A frequent conversation among African Americans over the years has been that black people who go missing are rarely covered by local or national media outlets. Local police departments often acknowledge this, too.
Those concerns have given rise to a more vocal, organized movement to push media outlets and local police departments to make cases of missing African Americans a priority.
According to the Black and Missing Foundation, located in the District, 30 percent of missing persons in the United States in 2008 were persons of color. “ A lot of time in our community, our people just don’t know what to do so we’re providing them with that knowledge and tools about what to do from A to Z if your loved one is missing,” says co-founder Derrica Wilson, a former police officer.
Today, The RootDC begins an occasional series, titled “Vanished,” that looks at the cases of local African Americans who have gone missing but were not featured by media outlets. The aim is to give the families who grieve a voice and to offer information to the community that may help solve these cases. Our first profile is the case of Tiffany Goines, who disappeared from her mother’s house in Frederick, Md. in 1987.
If you have information about the whereabouts of any Tiffany Goines, authorities ask you to call 301-600-TIPS.
Tiffany Goines was just a few weeks away from celebrating her 13th birthday when she vanished on Dec. 5, 1987. She put on her blue jacket and asked her mother if she could go over to a friend’s house nearby. Betty Goines didn’t think anything of letting her go, never dreaming that it would be the last time she would see her young daughter.
“Tiffany went outside like she usually does, so I just said be careful. I always tell my children when they go out, just be careful,” recalls Betty Goines, 66.
Around dinnertime, when it started getting dark, and Tiffany had not arrived home, Betty suspected that something was terribly wrong. Panicked, she phoned family members, who began an excruciating search throughout the neighborhood. Each friend of Tiffany’s told Betty that she had left earlier to head home.
“We just kept on looking until in the morning, I just went down to police headquarters and told them that my daughter was missing,” Betty recounted.
Crucial time may have been lost in the initial search for the bubbly 6th grader who stood 5 feet and weighed 78 pounds and attended Governor Thomas Johnson Middle School in Frederick. Betty says she was told by a police officer on the day Tiffany disappeared, that she had to wait 24 hours before filing a report.
According to Lt. Clark Pennington, Frederick Police Department spokesman, there is still a common misconception that there is a mandatory waiting period.
“People believe you have to wait 24 hours to report a person missing. That’s not the case. As soon as a loved one or someone you care about is missing, you immediately report,” he said.
Tiffany’s uncle, William Goines, complained that his niece’s disappearance did not receive the widespread attention it deserved because the family lived in a predominantly black neighborhood.
“At that time, we didn’t have the Amber Alert. But in our neighborhood it was always this 24-48 hour wait before law enforcement would come and investigate our kids,” said Goines, 58, a handyman.
Although this is the longest missing person’s case in Frederick, Tiffany’s disappearance has yielded so few clues. Police say the case remains open, but there are no suspects, and there have been no valid sightings of Tiffany.
“This is one of those cases that you can’t put together the piece of where she went. This is a 12-year-old young lady who in 1987 really had no means to care for herself and now she’s missing,” Pennington said. “She’s not a runaway. She is somebody who is just missing. Was it an abduction? It may have been, but we don’t have the information that answers those questions.”
Pennington added that the time that has elapsed has frustrated efforts to gain any momentum.
“Everybody we could have interviewed back then we’ve interviewed,” he said. Our biggest fear is that...Tiffany was taken and ultimately killed. We’re still holding out hope that we’ll still find her.”
Hoping to generate interest and new leads in the case, Frederick police are now working with the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. They have released an age progressed photo showing Tiffany as a smiling 12-year-old wearing big round glasses to how she might look today as a 37-year-old woman.
Although Betty believes someone abducted her daughter, she still holds onto hope she will return home. For years she saved the presents she had bought for her daughter’s 13th birthday. And for more than 20 years, she even slept on her living room couch just in case Tiffany knocked on the door.
“I’d like for her to come home so that I know that everything’s all right. Then my heart won’t be too heavy,” Betty said tearfully.
Tiffany’s neighborhood has also changed in the two decades since her mysterious disappearance. The apartment complex where she once lived has since been torn down. Tiffany’s mother and sister now reside in skilled nursing facilities. But one thing remains the same: Betty Goines’s unwavering 25-year quest to find Tiffany and bring her home.