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677 listed missing in Arkansas

By The Associated Press

This article was published December 30, 2007 at 4:36 p.m.

— When 16-year-old April Andrews left home more than a year ago, she told her mother she was walking to a nearby church to look at clothes the church was giving away. Her mother hasn't seen her since.

April is one of about 680 people listed missing in Arkansas by the Arkansas Crime Information Center.

Tina Johnson reported her daughter missing Nov. 18, 2006, the day April said she was going to Pea Ridge Church of the Nazarene. Johnson keeps track of the time by the missed holidays: Two Thanksgivings and now two Christmases.

In November, the ACIC listed 677 people missing in Arkansas, Operations Manager Sharron Stallings said. Only 16 of them appear on the agency's Web site. But Stallings said it would help if local law enforcement agencies seek to post the person's information on the site, but few agencies do.

Arkansas law requires law enforcement agencies to immediately enter a missing child into the center's missing person database. April also was entered in the National Crime Information Center database the day of her disappearance, according to police. The databases can be accessed by law enforcement agencies across the country.

Law enforcement agencies typically respond to missing person reports based on the person's age, health or history. The circumstances of the disappearance also help determine how a case is handled.

April originally was listed as an endangered missing person because people thought she was kidnapped, Pea Ridge Police Sgt. Cerilla Doyle said. Now "Everybody thinks she is a runaway," Doyle said. But police said that doesn't change how they approach the case.

April was last seen getting into an older brown pickup in Pea Ridge. Police Chief Tim Ledbetter said there have been reports of a few sightings of the girl in Northwest Arkansas, but none has been confirmed. He said officers follow up on tips and visit with the family every so often.

Police agencies receive reports of missing people almost daily. Most department policies dictate police search immediately for missing children. But police approach adult cases differently.

For adults to be listed by the Arkansas Crime Information Center, they must be in "at risk" circumstances, such as mentally or physically disabled, thought to be in danger or having disappeared during a catastrophe, such as a natural disaster.

If a missing adult doesn't qualify as "at risk," police can't spend time looking for them, Bentonville Police Chief James Allen said. Other police agencies have a similar outlook.

"An adult can go where they want to go and do what they want to do. They don't have to be responsible to anyone but themselves," said Benton County Sheriff's Capt. Tom Brewster.

Family members of a 78-year-old Bella Vista motorcyclist found dead Sept. 19 believe police didn't take his case seriously. Nelson Berger's family reported him missing July 20 after he didn't show up for lunch with his daughter in Tulsa.

But Bella Vista Police Capt. Ken Farmer said the department went beyond its policy because Berger's family was adamant that it was unlike him to disappear and because there was a chance he had an accident. A motorcyclist finally spotted Berger's body in a ravine. The Arkansas Medical Examiner's Office said Berger died from injuries in an accident.

In the case of Alice Minton, Rogers police have conducted an all-out search since her family reported her missing June 4, three days after she disappeared. Police Chief Steve Helms said Rogers police approach all missing adult cases with an open eye, but after interviewing people about the Minton case, the department elevated its response.

When a crime is suspected, police need to quickly collect evidence that might not be there later, he said. Helms declined to say exactly what led police to suspect foul play.

Minton's 2001 BMW was found June 7 in Rogers. Authorities searched the Prairie Creek area of Beaver Lake, and found a purse June 15 that may have belonged to Minton.

Rogers police have used boats and scuba divers to search the lake. They've sought assistance from other states' dive and dog teams and the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission.

Helms said he doesn't plan to stop searching.

Minton's mother, Brenda Mathis, said people need to be open with police. The more information police have at the beginning, the quicker they can come to a resolution, she said.

She said she called Rogers police several times after reporting her daughter missing to give them more information. Law enforcement officers agree that more information is better.

"Be as forthright and direct about the dynamics as you can possibly be," Farmer said. "We need to know about the person."

LaDonna Meredith, director of Let's Bring Them Home, said the group acts as a liaison between families and the media. The group sends news releases to media organizations to encourage publicity and has a Web site.

April's mother, Tina Johnson, posted fliers around town, but within two weeks they were all removed. A single mother without much money to search for April, Johnson said she often is notified of leads, but rarely informed of their outcome.

Johnson said she isn't sure what happened to her daughter, but she tries not to cry much because she believes April is OK. She said her daughter had trouble with kids at school teasing her about her appearance. April also didn't want to be a burden on her mother.

"There's no use crying because she's still alive somewhere," Johnson said.






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