JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (KMIZ)
Frank Tennant is the director of the State Technical Assistance Team. He spends his time tracking down missing Missouri children, living by his motto, "Every kid counts."
According to the Missouri State Highway Patrol missing persons records, there are about 700 active missing children cases, and 475 of those are from this year alone. Less than a week ago, Columbia Police asked for community assistance locating a missing teen, 14-year-old Devontai Gordon. The family of Aryan Correa reached out to ABC 17, a missing teen girl believed to be in the St. Louis or Jefferson City area.
One thing these two and many other missing children have in common is the tendency for them to be classified as "runaways" instead of missing children. But Tennant said STAT and other law enforcement agencies investigate runaways the same way as any other missing child.
"That always frustrates me when people say they're not missing, they're a runaway," Tennant said. "Well, if it was your child and he wasn't home where you knew he was safe, the fact that he was mad, upset and having some type of psychiatric psychological breakdown, you don't care that he's running. You want him home, you want him safe."
The definition of a missing person in Missouri law includes someone who has run away. State statute says a person is considered missing if they are, "a child or juvenile runaway from the residence of a parent, legal guardian, or custodian."
Missouri law was recently expanded to include foster children regardless of age, emancipated minors, homeless youth and unaccompanied minors in law enforcement's search for missing children.
Aryan Correa, 15, went missing from a foster home in Hazelwood, a suburb of St. Louis, on Sept. 8. Her aunt and mother believe she could be in the St. Louis or Jefferson City areas, and said it's unlike her to go so long without contacting her family.
Hazelwood Police are looking into Correa's disappearance.
"As of right now it appears to be a runaway. She has been known to runaway before however she isn’t usually gone this long. If you have or your source has any information we would love to speak with you," Sgt. Brendan Gilbert, of the Hazelwood Police Department, said in an email.
Hazelwood Police Department can be contacted at (314) 838-5000.
"If she was at a friend's house and just a runaway, quote unquote, I feel like she would have logged on to reach out to someone," said Correa's aunt Ruby Frost.
Frost asks anyone with information on where Correa might be to reach out to the Hazelwood Police, MSHP or Correa's caseworker Heather Kowalski at (573) 469-3380.
"Aryan, please call your mom. Just come home safe. You have a lot of people that care about you," Frost said.
Tennant focuses a lot of children who go missing while in the state's care. In 2022, Missouri law enforcement found 614 youth missing from the state's care. So far this year, Missouri law enforcement found 450 missing children from state care, according to Tennant.
"We get a list of kids in state care that have gone missing and it changes every day," Tennant said. "And immediately when we get that list, my staff starts. We've got our little trade secrets, social media applications, anything we can, friends, family, whatever. And we try to gather that information and to push it either to local law enforcement that, 'Hey, the little John Doe might be running with these people,' and we get it back to social services."
Tennant said STAT will be expanding soon to also locate children who were not in the state's care.
"We're going to start working on those when we can," Tennant said. "We were put together in 1991 to look at child fatalities. So now today, it's kind of the roles have changed a bit."
To initiate an Endangered Person Advisory, the patrol asks people to follow the instructions on the following form. You can views lists of missing children and missing adults in the state of Missouri, according to the Missouri State Highway Patrol's missing persons division.
STAT assistance can be requested.
MSHP toll-free telephone line for parents, law enforcement agencies or others to provide information about or request assistance for missing and unidentified persons: 866-362-6422.
MSHP Missing Persons Unit: 573-526-6178, email email@example.com.