USA TODAY examined the disparities in how audiences respond to social media posts about missing children and found not all cases get the same level of engagement.
Using 375 video posts from the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children's Facebook page from October 2019 to this past June, the analysis found posts about missing white children, specifically girls, receive more likes, shares and views than posts about missing Black children.
The analysis is part of a series USA TODAY launched this year examining disparities in missing children cases.
Families with missing children use any and all means, including social media, to spread the word about their child's disappearance, especially when they feel they are not receiving enough coverage from local media or help from law enforcement.
Here are the stories of five families who used social media to spread the word about their missing children. None of them have been found.
If you have any information about the cases, call the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children at 1-800-THE-LOST (1-800-843-5678).
Joniah Walker was carrying a large backpack
The day she disappeared, Joniah Walker had plans to get her work permit.
Instead, the 15-year-old girl was spotted walking out of her Milwaukee home on the afternoon of June 23, carrying a large backpack.
Her family has not seen her since.
Joniah’s mother, Tanesha Howard, immediately reported her missing. But the Milwaukee Police Department told her Joniah did not qualify as a “critical missing” and did not alert local media.
Howard figured the more people who saw her daughter’s picture, the faster she would come back home. Frustrated with police, she started her own campaign and turned to the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children for help.
The center produced a video with a message from Howard to her daughter, released new posters and distributed an “urgent alert” about Joniah's case on its social media platforms and to news organizations. The center also assigned a case manager to Howard, who has connected her to a volunteer support specialist — another mother who has gone through something similar.
“I just wish there was a better system in place,” Howard said. “I was trying to explain to the police, if a parent comes in there and tells you that their kid is missing and it’s not like them, just take the time and listen.”
Hanna Lee and Skye Rex went missing after custody case
It’s been over 900 days since John Rex saw his two daughters.
A judge signed a final court order in 2020 granting Rex custody of 7-year-old Hanna Lee and 5-year-old Skye Rex after he filed for divorce from their mother. The two girls disappeared with her that same day.
Rex asked law enforcement to issue an Amber Alert for his daughters. He said officials refused because a biological parent took the girls and it could not be proven they were in danger – a policy common among some police departments.
Rex said he felt like he was the only one out of law enforcement agencies putting any real effort into finding his daughters. He began contacting missing children organizations and turned to his own Facebook page to share photos of Hanna and Skye.
“When my daughters do walk through that front door one day, I have to be able to look them in the eyes and say ... I did everything that I could to try to find them,” he said.
Kamaria Johnson was classified as a runaway
Kamaria Johnson left the house one night last year in Radcliff, Kentucky, and has not returned since.
Consuela Jobe, her mother, said Kamaria’s father first reported the 16-year-old as a runaway instead of missing. Because of this classification, Jobe said it was challenging to share police reports or official photos about her daughter with local media.
Jobe turned to social media. On her own Facebook page she shared photos of her daughter and spread the word about her disappearance. She also contacted missing children organizations for help, including the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children, which posted a video seeking information about Kamaria.
“I wanted to use every avenue within my power to get her face out as fast as possible,” Jobe said.
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King Walker went missing with his aunt, Diamond Bynum
King Walker and his aunt Diamond Bynum disappeared in 2015 after taking a nap with family at their home in Gary, Indiana. When other family members awoke, they found the door open and King and Diamond gone. La Shann Walker hasn’t seen her daughter and grandson since.
Walker said Diamond, then 21, has mental disabilities and is not capable of caring for herself or King, who was two years old at the time the two disappeared. Because Diamond was over the age of 18 and King’s relative, Walker said law enforcement officials told her they could not issue an Amber Alert.
Walker said she felt like her family and volunteers initially led the search efforts. They drove around neighborhoods, asked strangers if they had seen the two and even searched abandoned homes after receiving tips the two had been spotted there.
A girl who Diamond went to school with started a Facebook page to help find them. Walker also dedicated a Facebook page to the case and contacted the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children, which shared multiple posts about King and Diamond.
“I’ve been trying to find other outlets to get it nationwide,” Walker said. “I don't know how other than social media to get it to people that are in other states.”
Bethany Markowski disappeared at the mall
Bethany Markowski spent a weekend in 2001 with her father after her parents divorced. The two went to a mall in Jackson, Tennessee. When it was time to leave, Bethany’s father couldn’t find the 11-year-old.
Her mother, Jonnie Carter, used social media starting with a MySpace page the year her daughter disappeared. She now uses Facebook to share information about her daughter's disappearance.
“I don’t think there’s anything that I have not done to find Bethany,” she said.
Carter, who has volunteered for the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children for more than a decade, said it is challenging to repeatedly share the same information about her daughter with no recent leads on the case.
She spends her time helping other families with missing children by holding fingerprinting events, making bookmarks for every missing child in Tennessee and speaking with parents of missing children.
Carter releases balloons every year on Bethany’s birthday. Each balloon contains information about her daughter and other missing children in the area. She has received emails from people who found the balloons over 900 miles away.
“It reached people I could have never reached before and it got them interested in Bethany’s case,” she said, “And not only that, it got them interested in other cases in their area.”
Read the series: What happens when a child disappears in America?
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: 5 missing children cases to know about: These kids have not been found