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.
To be a part of the solution, NewsOne will profile missing persons and provide tips about how to keep your loved ones safe and what to do if someone goes missing.
Aaliyah Hall Bell
Case Type: Endangered
Date of Birth: Jan. 1, 1996
Missing Date: Nov. 25, 2014
Age Now: 20
Missing City: Rock Hill
Missing State: South Carolina
Hair Color: Black
Hair Length: Shoulder Length
Eye Color: Brown
Wear Glasses or Contacts: No
Location Last Seen: Bell was last seen at her uncle’s home on Chestnut Street when she began walking to her godmother’s house on North Confederate at about 9:30 p.m., according to her family. Bell used a path well-traveled by area residents and the trip consisted of only a few blocks.
Bell left behind her cell phone and didn’t pack any clothes. Police originally thought that Bell, who was 18 at the time of her disappearance, might have been a runaway. But relatives say she walked the route almost every day and it is unlikely that she would go so long without communicating with anyone.
“She just disappeared. I tell everyone it’s like a spaceship came and sucked her up and no one knows anything,” Juanita Boger, 63, a retired factory worker and Bell’s godmother, told NewsOne. “It’s a short distance and it’s well-lit.”
But Bell had never run off before and always remained in close contact with her family. There has been no activity on her social media accounts since she went missing, said Boger, who has raised Bell off and on since she was 3-months-old.
“She called me momma and I loved her like my child. When I introduced her I said this is my daughter that I didn’t give birth to,” said Boger.
Boger said Bell, like a lot of young people, was trying to figure out what she wanted to do with her life. She had some minor scrapes with the law for things such as driving without a license, but Bell had been enrolled in a GED program for two months at the time of her disappearance.
“She loved to do hair. She wanted to get her GED and she wanted to get her cosmetology license. She had plans,” said Boger. “She was a well-loved girl. She had no reason to run away. She had everything she needed and she had just started to get herself together.”
Once she found a job, Boger promised Bell she would help buy her a car, a prospect the teen was excited about.
Boger said Rock Hill Police told her they continue to look for Bell and have her picture in their squad cars. She says police interviewed everyone she suggested, but there are no new leads.
Capt. Mark Bollinger of the Rock Hill Police Department told NewsOne that the search for Bell is still active.
“We still don’t have any leads in the case, but we are still looking for her,” Bollinger said.
“Our guys sit and meet on it at least once every four or five weeks,” he added. “This is a frustrating one to the family and to us. We are a small city of 70,000 people and we’ve never had anyone disappear this long. This is frustrating for the detectives because we want to find her and get closure for the family.”
According to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, Bell could be in Atlanta, Charlotte, or Fayetteville, North Carolina. Boger says some authorities suggested that she could have been abducted as part of a forced prostitution ring and is being held somewhere against her will.
According to studies, anywhere from 100,000 to 300,000 children are the victims of sex trafficking in the United States every year. Women, at 94 percent, are more likely to be the victims of sex trafficking, as are African-Americans. It is estimated that 40 percent of sex trafficking victims are African-American.
A 2014 report on sex trafficking from the Urban Institute found that sex trafficking in Atlanta grew from a $238 million industry to a $290 million industry, outpacing the growth of both illegal drug and gun sales, and brought in more money than both of those enterprises combined.
Bollinger said that angle was investigated based on tips and rumors, but nothing came of it. Rock Hill Police checked for Bell in Charlotte and Atlanta “but we came up with nothing,” said Bollinger.
Boger said her god-daughter has no history of any such activity and, like many 18-year-olds, was just dating.
“She never ran off for two or three days to lay up with somebody, so I’m holding on to my faith that she is still alive,” said Boger. “But I would rather her be in a sex ring where she could still have the chance to get her life together when she comes back. I would rather her be held against her will somewhere than for her to be in a ditch somewhere dead.”
The family holds an event every year on Bell’s birthday. Last year they released balloons. They are trying to raise money to hire a private investigator because Boger says her motherly intuition tells her that Bell is still alive.
“I want to talk to her face to face. Is this something you are doing on your own, or is this something you can’t get out of? I want to help her get out of this,” said Boger. “In my heart I don’t feel like she’s dead.”
Last Seen Wearing: Bell was wearing a black pea coat, gray jogging pants, neon green shoes, and a silver lip ring.
Identifying Marks or Characteristics: Silver lip ring and tattoos on her stomach and her left wrist.
Anyone with information regarding the whereabouts or circumstances of disappearance for Aaliyah Hall Bell may call Rock Hill Police at (803) 329-7200. You may also contact the Black and Missing Foundation’s confidential Tip Line.