Raleigh, N.C. — One of the three women held captive for years in a Cleveland house wasn't considered a missing person, which raises concerns among thousands of families nationwide who consider some of their relatives missing.
Cleveland police pulled Michelle Knight's name out of an FBI database 15 months after she was reported missing in 2002. A spokeswoman said it was because they couldn't contact Knight's mother by phone to verify that she was still missing.
"There are a lot of people out there missing, and it does happen and you don't understand unless it really happens to you, I guess," said Gloria Bedgood, whose daughter Shonda Stansbury was last seen in December 2006.
Roanoke Rapids police are treating Stansbury's case as a homicide, even though her body has never been found and no one has been charged with her death. Her family insists she should be considered a missing person.
"There is hope that she’s still alive, and there’s fear that she’s being tortured," Bedgood said.
"With Shonda’s case, at first they said, 'Well, she’s an adult. She’s of legal age. You know you can’t really list her as a missing person because she could’ve gone out on her own," Jackie Stansbury said of her sister. "Until they found out about the 911 report, nobody was out looking for her."
In mid-December 2006, a woman called 911, reporting seeing two men chasing a blonde, who she believed was Stansbury, behind a convenience store off U.S. Highway 158. The woman was screaming for help, the caller told 911, and she wasn't wearing any clothes.
There were no witnesses to corroborate the story, but the sighting led to a massive search of the area, which turned up nothing.
"I’ve been all in Weldon and everywhere looking for her – Halifax, Rocky Mount. I don’t know where else to look," Bedgood said.
More than 15,000 missing persons cases were reported to the North Carolina Center for Missing Persons last year, said First Sgt. Jeff Gordon of the State Highway Patrol. Two-thirds of those cases were children.
Ninety-six percent of the children whose cases were posted on the state Department of Public Safety website have been found, but that still leaves about 400 children missing from last year alone.
"The big question comes in, where is the difference? How do you know when somebody was abducted compared to somebody who just simply ran away?" Gordon said. "A lot of times, we don't know that answer."
Jackie Stansbury said the state or federal government should have some type of alert for missing adults, similar to an Amber Alert for a child and a Silver Alert for someone with a mental deficiency.
"Just because they're grown doesn't mean all the time that they took off on their own," she said. "She could walk right pass you in the store, and you wouldn’t even know it because ... the publicity was never brought to it like it was for an elderly person or a sick person or a child."
The Highway Patrol has a unit devoted to missing persons cases, and Gordon said technology and social media are getting more people involved in such searches.
"There are several cases that you’ll never be able to solve. We'll never be able to find these individuals, but you should take thought and comfort in the fact that we’re out there," he said. "We’re actively working cases, even if they’re a day old or 10 days, 10 years old, they’re going to be out there looking."