Colorado City, Lubbock teen disappearances compared

 

Lubbock,Colorado Citycases similar

By Brian Bethel   Saturday, January 29, 2011

Generally speaking, runaway teens are not something that is a high priority."

Rande Matteson, criminal justice instructor at Saint Leo University in Florida

Comparisons of Hailey Dunn's disappearance to that of a missing Lubbock teenager — also a female — found dead on a lonely road north of that city last week have been perhaps inevitable, Colorado City City Manager Pete Kampfer and others have said.

In both cases, the girl initially was classified as a runaway, raising ire from some community members that an abduction scenario wasn't considered earlier.

In various statements, Lubbock police have defended their initial treatment of the disappearance of 15-year-old Elizabeth Ennen as a runaway, adding that their investigation shows Elizabeth already was dead when she was reported missing Jan. 5.

According to Lubbock-area news outlets, it was 16 days — and only after the arrest of Humberto Maldonado Salinas Jr., a family friend believed to have strangled Elizabeth — before police said they believed the teen had been kidnapped.

Lubbock police did not ask local media to publicize the missing girl's photo, the case coming to light only after area television station KCBD discovered that the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children had created a missing child poster for the girl, classifying her as an "endangered runaway," according to the news station's website.

In Hailey's case, Kampfer and other officials consistently have maintained that law enforcement officials acted quickly in getting the word out about the 13-year-old.

Billie Jean Dunn, Hailey's mother, reported her missing Dec. 28, after it was discovered that she did not spend the night at a friend's house as initially believed.

Within 24 hours of finding out about Hailey's disappearance, Colorado City officials requested an Amber Alert to help find the missing girl but were denied three times. Police were told that there was not enough information available about her disappearance to issue an alert.

According to news reports, Lubbock police did not seek an Amber Alert for Elizabeth.

Officials in Colorado City were skeptical from the beginning that Hailey's case was that of a runaway, Kampfer said.

"That's why we did the Amber Alert contact almost immediately," he said. "Within 24 hours, we made that contact."

Kampfer said police and other law enforcement, after interviewing family members and others, began considering a potential criminal side to the case "within 48 hours."

In earlier news reports, Kampfer said alerts were distributed to both the National Crime Information Center and Texas Crime Information Center systems, computer networks established to link law enforcement personnel across the country and state.

A missing persons report also was filed through COPsync, a system that connects law enforcement officials in the region.

By Friday of the first week of the teen's disappearance, Texas Rangers had been contacted and soon, a slew of law enforcement agencies — including the FBI and the 32nd District Attorney's Office — were in the area.

"Before the weekend, all the major players were there," Kampfer said. "That weekend, everyone was engaged in looking for Hailey Dunn."

In hindsight, Kampfer said he still firmly believes police and other law enforcement officials "covered all of our bases" in a timely manner.

Determining the exact nature of a disappearance often perplexes law enforcement officials no matter where they are, said former federal agent Rande Matteson, who now teaches criminal justice courses at Saint Leo University in Florida.

The search begins with looking for motives or reasons for a disappearance, he said, and often friends and family members for various reasons "don't want to be forthcoming."

In the specific case of teenagers, many agencies have internal policies that they will wait 24 hours, or even more, he said, before they do an investigation.

"Generally speaking, runaway teens are not something that is a high priority," Matteson said.

Smaller children, especially those who might be subject to an Amber Alert, tend to be given more immediate priority by law enforcement officials, he said.

Teens, unfortunately, run away so often that it's common to not see an intense expenditure of manpower or an investigation on the front end, he said.

According to the National Runaway Switchboard, a 2010 study by the Urban Institute found that one out of every five youths has run away from home by the time they are 18, with half of those running away two or more times.

After hearing about Colorado City's case, Matteson expressed a bit of sympathy.

"They've asked for assistance, now they're trying to do the best they can to pinpoint what actually happened," he said of the massive effort to find Hailey.All law enforcement can often do, Matteson said, is try to drill down to the truth.

"Law enforcement agency often goes into these situations as a clearly outside, objective party," he said. "They have to carve out opinion versus fact to get an objective picture of what is happening."

According to Colorado City's policy manual for its police department, investigations for runways 10 and younger are begun "immediately."

No written policy is indicated for children older than 10, though in an e-mail Kampfer said the same "immediate" response would be the norm.

Marc Klaas, founder of the KlaasKids Foundation, formed in honor of his daughter, 12-year-old kidnap and murder victim Polly Klaas, said more training could help law enforcement with such processes.

"The problem as I see it is that there are around 25,000 law enforcement agencies in the United States, and there are very few places where you can go learn how to recover missing children," he said.

Improved training opportunities are needed to help more law enforcement departments better learn the skills and techniques necessary to find missing children quickly, he said.

Klaas said that while much information had been gathered in the case, he worried that various players — police, Hailey's family and others, including named suspect Shawn Adkins, the former live-in boyfriend of Billie Jean Dunn — were all "working in isolation of each other."

"I don't know if that serves the case well," he said, saying that continued improvement in communication between all parties was vital to bringing Hailey home.

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