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City Police Take Heat For Their Responses

Publicity Of Missing Girls Slow, Say Parents, Advocates

June 9, 2005
By MATT BURGARD, Courant Staff Writer

For seven nights after she was first reported missing, 16-year-old Jasmine "Jazzy" Christian slept on the grass at Keney Park in Hartford's North End, bumming food and spare change from friends and doing her best to avoid the attention of police and anyone else who might turn her in.

It wasn't until Monday, when Christian's mother, Karen Johnson, began posting fliers in the area announcing her daughter's disappearance that people began noticing her. It was also around the same time that Hartford police put out a public notice that Christian, along with two other teenage girls, had been reported missing.

Christian was found safe Tuesday, as was another missing Hartford teenager, Quanysha Banks, 14.

A third girl, 15-year-old Tatiana Sanchez, a freshman at Hartford Public High School, had been reported missing in April, but police had not notified the public of her disappearance until Monday. Tatiana is still missing.

Some residents and leaders, such as Jeanne Milstein, the state child advocate, have criticized Hartford police for not notifying the public sooner of the girls' disappearances.

"We have to make sure that any and all aggressive efforts are being made to help locate these children," Milstein said. "Given the ethnicity and income levels of these families, you have to wonder why more of a priority wasn't made to inform the public of their disappearances."

Hartford police officials acknowledged that the disappearances of the girls should have been announced sooner, and on Wednesday , Assistant Police Chief Mark R. Pawlina promised to provide more prompt announcements in the future. At the same time, police said the cases did not warrant the kind of response reserved for the state's Amber Alert system, which sends out statewide warnings when police believe a child has been abducted, because there was no indication a crime had taken place.

"In each of these cases, we had no reason to believe that a child had been abducted," said Pawlina, who said Tatiana and Quanysha both had prior histories of running away.

"We understand that whether they run away or not, the public needs to know to be on the lookout for them," Pawlina said. "The public can expect quicker notifications from now on."

Johnson said her daughter was spotted in the backyard of a home on Blue Hills Avenue on Tuesday night. She said she received a call on her cellphone from someone who had spotted the fliers she had posted, and called her to tell her, "You better get to Blue Hills Avenue right now," Johnson said. She found her in the Blue Hills neighborhood and let police know her daughter was safe.

Johnson said she was unhappy that police had waited several days to alert the public to her daughter's disappearance, but was pleased with their handling of the case after it became public. She said officers who initially responded to handle her case repeatedly told her there was nothing they could do because her daughter was 16 and, therefore, old enough to legally leave home.

"It seemed like no one wanted to do anything to help me," Johnson said. "But then they made some announcements, and they began working hard. I'm just glad she's OK."

Johnson said her daughter disappeared May 31. Christian had missed her bus to A.I. Prince Technical School, where she is a sophomore. Angry with her daughter, Johnson told her to take a city bus to school and watched as she got on the bus about 7:30 that morning.

Fearful that her mother would remain angry with her because she missed the bus, Christian did not return home after school that day, instead seeking refuge at Keney Park, Christian and Johnson said at their Lenox Street home Wednesday.

"I don't know why she thought she couldn't come home, but she got it into her head that it would be better to stay away," Johnson said.

Christian said she was sometimes scared while sleeping at Keney Park, but did not want to return home because she thought her mother would be even angrier at her for running away. She said she was glad she was found and was able to go back home.

"It's good to be back," she said, adding that she has been checking in with the school to see whether she can make up for missed assignments.

Tatiana's family members said Wednesday they didn't know police could have told the public she was missing.

"We didn't know they did that for missing kids," said Tatiana's sister, Mildred Rivera, adding that the family has posted fliers announcing Tatiana's disappearance for several weeks. "I wish the police had done it sooner."

Rivera said her family last heard from her sister on April 13, when she called their mother to tell her she was taking part in a practice for the school track team that afternoon. She never came home, and Rivera said the family believes she probably ran away.

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
| Last update: September 25, 2012 |
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