,” she said.

On average, 13,500 children are reported as missing each year in Maryland. About 12,000 are located, but there are about 1,500 to 2,000 open cases on any day, according to state police.

Amber Alerts, which widely broadcast information about a recent abduction, are effective, but police must confirm an abduction in which a child is at risk of injury or death and have enough information about the child and the captor to issue an alert. The Maryland State Police Missing and Unidentified Persons Center uses them because studies show that children in typical abductions are killed within three hours, according to center director Carla Proudfoot.

“As a parent, I would want an alert. Every parent would,” Proudfoot said. “But there are 30 juveniles reported missing every day. There’s a concern that people would stop paying attention.”

The center does work with local law enforcement and families to create missing persons posters and post photos of the missing on its Facebook page, Proudfoot said. State police also have a child recovery unit to help local law enforcement agencies. Proudfoot would be interested in a system that could post each child’s case, but it would be a full-time job to keep up the cases up to date, she said.

(Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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