More than 50 people gathered Saturday at a church in Southeast Washington to learn how to press the search for the missing.
They brought T-shirts bearing family pictures, folders stuffed with documents and photographs of their loved ones. They came with new facts, old facts and unending hope — which, even for those who had come to terms with the likelihood that their child, niece or brother might never return, means they might at least find certainty someday and a chance to heal.
“It’ll literally drive you crazy,” said Henderson Long, whose aunt went missing in Southeast Washington nearly two decades ago. Her remains were found a year or so later. But they weren’t identified until 2018. All those years, the family held out hope, or tried to, he said.
“You ever lose your keys? And you can’t find your keys and it irritates you and you’re looking all over? Just imagine that feeling magnified 20 million times with a loved one or a person,” Long said. “It was just so heartbreaking.”
Saturday’s event at the Temple of Praise church was the second Missing in Washington D.C. Day. It brought together families with police commanders and detectives, as well as officials from groups such as the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.
Pamela Reed, a former homicide detective in the District, went over the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System (NamUs), a vast online network that law enforcement and members of the public can use to solve cold cases.
Jennifer Love, a forensic anthropologist in the chief medical examiner’s office, explained how closely related family members could, with a cotton swab of DNA from inside their cheeks and other information, start the process that might close the case on a missing person. No fact is too insignificant: a tattoo, a dental procedure or a scar could become the piece that solves the puzzle, experts said.
DNA was the key for Long’s family. His aunt, Allean Logan, vanished Sept. 15, 1999. When Logan didn’t answer her phone, relatives went to her place on South Capitol Street SW, heard her infant crying inside and summoned help. When the apartment was opened, they found the child still strapped in his car seat. There was no trace of Logan, 36.
The Root DC, which noted that African Americans often feel that black people seldom receive much media attention when they go missing, featured her story in 2013. A conclusive ID was made years later, using DNA.
“It was a bittersweet ending,” Long said. “My family didn’t know. They didn’t know anything about DNA. The detectives, I think, also dropped the ball a little bit, because they didn’t come to the family and say, ‘Give me that DNA.’ ”
Long, chief executive of D.C.’s Missing Voice, was one of several who after losing a relative and turning to others for help became part of the army of helpers. He said his organization monitors and calls attention to active missing person cases.
Veronica Eyenga said her 16-year-niece, Jholie Moussa, was deemed a probable runaway when her family reported the Fairfax County, Va., teen missing in 2018. The family felt that couldn’t be so. Moussa’s former high school sweetheart was later charged with killing her.
“We were frustrated,” Eyenga said. The experience led her to start My Girlfriend’s House, an organization devoted to mentoring young women. Eyenga’s sister, Celine Meyong-Krishack, also set up a nonprofit advocacy group, Not a Runaway.
D.C. police have opened 1,271 missing people cases this year and closed all but 40, usually within days, said Lt. Brad Wagner.