Case of runaway teen girl underscores goal of new Office of Missing and Murdered Black Women and Girls
The case of a missing Minneapolis teen girl is highlighting the mission of a new statewide office established this legislative session.
Danielle Lewis, who is 15 years old, has been missing for over a month, but because she’s classified as a runaway, the effort to bring her home has fallen mostly on her family’s shoulders.
“This is scary for me every day knowing that she’s out there,” said Charles Lewis Sr., Danielle’s father. “I’ve been texting her since she’s been gone every day and every night, and I get no response.”
Danielle was last seen in their home on April 22.
Her parents said Danielle has a history of running away, but this is the longest they have not seen or heard from her.
“This time feels like hell and torment,” said Erika Embery, Danielle’s mom.
The community is circulating flyers on social media to help find her, but her parents said they feel like they’re on their own.
“These can oftentimes be children that have been preyed upon. They can be children who are at risk for sexual exploitation or labor exploitation,” Rep. Ruth Richardson, DFL-Mendota Heights, said. “I think it’s important to understand that just because someone has a classification as a runaway, they are still a missing child.”
Richardson is opening the Office of Missing and Murdered Black Women and Girls in Minnesota, the first of its kind in the country. It’s backed by over $1 million per year from the Legislature.
Lawmakers are launching the resource to close gaps.
According to the University of Minnesota’s Gender Policy Report, national missing cases involving Black girls and women stay open four times longer than other cases.
The office will focus on many factors — one of them is to create a statewide missing person alert system that includes runaways.
“When a child is classified as a runaway, that means you don’t get an Amber Alert. That typically means that you’re not going to get the same media attention, and you’re not going to get the same resources from law enforcement,” Richardson said.
The task force will work to make sure kids like Danielle are brought home safely.
“Somebody’s got to fight for them, and I’m not going to be happy until something is changed,” Embery said.
The Minneapolis Police Department said there is an investigator on this case. MPD officials explained runaway cases are hard to handle because there are so many.
In the MPD Policy and Procedure Manual, the Missing and Runaway Juveniles procedure notes if a kid is younger than 12, they’re considered at-risk, which triggers a more aggressive response. Officers also assess the case based on other circumstances, such as medical issues or immediate danger.