By Carole Moore
When a two-year-old Florida child named Caylee Anthony disappeared on July 15, 2008, the national press followed the case with relentless devotion. New stories chronicling the investigation into the toddler’s disappearance appeared every day, often based on tidbits gleaned from unnamed sources or Caylee’s family. When the little girl’s remains were discovered not far from her grandparents’ home, no one was surprised: Her mother, Casey, already resided in the local jail. The tragic case drew lots of attention, both from police and the media.
Law enforcement has grown to understand the importance of speed in working disappearances. Although they still have some catching up to do, new laws and a better understanding of these cases has led to better investigations. The police aren’t there yet – but they’re on the right track.
The media has a wide reach and most families of the missing have learned their value. They also use social media, set up websites and network to keep their family members’ names and images in front of the public. But when it comes to the press, there’s still a sense of general neglect and disinterest in the coverage awarded minorities.
Years ago, Lisa Murray’s sister vanished from her Arkansas home. The only hint to her fate can be traced to a ring found in a pawnshop. Jeffrey Lynn Smith, an aspiring gymnast who worked for former President Bill Clinton, has not been seen since Dec. 4, 1985. Although Lynn’s disappearance was reported to police, Murray says no one really exhibited any interest in the 16-year-old until recently. She believes it is because her sister is black.
Certainly almost everyone recognizes Caylee Anthony’s name – how many have the same reaction to Jada Justice? Jada, a two-year-old Indiana toddler, vanished in relative obscurity one year after Caylee Anthony. Although there was some media coverage, Jada’s case didn’t draw the dramatic national press that Caylee’s did. And when a woman finally admitted beating the little girl to death and hiding her body, only a few covered the case.
The woman who murdered Jada was sentenced to life in prison with barely a ripple in the national press. But a news search under Caylee Anthony’s name brings up a dozen recent hits.
The truth is that law enforcement, while not yet batting 1000, has progressed further in their handling of missing persons cases than the media. Until every missing person, regardless of race, social standing or age is sought and covered on the same level, there truly is no justice.
Carole Moore is a former police detective and the management columnist at Law Enforcement Technology. She is the author of The Last Place You’d Look: True Stories of Missing Persons and the People Who Search for Them, which will be published by Rowman & Littlefield in early 2011.