Although African Americans make up just 13 percent of the U.S. population, we account for 33 percent of the missing in the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s database. Cases involving African Americans also tend to receive less media coverage than missing Whites, with missing men of color getting even less attention.
NewsOne has partnered with the Black and Missing Foundation to focus on the crisis of missing African Americans.
October is National Domestic Violence Awareness Month. For the remainder of the month, Find our Missing will explore the unfortunate link between domestic violence and missing persons.
Shaquita Yolanda Bell (pictured), 23, was in an abusive relationship with her boyfriend Michael Dickerson in 1996. Dickerson had been charged with beating Bell in the past, with Bell even claiming that he held a loaded gun to her head.
“He said he would kill me because he’s going to get locked up anyway,” Bell, a bakery clerk with three children, the youngest of whom was Dickerson’s child, wrote in her datebook, according to the Washington Post.
And she had, had enough.
“I finally left him before he killed me,” she wrote before moving to Alexandria, Va., from Laurel, Md., to stay with her grandmother.
That’s why family members were shocked when she was seen leaving her grandmother’s house with Dickerson in June of 1996.
It was the last time relatives would see her alive.
Dickerson was eventually charged with her murder, and while he initially denied killing Bell, he took a plea deal, agreeing to reveal where he had buried her body.
According to court documents reviewed by the Post, a man, who allegedly helped hide Bell’s body, said “that he [Dickerson] shot her in a rage, she fell, and he then stood over her firing until the gun stopped.”
Bell’s family has still not been able to find where her body was allegedly buried.
Bell’s case is an example of how domestic violence and missing persons cases are related, said Derrica Wilson, president and co-founder of the Black and Missing Foundation.
“Many missing persons of color cases that we have been directly involved in were a result of domestic violence. Often times when women and children are involved in a violent relationship, the abuser will file a “missing” person report. It is actually an attempt to find the victim who may have left to seek a safe place,” said Wilson.
According to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, 33 percent of female homicide victims are killed by an intimate partner. In 70 to 80 percent of intimate partner homicides, no matter which partner was killed, the man abused the woman before the incident.
And for Black women, the problem is worse.
According to the Department of Justice, Black female victims of intimate partner homicides were twice as likely to be killed by a spouse than White women. Black women are also four times more likely to be murdered by a boyfriend or girlfriend than White women.
A 2008 report by the National Policing Improvement Agency produced for the Association of Chief Police Officers warned that abusers may file missing persons reports to find the victims of domestic abuse. In cases of homicide, the abuser often reports the victim missing in an attempt to give false information and lead detectives away from them as a suspect.
Children may also run away from abuse, but because some families want to avoid implicating themselves in a crime, they also fail to report the abuse to authorities by filing a missing persons report, according to the report.
Friends and family have a role to play in breaking the cycle of violence.
“We have to be supportive of victims. We can’t be judgmental. Encourage them to talk to people who can offer assistance. Assist them in developing an exit plan because it’s an unnerving and scary situation for any victim to be in,” said Wilson.
“It’s important to understand that men fall victim to domestic violence in addition to women and children,” said Wilson. “We must pay attention to the warning signs and behaviors of people we come in contact with. Abuse is progressive – each encounter gets worse.”
That’s what happened to Bell until she was ultimately brutally murdered.
Still, to this day, Bell’s family has never stopped looking for her. Bell’s family has repeatedly trekked through the woods where Dickerson says he buried Bell’s body. Last year, prompted by Bell’s children who had a tough Mother’s Day, the family was at it again, and police sent a cadaver dog to assist.
“I’m just feeling that from the depth they said they buried her we ought to be able to find something,” step-father Thomas Wilborne told ABC News.
The family just wants to give Bell a proper resting place.
“My hope is that we find her. I know she’s not coming home but it’s still a missing piece,” said Bell’s mother Jackie Wilborne.
“I need the peace in my mind and heart, otherwise it’s just not complete.”