Disappearing Act: Missing People and Runaways in Youngstown

By John Stran

Youngstown is a city sometimes defined by the amount of crime that comes from within it; missing people slide somewhere within these crimes.

Taking a child or adult against their will is a crime. If a person 18 years or older disappears, this is not a crime, but their absence may mean a crime took place.

Even if it is uncertain a crime took place, those who are worried about the length of time someone has been missing can still file an incident report with the police.

Looking at different incident reports from the Youngstown Police Department, there is a section in these reports, filled out by the police, titled Offense Description and Criminal Code. When involving the whereabouts of a person, this section is completed with the description “Missing Persons Report,” “Abduction,” Kidnapping,” or “Runaway.”

Captain Brad Blackburn of the YPD said the Missing Persons Report description is just a generic term and differs from the other offense descriptions such as kidnappings and abductions.

“If we know someone has been abducted or kidnapped, that is definitely different than a missing person,” Blackburn said. “Often times our missing persons cases are people with either mental or substance abuse problems and juveniles make up a large number of our missing for running away.

“Now,” Blackburn continued. “If we know someone is taken against their will that is an abduction or kidnapping and definitely raises more concerns than someone who simply walks away from their home.”

A data set created by the Youngstown Police Department and shared with faculty and students in the Youngstown State University Anderson Program in Journalism shows, among other things, the names and locations of missing people and where they went missing, spanning the years 2004-2017.

Some of the data is repetitive in that names and details involving cases appears more than once within the data. But even removing the duplicates shows missing person cases are an ever present issue within the city and that many of these cases tend to go unrecognized by the public.

Using the YPD’s data set, research was conducted to determine what street in Youngstown had the most missing persons cases from 2013-2017. The ranking is as follows:

Name of Street                                       Number of Missing Person Reports

1) Broadway Avenue                                                    115

2) Belmont Avenue                                                        38

3) Boardman Street                                                       34

4) Glenwood Avenue                                                     30

5) McGuffey Road                                                         20

 

These addresses represent the location a law enforcement officer took the missing person report. It can also be the last place the missing person was seen or where they had been residing (house, group home).

This list of top missing persons reports does not include runaways, kidnappings, abductions, returned missing or returned person. These are categorized separately from just missing person reports.

Missing persons reports have different entity types. What this means is that the 115 next to Broadway Avenue is not just the number of people that went missing at this location. This number also includes suspects and witnesses along with victims. If the number of missing persons reports solely represented victims, the number would lessen.

But the numbers for each street increases when adding runaways as a factor. For instance, Broadway Avenue’s number jumps to 514 when adding reported runaways.

This figure represents people who are the subject of missing persons cases and those who are considered runaways.

With the addition of runaways, Broadway Avenue still has the highest number of missing persons reports for the data in the time frame investigated.

The reason there are so many runaways coming from Broadway Avenue is unclear but what is known is that the street so many are trying to flee is home to a youth residential facility known as New Beginnings.

 

    To New Beginnings

Broadway Avenue is about a minute’s drive from Youngstown State University’s Stambaugh Stadium. A right turn off of Fifth Avenue near the Park Vista retirement community on Youngstown’s North Side will place you on Broadway Avenue, which travels adjacent to Wick Park.

A few addresses on Broadway Avenue come up within the YPD data on missing persons reports, but the most frequently occurring address within these reports is 100 Broadway Ave.

A simple search online shows that the address ‘100 Broadway Ave.’ belongs to a residential treatment center known as New Beginnings. The facility describes itself on its website as a private social service children’s residential center licensed by the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services.

Some services offered to youths at New Beginnings include behavior therapy, mental health counseling and juvenile sex offender and victim counseling.

The facility has similarities to a group home but according to Susan Laird, manager of the Northeast Ohio Coalition Against Human Trafficking (NEOCAHT), a group home is something that Youngstown lacks.

Laird said there are no longer any group homes in the area, but there are residential facilities and one runaway shelter.

