In the weeks since Jashyah Moore disappeared, officers have scoured East Orange, N.J., and the surrounding metropolitan area in search of the 14-year-old whose mother said she vanished after running out to a neighborhood deli.
“Obviously, this was an extremely resilient and resourceful young lady, and she decided that she wanted to be someplace other than where she had been,” acting Essex County prosecutor Theodore Stephens II said. “And she made that happen.”
The case became part of an ongoing discussion over racial inequities in missing person cases that was sparked after the disappearance of Gabby Petito. Petito’s case dominated social media conversation and news coverage before she was found dead of a homicide in September. Critics pointed to a dearth of stories about Jashyah in national news outlets in comparison.
“JaShyah’s heartbreaking disappearance is testing whether media outlets will rise to the occasion and grant the same energy to finding Black and brown women and girls as they do toward finding white women,” wrote blogger Victoria Meléndez. “Many media outlets are not passing.”
But the case was heavily covered by the local news media, something that authorities Friday said was vital in solving the case and media observers speculated could be a positive consequence of the debate following Petito’s disappearance.
“The attention which the media gives a particular case makes or breaks that case,” Stephens said. “You bring to our consciousness the particular things that our community should focus on.”
Nearly 90,000 people went missing in the United States last year, and a disproportionate number were Black, according to data from the FBI. Black people made up 35 percent of those missing whose race was known, but are 13 percent of the country’s population. White people represented 60 percent of the missing and are 76 percent of the population.
Around 7:30 a.m. on Oct. 14, Jamie Moore said, Jashyah walked to Poppie’s, a neighborhood deli selling sandwiches and snacks on a main artery of East Orange. When Jashyah returned without her mom’s credit card, Moore said, she asked her to retrace her steps.
That was the last time Moore saw her daughter, she told reporters last week.
Since running away, Stephens said, Jashyah passed through several locations in New Jersey before landing at a shelter in Brooklyn. She did not appear to want to be found, and she was eventually located in Manhattan’s Harlem neighborhood, Stephens said. Jashyah initially denied her identity, he said, before admitting who she was.
Despite little national coverage, officials praised local news outlets for reporting frequently on Jashyah’s case and keeping it in the public consciousness. Essex County Sheriff Armando Fontoura called the media attention “the most important factor” in finding Jashyah — although it was unclear whether the person who recognized her had seen the coverage.
A number of missing people of color have gotten increased attention since Petito’s case trained a critical eye on reporters’ tendency to overrepresent missing White women and girls in their coverage, said Danielle Slakoff, a criminal justice professor at California State University at Sacramento with an expertise in media and crime.
Todd Matthews, a spokesperson for the Doe Network, said local reporters appear to have thoroughly covered Jashyah’s case — increasing awareness in the community. Their stories can then be shared widely through social media to reach a broader audience and potentially spur someone to report helpful information, he said.
“It caused reporters to ask a lot of questions, and that’s important,” said Matthews, whose volunteer organization seeks to help law enforcement find missing people.
Close observers of the case expressed relief that Jashyah had been found, including Petito’s father, Joseph Petito. He has been sharing news about missing people cases since his daughter was found dead in September.
“Amazing news, JaShyah Moore was found safe,” he tweeted Friday. “Thank you to all of you who shared (t)he picture. #foundsafe #TogetherWeCan #GabbyPetito”