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.
Jerome Easter Jr.
Case Type: Endangered
Date of Birth: March 5, 1995
Missing Date: Jan. 2, 2017
Age Now: 21
Missing City: Milwaukee
Missing State: Wisconsin
Hair Color: Black
Hair Length: Short
Eye Color: Brown
Wear Glasses or Contacts: No
Location Last Seen: Easter was arrested in Wyoming on Friday for allegedly being in a stolen vehicle, according to his family. But this Black and Missing focuses on the difficulties families can face when dealing with a loved one with mental illness who goes missing.
Circumstances of Disappearance: Easter’s mother, Kiaundra Murphy, 36, a supervisor at a large retail chain in Fresno, California, said mental illness, especially schizophrenia, runs in her family. Her mother, grandfather, uncle and others on her mother’s side of the family all suffered from schizophrenia, which is characterized by hallucinations, delusions and a general break with reality.
Murphy thought the disease, which runs in families, had passed her and her brother over. Easter loved playing football, but then decided in high school he wanted to become a designer and own his own clothing line. With that change in direction, she started seeing changes in her sweet child, who loved to help others even while he became withdrawn at times.
Ages 16 to 30 is when symptoms of schizophrenia generally began to appear.
Eight months ago, Easter started hearing voices and had hallucinations, believing that someone was out to get him. The family tried to get him help and sent him to live with his grandfather in Milwaukee.
“The symptoms that I see in him are similar to what I remember in my mom when I was taken from her at 10,” said Murphy. “It didn’t happen to me and none of my brothers have it, but I didn’t think about how the disease could skip a generation.”
Easter had many symptoms, including banging his head against the wall trying to get the voices out. He also began setting fires in the house.
“We called police, but they would not take him in because they said he was not a danger to himself or others––even though he was setting fires in the house,” said Murphy.
Finally, in November, now living with his grandfather in Milwaukee, Easter had a mental break. He stole a car and drove it from Wisconsin to Iowa. Easter was found two days later when he ran out of gas and told an officer on the side of the road he was trying to make it back to California.
Easter began getting treatment and the theft charges against him were dropped. He was released in December and returned to Milwaukee, even though his family wanted him to stay in treatment.
Soon, the symptoms returned. Easter was still angry that his family tried to get him help. On Jan. 2, Easter went missing again. The first time he disappeared, Easter contacted his father’s side of the family and told them he was headed to California. This time, there’s been no contact. Easter’s phone goes to voicemail.
“I think he’s kind of in denial right now. I’m sure he knows something is wrong,” said Murphy.
Murphy says that Milwaukee Police recently called her to say that they closed Easter’s case because he had been spotted by police in Omaha, Nebraska.
Sgt. Tim Gauerke said the Omaha Police Department had contact with Easter on Jan. 8.
“He was located by the Omaha Police Department and thus the case in Milwaukee is cleared because Jerome is no longer missing,” said Gauerke.
Normally, missing adults suffering from mental illness can be considered endangered and held for their own safety. Asked why Easter was not held for his own safety given his mental health status, Gauerke said there was no mention of Easter’s mental illness on the missing persons report filed with Milwaukee Police.
Murphy disputes that claim and says her family mentioned Easter’s mental issues and provided a missing flier that also highlighted his mental issues.
Omaha Police did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Murphy, like many people trying to help their family members deal with mental illness, said it has been difficult to get help.
“It seems as if they are not trained to deal with mental illness. They don’t know the symptoms or the onset. They are telling me if you don’t have a history you have to do something really bad, get arrested, hurt someone or hurt yourself before you get arrested,” said Murphy. “And it shouldn’t be that you have to do something bad to someone else or yourself just to get help.”
Derrica Wilson, co-founder and president of the Black and Missing Foundation, said Easter’s story is not uncommon.
“The disparity in missing persons of color and minority mental health conditions are essentially the same. The media tend to be biased in covering these issues, resulting in our community being unable to connect because we do not see anyone who looks like us,” Wilson said.
“Our community is suffering from a lack of understanding and knowledge about mental health. It has had a traumatic impact on how our community recognizes the symptoms, responds and where we to turn for help for mental health conditions,” Wilson added.
“As a result, these conditions are being internalized. Fearing embarrassment, our community is relying solely on faith and spirituality as the only method of dealing, coping and recovery,” she continued.
Wilson said members of the African-American community must step up to deal with this issue.
“As a community, we have to be change agents. We have to seek further education and certifications so we can partner with law enforcement and help enhance their training; become community advocates; and join the police forces to break down the barriers,” said Wilson.
Murphy said she’s happy to know her son is safe, but the system needs change to help parents like her.
“The system turns their back on the mentally ill and doesn’t want to deal with them, but is quick to arrest them when they do something wrong,” said Murphy. “It’s a mess to prove they need help. He may be spending some time in the prison system after going from a football player and student with good grades who’s never been in trouble, to what most see as just another black criminal.”
But parents must continue to fight for their children.
“I would say don’t give up, because if you give up on your loved one they will have nobody. The system is not meant to help people with mental disabilities until they actually do something really bad,” said Murphy. “We have to fight for them get help. It’s not an easy process, but I can’t give up because that’s my only child.”