BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KERO) — According to the Kern County Sheriff's Office, in the past couple of weeks, there has been a slight surge in the number of missing people, mainly involving kids and teens.
By definition, a missing person in California is someone whose whereabouts are unknown by those reporting it.
There has been flyer after flyer of law officials asking the public for helping in finding these missing juveniles, as most of them are teenagers. 23ABC broke down the cases since the start of the surge.
- Jaheim Reece, 16, last seen 10/30, BPD
- Saige Vest, 15, last seen 10/30, KCSO
- Layla Romo, 16, last seen 11/8, KCSO
- Abrahlyn Amador, 16, last seen 11/9, BPD
- Aniyah Lee, 16, last seen 11/9, BPD
- Melainie Marshall 14, last seen 11/15, BPD
- Ra'shad Laws, 11, last seen 11/17, BPD
Despite this number, officials said missing kids and teens are far from uncommon in our area.
“On average we deal with 70 missing or runaway juveniles a week,” said Sgt Robert Pair with the Bakersfield Police Department.
Missing and runways are different. Missing means the child is there one second and gone the next. Pair noted most cases are runaways, but that should not diminish the gravity of the situation.
“Even if they are voluntarily gone, that places them at a higher risk of people taking advantage of them and bad things happening to them,” said Pair.
He added they get runaway reports on a daily basis but believes social media has made people more aware of the issue.
The issue is not just here in Bakersfield. These are the cases we have had from October 30 through November 17 that are still missing in our area. All these kids range from 14 through 16 years old with the exception of Ra’shad Laws here who is 11.
Here in Kern County, we do have some locals trying to make a difference.
“We are going to make a flyer, we are going to go out to the last location, we will knock on doors, we will fill the parking lots, we will do all this for you to help you find your kid,” said January Bottoms, co-founder of Missing Smiles Kern County.
January Bottoms is a Kern County resident who uses social media to spread awareness to help find missing kids.
Through her Facebook page, Missing Smiles of Kern County, she tries to get in contact with the family and puts together a search of volunteers to knock on doors and drive down streets all while live on Facebook.
“Two weeks ago, we had a missing 12-year-old boy. He was found over the live, Veterans Day we had the missing young girl found over the live. And those were because we heard it over the scanner. So, it is just about coming together,” said Bottoms.
She added since they began in July of last year, they have helped reunite about 30 kids with their family in Kern County.
“There are so many ways and I just hope we get an abundance of help because we can do so much more in this community, we really can,” said Bottoms.
January Bottoms was in foster care in Kern County and understands firsthand why some of these kids run away.
“I was in foster care system here in Kern County from the age of 15 until I ran away. I was an endangered runaway you know.”
She says that is why their work does not end at finding the child. They work with the families to not only find the kids but also work on the root of the issue.
“Once we have the family together, we stay in contact, what are we doing, what is needed, therapy, do we need to hang out with this kid, what is it the reason why they are gone. We have all the press releases here too, we have one, two, three, four, five, six. And the sad thing is all six of these, we are not working with the families. We have not established contact so we could reach out, and that is what is so important. I can go hang these up all day long, but once we know the family, we can communicate, we know where to look,” said Bottoms.
Pair said the numbers of reported missing or runaway juveniles they have seen this year are consistent with previous years.
Meanwhile, the Kern County Sheriff’s Office has noticed a small surge.
“Right now, we are seeing a slight increase this year as compared to last year but obviously, we are seeing kids go back to school, we are seeing an increase in the population, so we are not really seeing as big of an increase as it might be portrayed on social media,” said Danielle Kerncamp, Public Information Officer, Kern County Sheriff's Office.
Bottoms said she is also in constant communication with the Bakersfield Police Department but understands sometimes there are not enough resources.
“We have a good community online, but we need some solid foots on the ground so when the call comes, hey let's go. Let's get in the car and let's go,” said Bottoms.
This is not a unique issue to Kern County; in a report from the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, nationally ages 12 through 17 are reported missing at higher rates. That is consistent with the cases we have seen in the past couple of weeks here.