Thursday, September 24, 2009

Volunteers keep searching for missing California boy with CP

From the Tammerlin Drummond column Oakland Tribune in California:

Six weeks ago, 5-year-old Hasanni Campbell (pictured) disappeared.

Just like that. No trace.

Hasanni's foster father Louis Ross reported the Fremont boy missing Aug. 10. Ross says he left Hasanni, who has cerebral palsy, standing in the parking lot of a Rockridge shoe store where his foster mother and biological aunt Jennifer Campbell worked.

When he returned moments later, Ross says, the boy was gone.

The police later would arrest Ross and Campbell. But the Alameda County District Attorney booted the case, saying there wasn't enough evidence to file charges against the pair in connection with Hasanni's disappearance.

Since this debacle is straight out of a "Law and Order" episode, the police investigation into Hasanni's disappearance has pretty much ground to a halt. Oakland Police Department officials have said they have no new leads and are not actively searching for the child because they don't know where to search.

Because there are no new developments, there is nothing for reporters to report. A few soldier on at the Tribune doing what they can to give the story some oxygen. Most of the media swarm right now, however, is focused on Antioch—ground zero of the latest child abduction atrocity.

We hear about every new wrinkle in the horrendous story of Jaycee Dugard's kidnapping. The condition of this poor young woman's cats, dogs, birds and mouse, even make the national news.

But not the disappearance of an African-American boy who weighs just 40 lbs.

What keeps Hasanni's disappearance from falling off the radar completely is that there are regular people in our community who care.

People like Sherri-Lyn Miller who has helped organize volunteers to search for Hasanni. They have scoured Lake Elizabeth in Fremont, the Coyote and Oakand Hills. They have held vigils. Now, they're planning an October benefit to raise more money for the search effort.

What makes a struggling print shop owner in San Leandro spend more than $1,000 of her own money to try to find a child she doesn't even know? To spend hours upon hours on the phone needling police and other officials to get permission to bring hundreds of volunteers to search rural park areas for the missing boy?

To pound the pavement at Bayfair Center asking stores to donate to the search effort?

The other day, I paid a visit to Miller at All In 1 Stop, her print shop on E. 14th Street in San Leandro. Stenciled T-shirts bearing the pictures of young men and women murdered on the streets of Oakland lined the walls along with the Tribune's homicide map.

Miller, a gregarious woman, had two phones going at once as she made plans for another volunteer search party this Saturday in the Coyote Hills area. She says Oakland police investigators have told volunteers to search certain areas.

Miller first became involved in missing children searches when Sandra Cantu, 8, from Tracy disappeared in late March.

When she saw Cantu's family on TV, Miller noticed they didn't have on T-shirts with the child's picture—thus missing out on a chance for someone to see, and possibly recognize, Cantu's face.

Miller hastily made up two dozen shirts and sent them to Cantu searchers—free of charge.

When a child closer to home went missing, Miller went into high gear. She printed up hundreds of fliers and made T-shirts with Hasanni's picture on them.

"It's a 5-year-old out there," Miller said. "He deserves to be found.

The problem of course is, the only person who knows where Hasanni is, is whoever saw him last.

With no real clues to go on, volunteers are checking remote areas near Hasanni's home in Fremont as well as in the proximity of Rockridge where Ross says he disappeared.

It's basically like looking for a needle in a haystack.

What makes someone spend an entire Saturday combing through brush looking for a child who could literally be anywhere?

"Occasionally, you do get lucky and find the needles," said Tena Oakley, a gas station manager in Newark who has been helping search for Hasanni.

"The police departments don't have the personnel but somebody has got to do it."

Some people say the volunteers are wasting their time.

But who is to say they won't find Hasanni?

At least someone is looking.