Champions for the missing: Las Vegas volunteers dedicate lives to bringing children home
LAS VEGAS, Nev. (FOX5) - Each year in Nevada, more than 8,000 children are reported missing and about 200 of those are considered in danger or abducted, according to Nevada Missing Children Clearinghouse.
There are several groups in Nevada that focus on finding and bringing those kids home. One of the newest volunteer groups that is making a name for themselves in the Las Vegas Valley is Missing Justice.
“Every day in Las Vegas, three to five people go missing … it’s a huge issue,” founder of Missing Justice Jessica Bower said.
Rokesha Smith’s daughter was one of those many children to be reported missing this year.
“I feel helpless to her, I don’t know if she’s ok,” Smith told FOX5 in August. “I can’t even put a picture to where she may be or if she’s with somebody. Is she OK?”
Smith said her daughter vanished from their front yard. Bower and her team at Missing Justice joined the search for Smith’s daughter a day after she disappeared in August.
FOX5 followed the group as they knocked on doors and did their own investigations using social media and their connections in the community.
‘VERY POWERFUL AND SPECIAL’
Missing Justice formed this spring following the disappearance then death of 2-year-old Amari Nicholson. His mother’s boyfriend now faces a murder charge.
Bower started a Facebook page that was initially meant for updates on the Nicholson case, and it quickly grew to thousands of followers. There are now nearly 9,000 members in the group.
Bower discovered an online community that wanted to help in other missing persons cases in Las Vegas and even other parts of the country.
“Once we started to meet up in person, we decided this is something very powerful and special. We could build for our community to make a difference,” Bower said.
The group began getting tagged in other missing children cases online. That’s how they found Smith.
‘WE HAVE TO KEEP GOING’
Just a day after their search began for her daughter, their intel led them to a specific apartment complex. They alerted police and Smith’s daughter was brought home. Two men are in custody for her daughter’s abduction.
“It was one of the most terrifying yet empowering [moments] and proof that we can’t stop. We have to keep going,” Bower said.
Made up of six local women and four others across the country, the group has worked 46 missing persons cases this year and has brought home 30 children.
“Because there is a lack of looking at every case differently they’re lumped into the same category,” Bower said. “Where as they may not be a runaway, but they’re lumped into a runaway category.”
Bower said because of that, police often are actively assisting in the missing children investigations.
SAVED IN AMERICA
“Most major police departments including the ones in Nevada, the police don’t have the resources to go after missing kids or runaway kids,” founder of Saved in America Joseph Travers said.
In May, Travers’ team was looking for several teens who may have been brought into sex trafficking in Las Vegas.
“This is almost as prevalent, or basically is, as drug trafficking is, but it’s of children. A drug trafficker can only sell his product once, but he can sell a girl over and over again,” Travers said.
Travers founded Saved in America in 2014. Since then, he said his team has helped parents and police bring home 258 children. Saved in America is made up of private investigators that are ex-law enforcement and special operations.
The group started with parents reaching out, but Travers said he soon discovered a majority of missing children are foster kids, so they took to the national database for exploited children to find more cases.
“We took that formula and decided if we can do it in San Diego County, let’s go do it in Las Vegas. After looking at all these missing cases in Vegas, we decided this is something we needed to do, because we don’t want to neglect the foster kids,” Travers said.
The teams at Saved in America and Missing Justice look different and approach their missions in unique ways, but the common thread is they’re all volunteers.
“We’re building trust with our community, because we’re getting results. We’re doing what we promised to do and we’re not asking for money. We’re not accepting money, we’re doing it pure,” Bower said.
2020 U.S. STATISTICS
The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children reported 29,782 missing children cases in 2020 in the U.S. Of those, 25,030 endangered runaway cases were resolved, as well as 1,109 family abductions.
NCMEC said 70 non-family abductions were reported. Of the 70, nine remain unresolved.
“A runaway child is always ‘at risk’ and demands prompt attention by law enforcement. Therefore, police are empowered under the law to take a runaway child into ‘protective custody,’ but the child cannot be placed into a lockdown facility or juvenile detention center. Being a runaway is not a crime, only a ‘status offense,’” Las Vegas police say online.
Las Vegas police provide additional information and steps to take in the event of a child runaway. If a child is otherwise missing, report it to police.
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