Voice Platform and Support Network for Families of Missing and Victims of Crime
Every mother hopes the best for her children, but when they go missing, all she can do is think the worst.
Fortunately in St. Joseph, most people classified as “missing” are soon found. But to the mother of an “endangered runaway,” that light does not appear at the end of the tunnel.Ashley Martinez was 15 years old when police believe she ran away with a convicted felon seven years ago.
Her mother, Tammy Navinskey, dropped Ashley and her then-13-year-old brother off at Krug Pool, like she had done so many times before. This time, Ashley was not there when she returned. Missing in the Midland Empire The majority of missing person cases in Northwest Missouri are solved rather quickly. While it may seem like a lifetime to family and friends of missing persons, the numbers speak for themselves.
According to figures provided by the Missouri State Highway Patrol, there have been 361 missing adult reports in Troop H since 2007. Eleven of those are still active (with cases ranging from 1953 to the present); 1,033 juveniles were reported missing, and 14 of those cases are active.
Compare that statewide, where 678 of 14,842 missing adult reports remain active and 508 of 31,073 juveniles are still missing.On paper, Ashley Martinez is just a number, one of 14 juveniles missing in Northwest Missouri. But for every number, there is a story, a family who misses their child and worries about their life.“We got all of her dental records together, and just all information hoping something will surface and come forward,” Ms. Navinskey said. “It’s been quite a journey.”
After reporting Ashley as missing, her family and investigators learned she planned on running away with Christopher M. Hart, a convicted felon who was on probation for assault charges. She told friends he was taking her to California.
“With a 15-year-old, to her I guess it seemed exciting at the time. Out there in that world, she didn’t have curfews and she could come and go as she pleased,” Ms. Navinskey said.Investigators believe Mr. Hart was driving a 1995 gray Pontiac Bonneville, with license plate 377MPY — a number Ms. Navinskey can recite as though the image is seared in her memory.
When Mr. Hart was found 11 days later, neither Ashley nor the car were with him. Mr. Hart was arrested and charged on an unrelated case, and investigators did not find any evidence linking him to Ashley’s disappearance. Missing vs. runaway The Highway Patrol classifies all such reports as “missing.” However, active cases are broken down into six categories, depending on circumstances and age, said Detective Sgt. Jennifer Protzman, with the St. Joseph Police Department’s Family Crimes Unit.
If a person is reported missing and they’re under 12 years old, police will classify them as a missing child and will exhaust all efforts to find them. There are no active cases of missing children in St. Joseph, Ms. Protzman said.
“Under 12, obviously they don’t have the skills and knowledge to make it on their own, so that is our big priority. And not that a teenager would either, but more so than a little one,” she said.Juveniles ages 12 to 17 are typically classified as runaways. Statistics run high for runaways (256 reported in St. Joseph in 2010), because runaways include any child who is not where their parents say they can be.
Anyone who is 17 (a legal adult in Missouri) or older will be classified as a missing person. A missing person can be classified as endangered, involuntary, physically/mentally disabled, runaway, family abduction or nonabduction, depending on what information is known about the case, Ms. Protzman said.Right now, four missing person cases are active in St. Joseph and there are 14 runaways who haven’t been located. Active cases are reviewed every five years to search for new leads.
Ms. Navinskey said when Ashley was first reported as a runaway, she agreed with the status. Because Mr. Hart was 17 years her senior, Ashley was considered endangered. However, seven years later, she has a hard time remaining positive that Ashley’s decision to run away did not turn into a missing person’s case.
“Technically, with all honesty, she shouldn’t even be considered a runaway case ... even though she’s 15 years old, she was too young to make that decision that may have cost her a lot more than she bargained for,” Ms. Navinskey said. “Years ago, this stopped being a runaway case.”
She added that Ashley’s case may have gotten more attention if it was a missing person situation. However, Ms. Protzman said all cases are treated equally by law enforcement, and there were no extenuating circumstances to believe that Ashley had been abducted.
“It’s a case-by-case basis ... we just don’t chalk it up to the age that this is a runaway,” she said. “If there’s information to support that there’s been any kind of abduction, or unusual circumstances to indicate that this isn’t looking good, then obviously the investigation will be trumped up.” Reasons to run Linda Meyer, Fifth Circuit chief juvenile officer, works with juvenile runaway cases. She said there is no particular reason why someone would choose to run away, but in her experience it typically involves a situation at home they are hoping to get away from. That includes anything from physical or sexual abuse to substance abuse.
“Or sometimes you just have those kids who don’t want to listen to rules, they don’t want supervision. In their way of thinking, they think that running is the solution,” she said. The majority of runaways are female, with an average age of 15.Ms. Navinskey said she isn’t sure why Ashley would choose to leave home with someone she barely knows.
She said their family was very close-knit, but Ashley may not have agreed with their rules. Even so, Ms. Navinskey thinks Ashley may now be more than an endangered runaway, since there has been no trace of her since July 6, 2004.
“Nobody would walk away from 15 years of your life and never call anyone, never have contact with anyone, no friend, nobody. So that right there is extremely scary,” she said.“My hope is to bring her home, no matter what.
We need closure. That’s my goal.”
Kim Norvell can be reached at email@example.com.
I remember reading about Ashley when she first went missing and I know it is very hard fro the family. I pray one day she is found alive, safe and comes hme to her family who loves and misses her so much.....