Hundreds of missing children reported in Florida
Some kids gone for decades, others just weeks
ORLANDO, Fla. – As television viewers were sitting down to watch the very first episode of the "Donny and Marie" variety show on Jan. 16, 1976, detectives with the Orlando Police Department were dealing with a much more serious matter: a 16-year-old girl had just been reported missing.
Mabel Andrews walked from her home on America Street in the city's Parramore neighborhood to a nearby park, family members said.
More than 40 years later, she has still not been located.
"My mama was devastated that she was gone," said Mary Andrews, 57, who is Mabel's twin sister. "(Mabel) knew the address and phone number and stuff; how to get in contact with us. And she never did."
Mabel Andrews is among nearly 350 missing Floridians currently listed in a database maintained by the National Center For Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC). More than 50 of those children vanished from Central Florida.
“The longer those children are gone, the less likely it is we're going to find them. But it doesn't mean we're not going to find them either,” said Robert Lowrey Jr., NCMEC’s vice president of the missing children division. “There have been remarkable stories that come across our desks of children being found.”
This month, authorities located an 18-year-old woman who had been kidnapped from a Jacksonville hospital in 1998, just eight hours after she was born.
Kamiyah Mobley was abducted from her hospital room by a woman posing as a nurse, investigators said.
Police have arrested the suspected kidnapper, Gloria Williams, 51, who they believe raised Mobley as her own daughter under a different name.
[WEB EXTRA: National Center for Missing and Exploited Children – missing child database]
“There is always family and law enforcement out there who never give up that hope of finding those children,” Lowrey said.
Several children from Central Florida have been missing for decades:
- Dorothy Scofield vanished from an Ocala shopping center in 1976. Later that day, a witness reported seeing a girl who resembled the 12-year-old at a convenience store with an unidentified man. A detective with the Ocala police department remains in contact with Scofield’s siblings.
- Keith Fleming disappeared from Cocoa Beach in April 1977 when he was 13 years old. Authorities have investigated whether a now-deceased murderer may have abducted Fleming.
- Angela Ramsey, 16, has not been seen since hitchhiking to Deland and checking into a motel there in 1977.
- Ellen Akers, 15, may have run away from her home in Ormond Beach in 1981.
- 14-year-old Emma Vaughn was last seen walking down Robinson Street in Orlando in July 1982.
- Tammy Leppert, a teen model, vanished from Cocoa Beach in 1983, just days after the 18-year-old was filmed in a scene for the Al Pacino movie Scarface.
Those children disappeared before the creation of NCMEC. The nonprofit organization, partially funded by Congress, was co-founded by John and Reve Walsh in 1984 following the kidnapping and murder of their son Adam in Hollywood, Florida.
“Before 1984, our record on finding missing children was rather dismal,” Lowrey said. “Today we're finding children at a rate of 98-99 percent.”
Lowrey credits that success to stronger laws addressing missing children, as well as coordinated law enforcement response plans such as the Amber Alert system.
With the assistance of the families of missing children, NCMEC frequently creates age progression photos to show how the child’s appearance may have changed over the years.
The organization has created at least four such age-progressed composites of Trenton Duckett, who vanished from Leesburg in 2006 when he was 2 years old. Duckett's mother, Melinda, committed suicide shortly after authorities named her as the prime suspect in her son's disappearance.
More than half of Florida’s 350 reported missing children have been gone a year or less, records show. Fifteen of them were reported missing in the past month.
Fourteen Central Florida teens who had been listed in NCMEC’s missing child database in June were removed from the roll by January, records show.
One of those teens, Ashlyn Bowman, 18, was found dead in September in a wooded area of Edgewater. Police are still investigating the teen’s death and have released few details about their case.
In the past six months, about 18 additional local children who remain missing as of this publication were added to the NCMEC database.
Although some children are abducted by strangers or noncustodial family members, a majority of the children listed in the NCMEC database have likely run away from home.
“It’s easy to conclude a (runaway) child is missing because they have a behavioral problem,” Lowrey said.
“But many times these children have run away from a circumstance, whether it's abuse or neglect, or they’re being lured by someone who wants to do them harm.”
The advent of social media platforms has made it easier for NCMEC to inform the public about missing children and publicize their photographs. However, social media has also contributed to some of those disappearances.
“(Social media) has been a tool used by some offenders to lure children,” Lowrey warned. “They get into chatrooms. They present themselves as someone they may not be. They dupe the children. And sometimes our kids will go with them.”
The family of Mabel Andrews believes their missing sister is likely dead.
Andrews’s brother, Tommie, has filed a petition in court asking a judge to declare her deceased. That probate case remains open and unresolved.
(Tommie Andrews was 15 years old when his sister was reported missing in 1978. A decade later he went to prison for an unrelated series of rapes after becoming the first American to be convicted of a crime using DNA evidence. After his release from prison in 2012, Tommie Andrews filed court papers arguing that his sister should be declared dead since there has been no trace of her in nearly 40 years.)
According to NCMEC, most families of missing children remain hopeful for a reunion, even decades later.
“We've seen some remarkable things these past years of some outstanding work by law enforcement and some true vigilance by these families to never give up until those kids have been found,” Lowrey said.
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