Laird described New Beginnings and other operations like it as a residential facility. She said these facilities are “unlocked,” meaning the youth residing there are not forced to stay there but when a facility does a roster check and notices a person missing, the facility will file a missing persons report, even knowing that the minor’s return is likely.

Jean-Philippe Rigaud, special agent for the Bureau of Criminal Investigation (BCI), which is associated with the Ohio Attorney General’s Office, said that there is no rule that allows a treatment facility to keep the minors. Doing so would make the facility less for treatment and more for punishment.

Laird said it generally costs $400 to $500 to house a child at one of these facilities and that they are not always well-kept facilities, comparing some to a warehouse.

Laird described residential facilities as a final destination for many of the youths.

“It’s the last stop,” Laird said. “Everything else didn’t work so the counties will pay what is called a per diem rate to cover [child’s] food, and rooming fees and these kids can stay there as long as the agency is willing to take them.”

While They’re Gone

There is a criminal aspect to running away.

A youth that leaves past a city issued curfew or a facility’s curfew is breaking the law, but what happens to them during the late hours after they have left may make them victims as well.

Mike Tobin, public information officer for the Northern District of Ohio U.S. Attorney’s Office, described qualities of human trafficking victims that may fit the description of some of the juveniles at these residential facilities.

“There are many victims who don’t get along with their parents and who have vulnerabilities such as an addiction of some sort.” Tobin said.

Yet some of the challenges that these youths might face outside of their residence may pale in comparison to the challenges they face within their residence.

“Sometimes they’re not running to things but they’re running away from things,” Laird said referring back to the physical condition, which some of these facilities are in.

 

Media Coverage

Joe Gorman, crime reporter for the Vindicator, said a lot of runaway reports never make it to the local media because there is this idea that these are just distraught teens running away from home that aren’t really in any imminent danger.

Gorman said newspapers are run like a business and the goal is to attract readers. Stories about runaways who are likely to return don’t attract readers.

“We don’t really write about these cases, even if they find them,” Gorman said. “Most of the time it’s a sentence or two but then again, most of the time these people come back. Typically I don’t become actively involved in a missing persons case until that person is found, alive or dead.”

Gorman became actively involved Nov. 29, when a small press conference was held within a compact fourth floor office at the Youngstown Police Department.

The conference pertained to Lina Reyes-Geddes, a woman of Mexican descent who went missing in Youngstown in 1998 whose body was recently found in Utah.

During the conference Detective Sgt. David Sweeney touched on his desire to work with local media outlets more.

 

Do They Return?

Above: The Count of Description Pie Chart is a representation of Missing Persons Reports, Returned Missing, Returned Person and Runaways on Broadway Avenue.

 

This Count of Description pie chart gives the percentages for each described case on Broadway Avenue from 2013-2017. Abductions and kidnappings were not included because there were no reported abductions or kidnappings within this time span.

When someone runs away and their whereabouts are unknown, it is important to file a missing persons report with authorities. When or if they return, it is just as important to tell authorities that they have returned or if they have not.

The 514 reports detailing missing persons and runaways on Broadway Avenue would increase to 680 reports if returned person or returned missing reports were added into the figure. This added figure wouldn’t necessarily add any new names to the list of missing people, but it may help ensure that at least some of the missing people have been found.

In the chart, returned missing and returned person are separated because they are two separate categories within the data.

Blackburn said they are separate simply because officers put the information in differently but they have the same meaning, which is the person has been found and the authorities have been notified of their return.

On Broadway, 24.4 percent of those reported as missing or as runaways were found – this is represented by the returned missing and returned person categories in the pie chart. This accounts for roughly 166 people. The rest of the 348 reports on file have yet to be accounted for by police.

The unreturned runaways and missing people on Broadway Avenue as well as other streets can create a high level of uncertainty. After speaking with those introduced in the story, all would agree most of the unreported runaways have since returned. Though this is not the case with all runaways and may not be the case with all of the 348 Broadway runaways unaccounted for.

This is an ongoing story and more information will be provided in the next collection of missing persons stories.