A parent's worst fear is for something to happen to their child. Even the fleeting thought is enough to cause anxiety. Unfortunately, the actuality of something horrific happening to one's child is a reality for so many families. This week alone, there have been hundreds of children feared missing. Many were eventually found. While others were not, and are still listed as missing. However, some parents received the news that their missing child was found murdered. That's Jholie Moussa's story.
Jholie is a 16-year-old from Alexandria, VA who was a conscientious and fun loving teen who was close to her family. She has a twin sister with whom she was spending time when she became unfocused and distracted by messages on her phone.
"She was doing my hair and then she stopped, for a good minute, to text some more. Then, out of nowhere, she was like, "I gotta go, I gotta go!"' her twin sister, Zhane, reported.
When Zhane later texted her sister because she was concerned, she received an odd response.
"She texted me that she was going to Norfolk. And I'm, like, isn't that more than 3 hours away?"
That was the last communication between them. Jholie was missing for 14 days before her body was found at 11a.m. on Friday 1/26/18 inside Woodlawn Park. The park is less than a mile from Jholie's home. Authorities said they are investigating the Jholie's death as a homicide.
But here's the perplexing and infuriating fact...Law Enforcement maintained for quite some time that they did not believe that Jholie was in imminent danger. In fact, she was painted as the typical runaway who had left to probably "hang out." It's the exact same narrative for just about every family for whom PEAS has advocated for more than a decade. Different names.....same stereotype. Different scenarios....same bias. Different family of color....SAME PREJUDICE. When is enough going to be just that? ENOUGH.
In the days that Jholie disappeared, many questioned why there was not an Amber Alert activated even after the FBI became involved. How could there not be a national emphasis on finding this baby girl who does not have a history of running away?
Here's the answer:
Each state AMBER Alert plan includes its own criteria for issuing Alerts. The PROTECT Act, passed in 2003 calls for the Department of Justice to issue minimum standards or guidelines for AMBER Alerts that states can adopt voluntarily. The Department's Guidance on Criteria for Issuing AMBER Alerts is as follows:
1. There is reasonable belief by law enforcement that an abduction has occurred.
2. The law enforcement agency believes that the child is in imminent danger of serious bodily injury or death.
3. There is enough descriptive information about the victim and the abduction for law enforcement to issue an AMBER Alert to assist in the recovery of the child.
4. The abduction is of a child aged 17 years or younger.
5. The child’s name and other critical data elements, including the Child Abduction flag, have been entered into the National Crime Information Center (NCIC) system.
Virginia's criteria (the state Jholie disappeared from) is:
1. The abducted child must be 17 years of age or younger or is currently enrolled in a secondary school in the Commonwealth, regardless of age, and the law enforcement agency believes the child has been abducted (unwillingly taken from their environment without permission from the child’s parent or legal guardian).
2. The law enforcement agency believes the missing child is in imminent danger of serious bodily harm or death.
3. A law enforcement investigation has taken place that verified the abduction or eliminated alternative explanations.
4. Sufficient information is available to disseminate to the public that could assist in locating the child, suspect, and/or the suspect’s vehicle.
5. The Child must be entered into the Virginia Criminal Information Network (VCIN) and the National Crime Information Center (NCIC) missing person files as soon as practical.
If all of the aforementioned criteria are not met, the Virginia AMBER Alert Plan will not be activated.
According to officials, Jholie did not meet the criteria, and they maintain that Amber Alerts cannot be issued for all missing kids because overuse could result in the public becoming desensitized.
Where does that leave all the children for whom there is no vehicle description, license plate number, or description of the abductor? Where does that leave the sons and daughters who were lured by online predators? Yes, they willingly left their home....but only to fall prey to a monster posing as a cute same age boy or girl. The latter DOES NOT define a runaway. Instead, everyone should argue that this is, by the purest definition, a child who is endangered or in imminent danger.
We know the issue, but what then is the solution? First and foremost, there needs to be a tremendous amount of training work done with law enforcement so that they become sensitive to such issues and recognize the role that race...YES RACE... plays in their reactions to a missing child report made by parents of color. Did you know that it's law enforcement who determines whether a missing child meets the AMBER Alert criteria? THEY notify broadcasters and state transportation officials. Once initiated, that when we begin to get the interruptions to regular programming, radio, television, and DOT highway broadcasts. And yes....that's why you get the startling cell phone alarms in the middle of the night. The National Center For Missing and Exploited Children only serves as a clearing house for all reported missing kids. They do not initiate or terminate an Amber Alert. So this issue has to start with law enforcement because they are the gatekeepers.
But that's not the only issue. What I have to say next may very well upset many of you...but it's something that truly needs to be addressed. We, as a whole, need to be more active, more outraged, more involved with this issue. I wonder if the average person (whether Black or White) would be able to share the names of 5 missing children of color without a google search. It's a sad truth, and one that Peas In Their Pods, Inc. (PEAS) has been working diligently to change. The reality is that over 40% of all children that go missing are of color. You wouldn't know it by watching the news or checking Amber Alerts alone. It takes effort to know their faces and stories, and we simply cannot rely on popular media.
What happened to Jholie is wrong, and it will continue to happen unless everyone gets involved. One of the easiest thing that you can do is to simply share and forward missing persons fliers when you see them online. Social media is an incredibly powerful tool to spread awareness. You can also follow us on our social media sites to receive information about missing children of color, and stay up to date about RILYA Alerts.
Our hope and prayer is that Jholie's family has a strong support system, because this journey will continue to be emotionally challenging. I pray that they find her murderer, and that they punish him to the fullest extent of the law. I also pray that everyone who recently "became woke" to the issues and injustices surrounding missing children of color continue to have these discussions and advocate for our children.
Please call the Fairfax County Police Department at (703) 691-2131 if you have ANY information that may help in this case.
Rest In Peace baby girl!!!
It's EVERYONE'S job to help save our children.