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.
After Keiosha Felix (pictured) went missing from her paternal aunt’s house in Duson, La., on April 30 of this year, police say a cousin told police in an affidavit that the family had been in touch with the 15-year-old by phone. That led police to classify Keiosha as a runaway rather than an endangered missing persons case.
According to a 2008 report by the National Policing Improvement Agency, it is not uncommon for false missing persons reports to be filed to lead detectives away from family members as suspects. A missing persons report may also be used to cover up a homicide.
In addition, there is a substantial link between domestic abuse and child abuse.
“Where one type of abuse exists, the other is also likely to be present. Children who witness domestic abuse are exposed to harm and may also be the victims of direct abuse,” according to the National Policing improvement Agency.
Felix’s family protests any representation of her as a runaway.
“We don’t know what to think. We’re lost. We know Keiosha’s not a runaway. I don’t believe that at all,” second cousin Dionne Williams told the Advertiser.
It seemed the family’s point was proven when three people, two of them relatives, were initially charged with kidnapping, simple rape, and obstruction of justice in Felix’s disappearance.
Duson Police Chief Frank Andrew told the Advocate of Baton Rouge that police got a late start on the case “because of the lies that were told by the parties involved.”
“The family said they had spoken with her,” Andrew said. “We assumed that they were telling the truth [and] that she was in contact with other family members, which is why they are in jail basically.”
According to an affidavit filed in the case, the lead investigator says he spoke to several witnesses who claimed that Felix, who along with her 1-year-old daughter was in state custody, was allegedly raped by Leon Wilkerson, the boyfriend of Felix’s aunt Patricia Andrus, the Advocate reports.
Andrus also allegedly told investigators that she was unaware of any rape but that her boyfriend may have “played with her privates.” According to the report, Andrus was asked why she did not report the alleged abuse to authorities.
“Andrus stated she asked Leon about it and he said it was not true so she left it alone,” according to police reports. According to Childhelp, an organization dedicated to ending child abuse, more than 90 percent of juvenile sexual abuse victims know their perpetrator.
Police also allege that Felix’s cousin went to great lengths to make police believe the family had been in contact with the missing girl, telling authorities that another cousin had been in contact with the girl and that she had even overheard Keiosha’s voice on the phone.
The charges against Wilkerson for second-degree kidnapping and simple rape were eventually dropped. But Felix’s aunt Andrus was also charged with being an accessory to rape and improper supervision of a minor, with Cousin Portia Felix being charged with obstruction of justice.
Those charges are still pending, police told NewsOne. Andrus’ attorney believes police jumped the gun and that charges against his client will also be eventually dropped.
The Lafayette Parish Sheriff’s Office, who took control of the case, said in an interview with NewsOne that the priority is finding Keiosha.
“As soon as we find Keiosha and bring her home, we will try to find what resources she needs so she understands the dangers of being a 15 year-old alone in the world and all the bad things that can happen,” said Judice.
“It’s hard to charge a person with rape when you don’t have a victim to testify. We want to find Keiosha. If there is any allegation of wrongdoing we will seek justice.
“We want to know from Keiosha what her allegation is. From that point on, you identify what evidence exists or doesn’t exist. But until you have an allegation from her, it’s hard to move forward,” Judice added.
However, Duson’s police chief, in texts with the now-fired lead investigator on the case, revealed just how serious he thought the case was.
“We may be dealing with a human [trafficking] case, we may have [stepped] in to something more than a runaway,” Duson Police Chief Frank Andrew allegedly wrote in a text message to now-dismissed investigator Lt. Gerald Credeur.
It is common for abusers to force their victims in to prostitution, according to the National Policing Improvement Agency.
“Teenage girls are most at risk of domestic violence and many are falling through the system,” said Natalie Wilson, c0-founder of the Black and Missing Foundation.
The twists and turns and all the potential issues still at play in this case demonstrate how complicated potential domestic abuse cases involving children are, said Wilson.
“From the very beginning, Keiosha’s case has been complicated. Keiosha was initially reported as a runaway. Two of her relatives falsely told authorities that she was in contact with them after April 30,” said Wilson.
According to Childhelp, the effects of child abuse are devastating on young lives. Abused children are 25 percent more likely to experience teen pregnancy. In addition, Childhelp reports:
About 30 percent of abused and neglected children will later abuse their own children, continuing the horrible cycle of abuse.
About 80 percent of 21-year-olds that were abused as children met criteria for at least one psychological disorder.
Judice says the Felix case shows the importance of paying attention to the information that young people communicate to adults.
“In this case the key is that some people had warning signs. They noticed something was awry and failed to act and failed to notify state workers or law enforcement that this was a situation that was forthcoming,” said Judice. “She was pretty forthcoming in her discontent for her environment.”
Police are still hopeful that Felix is alive.
“The consensus has been all along that we believe Keiosha is alive. Nothing to the contrary has come to surface and we haven’t recognized anything that says she has been harmed,” said Judice.
Police are looking for a witness in the case who may have had contact with her, Judice told NewsOne, and are hoping to identify the man in the picture below (the woman in the photo is not Keiosha).
“He purchased a device at a local cellular store. That device was used in some communication with Keiosha. We believe he purchased that device for someone else and we want to identify him,” said Judice.
A $5,ooo reward has been posted by the FBI, and police have been looking for clues in the Baton Rouge area.
“Someone has information about Keiosha’s disappearance. We ask them to come forward with the information needed to find her,” said Wilson.
Anyone with information regarding the whereabouts of Keiosha Felix may contact the Lafayette Parish Sheriff’s Office at (337) 232-Tips or the Black and Missing Foundation’s confidential Tip Line.