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Missing-children's agency says Ill. police limited search

By Maudlyne Ihejirka
Chicago Sun-Times

CHICAGO — Did Chicago Police initially classify a missing 12-year-old later found strangled as a runaway, possibly leading to a less-aggressive search for the Englewood girl?

While the police deny it, a prominent national missing-children's agency Wednesday said the police classification of Jahmeshia Conner -- who was missing for two weeks before she was found slain Monday -- led the center to also characterize her as a runaway in its national bulletins.

Police listed Jahmeshia as "missing person juvenile'' in the FBI's National Crime Information Center database.

But Robert Lowery, executive director of the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children -- founded by "America's Most Wanted" TV show host John Walsh -- said that category is accepted in the missing-persons arena as meaning "likely runaway."

"That classification by itself suggests that that child is missing voluntarily," he said. "Typically, when police list a child as a 'missing juvenile,' it's a runaway, unless there's a flag on it that the child has been abducted or is involuntarily missing. There was no indication by CPD of endangerment or of her being involuntarily missing."

Police could have listed Jahmeshia as "involuntary missing" in the FBI database, Lowery said.

Lowery said the police assessment led the center to list the girl in its bulletins as an "endangered runaway.''

Police spokesman Roderick Drew, however, insisted the FBI database classification had no interpretation beyond face value and blamed the center for the "runaway" assessment.

"Jahmeshia was listed as a 'missing person juvenile.' It is our understanding that [the center] uses [FBI] information to generate their bulletin. If they did so, they would have seen 'missing person juvenile,' " Drew said.

Jahmeshia's family was angered by the "runaway'' label.

Meanwhile, the investigation into the girl's death continued, with U.S. Rep. Bobby Rush sending a letter Wednesday to Chicago Police Supt. Jody Weis inquiring how the investigation was handled and how the department utilizes AMBER Alerts. An alert was not issued in this case.

Copyright 2009 Chicago Sun-Times

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