Although African Americans make up just 13 percent of the U.S. population, we account for 37 percent of the missing in the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s database under the age of 18 and 26 percent above the age of 18. 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.
The decomposing body of missing Kansas City woman Carrie Blewett, whose family says police ignored their pleas to help find her because she was drug addicted, was found earlier this month in a field about five miles from her mother’s home.
Even though Blewett, a 37-year-old missing mother of four, was struggling with drug addiction, that didn’t stop her from checking in with at least one member of her family on a daily basis.
Blewett’s decomposing body was found at 9:26 a.m. August 3 in a field near 5129 College Ave., an area the family told police she was known to frequent. City workers noticed a body along the tree line, Kansas City Police Department officials told NewsOne. Police used a tattoo to positively identify Blewett.
Blewett’s sister, April Blewett, and her cousin, Theresa Burris, claim police told them the missing woman was an adult and there was nothing they could do to help. Investigators failed to act immediately despite information from relatives that it was highly unusual for her to go days without speaking to her family, her sister says. The family believes that Blewett’s issues with addiction caused police to take her case less seriously.
“If they had done something from day one instead of saying she was an adult, maybe we would have been able to have an open casket funeral. Maybe her kids could have seen her and given her a proper goodbye,” April Blewett said.
Derrica Wilson, a co-founder of the Black and Missing Foundation, said Blewett’s case is a prime example of how difficult it is for African-Americans to get help from law enforcement and media attention to help find missing loved ones.
Missing African Americans are more likely to fall victim to the perception that they are not really missing and just involved in a criminal lifestyle, Wilson, a former law enforcement officer, said. Blewett’s family says they were told by police that they took the missing persons report as a “courtesy” to the family.
Kansas City Police officials also told Wilson the police report was a courtesy and that they would not be entering Blewett’s name into the national missing persons database, a valuable tool police around the country use to find missing individuals.
“Law enforcement failed this family,” Wilson said.
In a interview with NewsOne, Sgt. Kari Thompson, a public information officer for the Kansas City Police Department, acknowledged that it was improper for officers to tell Blewett’s relatives the report was being taken as a “courtesy.”
“I truly apologize that it was conveyed this report was done as a courtesy. This is their family member. She is important to this family and important for us to locate alive,” Thompson said.
Blewett last spoke to both her mother and her 17-year-old daughter on July 14. There was no indication that anything was out of the ordinary, they told NewsOne.
But Blewett’s family knew something was wrong when the calls suddenly stopped. During her five year struggle with addiction, Blewett would call at least one relative even if she was under the influence of drugs, they told NewsOne.
According to guidelines issued by the Missouri State Highway Patrol, a Missouri Endangered Person Advisory may be issued if an individual is “missing under unexplained, involuntary, or suspicious circumstances.” But the police report was not taken until July 20, six days after Blewett last spoke with her family, when Blewett’s mother finally called police to her home.
Thompson said its also not unusual for police to wait to file a report on a missing adult if they are not considered endangered or have a mental or physical disability or are elderly.
“Since she she was an adult and the lifestyle was a lifestyle that she was in to, it did not cause alarm,” Thompson said.
But April Blewett said her family had already waited a couple of days to contact police and were beyond alarmed. They went to the police station on two occasions from July 17th to July 19 to try to file a report and were rebuffed, she said.
Blewett’s image was never even broadcast on the police department’s social media tools, Thompson said, because they did not have a picture of Blewett.
“When we offered to leave a picture, they said they didn’t need one. Nobody ever asked us for a picture,” April Blewett said.
The family feels like the disrespect from the police continued even after Carrie’s body was located. Thompson acknowledged that Blewett’s family found the clothes Blewett was wearing near where her body was found. Thompson said crime scene investigators were unaware of whose body they had discovered because of the state of decomposition. Because investigators could not identify the body, they invited the family to peruse the area for any items that might be identifiable to them.
The items the family found are expected to be used as evidence, Thompson said.
Blewett’s family also could not get local media to write even a brief story about her disappearance. During the same period, a missing white man from nearby Liberty, who eventually was found, was the subject of media attention. The Kansas City Police Department’s failure to alert Blewett’s case on social media may have also discouraged local media from taking up the case, Wilson said.
Blewett’s family plans to file a complaint against police but relatives are also considering obtaining legal counsel. Wilson said an audit of how the Kansas City Police Department handles missing persons cases is also in order.
Thompson said police are waiting for the medical examiner to determine the cause of death but authorities believe they will likely be conducting a homicide investigation.
“If they would have listened to us when we first came to them, we might have found her,” April Blewett said.
Anyone with information regarding the circumstances of disappearance of Carrie Blewett may contact the Kansas City Police’s TIPS Hotline at 816.474.8477 or the Black and Missing Foundation’s confidential Tip Line.
Jeffery C. Mays is a contributing writer for NewsOne. Follow him on Twitter at @JeffCMays.