Arnold teen back home, but some A-K Valley missing-person cases decades old
Even with Twitter, Facebook, Amber Alerts and other tools, children and adults continue to disappear.
Some get back home. Others haven't.
One common scenario is the case of 17-year-old Jaymee Bain of Arnold, who returned home on Friday after she was missing for almost two weeks. The polar opposite is the case of Cherrie Mahan, a Winfield girl who walked off a school bus almost 30 years ago and remains missing.
And there are two Alle-Kiski men who have been missing for months, and a Kiski native who hasn't been seen since the 1970s.
Bain left her Arnold home just after 6 a.m. April 1 for her school bus stop and didn't return for 11 days.
Police didn't add her name and photo to a national database right away because family and police were following tips. Bain's mother, Rebecca Maycock, also was calling her friends and her daughter's friends.
“We checked all the places we knew where she could have gone, and we looked on Facebook. Everything was negative,” Maycock said.
The girl was staying with people who probably didn't realize Bain was a juvenile, but “when they saw the newspaper, they asked her to leave because they didn't want to get into trouble,” Maycock said.
A phone call on Fridayafternoon tipped off Maycock.
Not all cases have a happy ending, said Robert G. Lowrey Jr. of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. Many end up homeless or in poverty. Some end up in prostitution.
Still, most runaways get back home safely, often via Facebook, Twitter or Tumblr, or by calling 1-800-RUNAWAY to contact the National Runaway Safeline, which can get them a bus ticket and provide other help.
Some runaways go “couch surfing” — moving from friend's house to friend's house before heading home or finding another roof over their heads.
There are more runaways than most people realize.
“We know across the country, 1.6 million to 2.2 million young people will run away this year,” Safeline Executive Director Maureen Blaha said.
“And one in five youths will leave home without permission at some point,” she said. “This is a silent crisis when you look at the numbers. They are very vulnerable, too.
Of course, the search for a runaway is different than one for someone who has been abducted.
There were virtually no electronic tools when Mahan vanished in 1985. Today, there are:
• Amber Alerts, social media and other Internet tools.
• Better communications among local, state and national law enforcement.
• Databases principally established to match unidentified human remains with missing-persons data.
• Widespread use of surveillance cameras.
There are fewer abductions now than when the Mahan mystery started.
“For years, there were 110 cases like Cherrie's every year. Now, it's trending downward,” Lowery said.
While kidnapping cases are decreasing, the number of runaways is climbing.
Statewide, there are about 5,000 runaways at any given time, said state police Cpl. Patrick Zirpoli, a missing-persons specialist for the Bureau of Criminal Investigation.
Police receive basic information such as when a person was last seen and where they may have gone.
“Was it voluntarily or under suspicious circumstances?” Zirpoli asked.
After getting the facts and a photo, police enter the information into national crime search databases. Additional interviews may be done. Then police turn to other investigative tools.
“We use a lot of cellphone pings and monitor Facebook pages,” Zirpoli said.
Missing children thought to be endangered can be entered into the Amber Alert system.
“Print media, radio and TV are our right hand. They always help us get out information,” the corporal said.
Most missing children are found safe. Last year, police used Amber Alert to find 12 children.
Many more missing people are runaway juveniles and adults who leave suddenly without saying anything or leaving a note.
“They don't want to be found,” Zirpoli said.
In such cases, law enforcement seeks to find these adults to confirm if they are OK and really wanted to leave. If so, they have the right to do so.
Juveniles are returned to parents or guardians, he said.
Missing-persons cases include Alle-Kiski adults.
Last year, Albert Leroy Copper III, a 29-year-old new father from Avonmore, seemingly vanished. So did John Horn, a 43-year-old Harrison man with emotional problems, who left home earlier this year after refusing to take his medicine.
Copper disappeared on his way to work about 4 a.m. June 6.
“There's nothing new,” said Trooper Robert Harr, who is investigating the disappearance. “We have no new leads, but we're still hopeful.”
Copper's family has taken missing-person posters to nearby states where Copper previously worked.
No one knows why he left or the precise circumstances.
Copper's cellphone and wallet were found. His car was found not far from the Kiski River.
Harr said the family has donated a DNA sample just in case it is needed.
John Horn refused to take medication and left a Natrona house in February after a fight with a brother, said his sister, Lanna Valenti, of Brackenridge.
Valenti said Horn was being treated for a mental health issue and was mourning the death of their mother.
“Police have told me that since he is an adult, he has the right to go where he wants. We can't find him.
“He isn't driving, and we have gone anywhere his friends said he might be, but he hasn't been there, and we are worried,” she said.
He was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia when he was 25.
Valenti is Horn's emergency contact, allowing her to check with hospitals for his whereabouts.
Horn is 6-foot-3 inches tall, thin with long hair and a beard. He has been a chain smoker.
A far older missing-persons case involves Nellie Cornman Flickinger, a Kiski native and 30-year-old mother, who has been missing from Erie since 1979.
Nellie was one eight Cornman children, two girls and six boys, and lived in the Shady Grove, Orchard Hill and Gravel Bar sections of Kiski Township.
She eventually settled in Erie and was last seen by her family in March 1979 when she left with a man heading toward the West Coast.
Her niece, Joni Lapeyrouse, said there is no trace of Flickinger.
Despite new resources, each missing-person case is different, and police do the basics first, said Westmoreland County detective Robert Weaver.
“You start with families and friends and work from there. Then you may look for phone records. You get as much as you can and work as long as you get information,” he said.
Finding Mahan remains the holy grail.
The bright-eyed 8-year-old got off a bus on Cornplanter Road in Winfield, on Feb. 22, 1985 — just 100 yards from her home.
The search went national; the FBI became involved, and network TV news did stories. Cherrie's was the first face on a national direct-mail campaign seeking missing children sent for the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.
The cards reach at least 84 million people, and the program works.
“We never give up on a case until a child is returned home,” said Lowery, the center's senior executive director.
He wishes Facebook and the electronic communications advances that are taken for granted today existed then.
“There were no witness and was no crime scene. It is the proverbial needle in haystack and the most dreaded for parents and law enforcement,” Lowrey said.
Chuck Biedka is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-226-4711 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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