Runaway? Endangered Missing? Abduction?
Why does it matter what the label is?
Initially the Cedar Rapids Police Department classified Erin as a Runaway. It is the policy of local law enforcement to list children as "runaway" unless someone can prove to the contrary. No one saw Erin "forced" into a car. No one heard her scream. Finding no proof that "she didn’t runaway", the police department listed her as such. What seems like "just a label" actually has proven to be a very large hindrance in the quest for assistance in finding Erin.
As of today, Erin is still listed as a Runaway with the Cedar Rapids Police Department. She is listed as the only person in the MISSING section of their Current Unsolved Crimes web page. Numerous attempts to have her classification changed have failed. This has only strengthened the resolve that the public, media, and law enforcement need to be educated as to the dangers that all missing persons face. Regardless of the circumstances they are all Endangered Missing. And every one of them deserves to be found.
In the early days of Erin's disappearance getting attention was almost impossible. There was no "Operation Quickfind" flashed on the television screen. Law enforcement has to initiate it and chose not to do so. Erin disappeared nearly two years before the Amber Alert existed in Iowa. And even under current Amber Alert guidelines, she would still not qualify. Iowa Amber Alerts aren’t issued for children classified as runaways. Early calls to numerous media outlets brought initial curiosity but no follow up. "It isn’t a human interest story." "She is listed as a runaway? I am sorry, we don’t publicize runaway cases. If we did it for you we would have to do it for everyone."
So Erin’s family started a door to door campaign. Handing out flyers with Erin’s picture, description, and where she was last seen. Friends and family knocked on doors, talked to people in their yards and on their porches, canvassed the parks, hung flyers on phone poles and at bus stops. Flagging down police cruisers became common place. Talking to them about Erin and the concern that she hadn’t runaway, they listened and promised to keep an eye out for her. Many businesses allowed flyers to be hung on their doors and windows or on a bulletin board in the back. Though people were receptive, no clues were brought forward.
The flyers caught the attention of a newspaper reporter. Twenty (20) days after Erin vanished the first newspaper article appeared in the Gazette. It was not a news story as much as it was a feature article on Runaways. Because Erin had been labeled a Runaway 40% of the story was spent talking about Runaways and quoting a spokesman from the National Runaway Switchboard.
Thankfully the attitude of many of those in the media has changed recently. It took 2+ years of being missing. As of today, Erin’s story has now been aired on both local news channels and again in the newspaper. National coverage on NBC came early on. Several trucking magazines have run her picture. Thanks to media partnerships developed by several organizations, Erin’s story is being told. Her picture is being seen.
Someone, somewhere, knows where each and every person listed as missing is right now. It is through these media stories, that we at Help Find A Child, hope to bring attention to other missing in Iowa and the surrounding area. Every one of these stories deserves to be told. Every one of the missing deserves to be a "human interest story."
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