Until Jan. 3, a week after she disappeared on December 27, 13-year-old
Colorado City, TX middle school cheerleader Hailey Dunn was classified as a runaway. Police Chief John Bevins declaration has been parroted by local media, most notably local radio station owner Jim Baum, who told the local NBC affiliate, “To tell you the truth, this is the first time, and I’ve been here 30 years, that we’ve had a runaway like this. It’s so uncommon”. Calling a missing child a runaway has always been law enforcement’s fallback position. It allows them to defer responsibility and puts the onus of recovery on the shoulders of the family, because runaways are considered a family issue. This action also reflects an exaggerated and distorted sense of what is happening to America’s children.
A child who seemingly disappears off the face of the earth deserves our attention, not our indifference. Like Ashley Pond, Miranda Gaddis, and Lindsey Baum before her Hailey stepped out of her front door and vanished. She was headed, first to her dad’s house across the street from where she lived with her mom, and then to a girlfriends home to spend the night. She never arrived.
In McCleary, Washington ten-year-old Lindsey Baum was walking home from her girlfriend’s house on June 26, 2009 and is still missing. In 2002, on January 9, Oregon City, Oregon resident, twelve-year-old Ashley Pond disappeared after leaving for school. Her friend and schoolmate thirteen-year-old Miranda Gaddis vanished from the same location two months later, on May 8. Neighbor Ward Weaver was arrested on August 13. Ashley’s body was found buried under a concrete slab in Weaver’s back yard. Miranda was found in a box in his tool shed. Like his father before him, Ward Weaver sits on death row awaiting an execution that will never occur.
Hailey Dunn’s family, friends, school, teachers and other kids parents are the only thing that given this case traction. They took a stand and said, “Not in our community.” A temporary search center was established at the Colorado City Middle School cafeteria for volunteers wanting to help. They have saturated the community with thousands of flyers. An estimated 750 people, out of a population of about 4,000 turned out for a prayer vigil on the evening of Jan. 2. An anonymous reward that began at $1,000 for Hailey’s safe return has now been raised to $25,000. Members of the community created a Facebook page for Hailey, and many others, including me, have put photos of Hailey in their profile pictures.
The Police Chief said that all of the evidence points to Hailey being a runaway. However, there is no evidence, and his declaration is based solely upon statistics. She didn’t tell any of her friends that she was going to run away. She hadn’t threatened her parents that she was going to run away. Nobody saw her run away. She didn’t take anything with her. She had never before runaway. Thirteen-year-old Hailey Dunn was classified as a runaway due to a total lack of evidence, not the preponderance of evidence.
According to the National Incidence Studies of Missing, Abducted, Runaway and Throwaway Children (NISMART-2), considered to be the definitive publication on missing child statistics, “The total number of children who were missing from their caretakers in 1999, including children who were reported missing is estimated to be 797,500”. Of these 357,600 (45%) were runaway/throwaway situations. Therefore, if you conclude that a missing child has runaway you will be right about half the time. But, that does not mean that you turn your back on those children. Given what we know about violence in America and the challenges that our kids face, it is our duty as responsible adults to recover and help kids who have run away or thrown out of their homes.
The National Runaway Switchboard estimates that between 1.6 and 2.8 million youth runaway in a year. Half of all runaways are girls. Within 48 hours of hitting the streets, one third of these children are lured or recruited into the underground world of prostitution or pornography. The average age at which girls first become victims of prostitution is 12-14. For boys, the entry age is 11-13. Approximately 55% of street girls engage in formal prostitution. Of the girls engaged in formal prostitution, 75% work for a pimp. Per international definition children under the age of 18 who are exploited for sex are not criminals, they are victims and all victims deserve our attention and our assistance.
So, where is Hailey Dunn? We do not know, but we do care. We will seek her until she is returned to her family. Numerous law enforcement agencies including the Mitchell County Sheriff’s Department, the Mitchell County District Attorney, the Texas Rangers, and the Texas Department of Public Safety are involved in the search. We are Americans and Americans, whether we are Police Chiefs or common citizens, do not turn their backs on children in need.