The Kansas Bureau of Investigation revealed a new website this week aimed at increasing the public’s involvement with Kansas missing person cases — allowing the public to search several ways for open missing person cases.
The new site allows for searches by a missing person’s name or by Kansas county. Users can also search based on demographics, such as name, gender, age or the date the missing person was last seen. When using the site, individuals are able to submit tips, information and sightings directly to the KBI.
For Harvey County, the site lists eight missing persons, all of whom were juveniles when they went missing. That number might cause concern — and digging into it brings interesting stories.
In several cases, Newton police have made contact with the child after the date they are listed as missing. And many of those children are not from Newton; they came to the community from elsewhere.
"Generally, if they are gone for a period of time, they are from Youthville and they are not from here. They like to return to where they are from," said Newton Chief of Police Craig Dunlavy.
The KBI also lists three cases that NPD said originated at Youthville. Jenica Lucas, who was 17 when she was last seen, is now 18. Tyzia Herbert, 16, and Mickiah Whaley, 14, appear in the database after being reported missing from Youthville. Halie Schellhas, 16, last seen in 2018, came to Newton through a placement with Saint Francis. She is now listed as missing by the KBI.
The oldest case, that of now 14-year-old Julian Gonzalez, was opened Dec. 17, 2017. The KBI lists Gonzalez as a 5-foot-3, 109-pound white male with blonde or strawberry hair and blue eyes. According to the Newton Police Department, he was from Wichita and was picked up as a runaway in 2017. While he was being transported to a placement, a stop was made in Newton. He climbed a gate at the jail and ran from custody.
Shaylee Arena, 17, might be the most concerning case, although police and her family know where she is.
"She is hanging out in Texas," Dunlavy said. "Investigators have talked with the family. She is probably hanging out with older men, 20 years or older. She is still gone."
The new missing person website can be viewed at www.kbi.ks.gov/missingpersons. Unlike several national or nonprofit missing person sites, the search tool is specific to missing person cases that originated in Kansas. The website provides a current and comprehensive listing of all those reported missing throughout Kansas.
"I certainly think this is something that will be useful," Dunlavy said. "If these kids are being victimized, through human trafficking, which is typically the way it is, this gives someone an avenue to report it to the authorities so we can take action. ... If this proves to be another way for people to contact the authorities and give tips to their whereabouts, then we are all in."
The KBI encourages anonymous tips as well. Once information is reported, the KBI will either evaluate and investigate the information or forward the lead to the law enforcement agency that is investigating the missing person case.
“We know from experience that tips from the public provide a great advantage to law enforcement in locating missing Kansans and we hope this website increases our interactions with citizens who wish to help,” said KBI director Kirk Thompson.
Also featured on the new website are recommendations for how to report someone who has gone missing, safety information and resources. The site also has links to the Kansas Amber Alert and Silver Alert websites.
Law enforcement agencies are allowed greater access to additional features of the website so they can update missing person cases in their jurisdictions, compare case profiles and upload photographs of the missing. When creating the website the KBI worked with law enforcement agencies to ensure it would be a useful resource in missing person cases and to teach them how to update the profiles of those missing from their communities.
“Currently missing in Kansas are 295 adults and 280 juveniles. Behind each missing person is a family with unanswered questions. It is our hope that this website will become a valuable tool that aids law enforcement in answering the many questions that arise when an individual goes missing,” said Thompson.