By Chris Teale (Courtesy photo)
Alexandria teenager Alysha Howard has been missing since October 2014, but officials hope a new initiative displaying her face on digital billboards at bus shelters across the Washington and Baltimore areas will jog someone’s memory as police continue to investigate her disappearance.
Described as a chronic runaway, Howard disappeared from shelter care last year and is the city’s only remaining missing child from 2014 out of a total of 261.
Now, the 16-year-old’s face will be part of the “Summer for Hope” billboard campaign, a collaboration between The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children and Clear Channel Outdoor Americas. On 50 bus shelters in the Washington region and 14 billboards in Baltimore, the faces of missing children from the area, including Howard, will be displayed for four minutes every hour until the beginning of September.
In addition to Howard, the displays will show the face of Relisha Rudd, a D.C. youth who went missing from the D.C. General homeless shelter in March 2014 and Jacob and Sarah Hoggle of Clarksburg, Md., who are missing and feared dead, allegedly at the hands of their schizophrenic mother.
Howard is described as being 5 feet 9 inches tall and weighing about 160 pounds with black hair and brown eyes. The NCMEC notes in its brief profile that she may use the date of birth June 6, 1999, as opposed to her actual birth date of June 5 of that same year. She was last seen on October 21 of last year.
Alexandria Police Department spokeswoman Crystal Nosal noted how dangerous life can be for young runaways, especially given the possibility that they could be easily exploited on the streets.
“Even though the juveniles have left by their own choice, they are still missing juveniles,” she said. “It’s important because there are many criminal elements out there that they are vulnerable to.”
The billboard effort comes as part of the yearlong “Be Here For Kids” campaign, launched in May by NCMEC and CCOA using billboards to raise awareness about national child safety issues. It is hoped that this summer’s effort will expand to include billboards of missing children in Los Angeles, Minneapolis and Chicago.
In 2014, there were more than 460,000 reports of missing children made to law enforcement in the United States. Law enforcement agencies also have seen a dramatic increase in cases of child sexual exploitation in recent years, with last year seeing more than 1 million reports of suspected child sexual exploitation made to NCMEC.
According to organization officials, photos are one of the most helpful tools when searching for a missing child. They have the power to produce leads that can help law enforcement give families answers and help safely recover children.
“When we share photos of a missing child, we invite everyone who sees the photos to be a part of the search to bring that child home,” said Michelle Collins, NCMEC’s chief operating officer, in a statement. “We are very grateful to Clear Channel Outdoor for their generous support in helping us engage the public by featuring the faces of missing children on billboards throughout the country.”
“Our latest effort with the NCMEC strengthens our commitment to making a difference in the lives of missing children and protecting others through greater public awareness,” said Toby Sturek, executive vice president of specialty businesses at CCOA, in a statement.
Police officials are hopeful the billboard campaign can have an impact in jogging someone’s memory if Howard has been seen recently, especially with her face displayed so prominently across the metropolitan area.
“I think in many cases, especially the cases that are much more dramatic where the children are not missing of their own choice, it can bring closure to families,” Nosal said. “For a case such as ours, involving a runaway, it could lead to locating the juvenile and allowing their family to know where they are.”
Nosal recommended anyone with information about Howard’s possible whereabouts to call the Alexandria Police Department’s non-emergency number at 703-746-4444.