Philadelphia Daily News from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania on April 7, 1993 · Page 3
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Philadelphia Daily News from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania · Page 3

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Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
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Wednesday, April 7, 1993
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Page 3
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WEDNESDAY, APRIL 7, 1993 THE PHILADELPHIA DAILY NEWS PAGE 3 Vm " i ..JJ.L . m mu i Li i in mi... i i ''""""WWMfMWIMMMI I..IIIHU .111.1, Ullllipim "r. - .J Jacqui Simmons during interview; Probe i never relented' Case file's 'at least an inch-and-a-half thick,' cop says by Scott Flander Daily News Staff Writer Each year, about 4,000 to 4,500 children under 18 are reported missing in Philadelphia. And though it's very rare for a missing child to be found murdered it happens maybe two or three times a year at most police say they investigate every case. If a child is under the age of 10, investigators and uniformed officers begin a "tender-age search" an intensive, door-to-door neighborhood search that includes checking rooftops and abandoned houses and cars, says Lt. Dennis Cullen, of the Missing Persons Liaison Unit. The same type of search is done for older children if police believe they are in unusual danger such as having mental or physical problems, or if there is evidence they were abducted or have met with foul play, says Cullen, whose unit is part of the Juvenile Aid Division. Police also investigate cases of missing teen-agers who don't fit into those categories, following up leads, talking to family and friends, checking with hospitals, schools, arcades, malls and anywhere else the person might go. Cullen said police "did an intensive investigation" into the disappearance of John Benjamin Simmons, who was 15 when he was reported missing five JIM MacMILLAN DAILY NEWS she helps other parents years ago. His remains were found in Fairmount Park on Sunday. That investigation, said Cullen, "never relented . . . The case folder has to be at least an inch-and-a-half thick." Sometimes, parents of missing teen-agers complain that police aren't searching as hard as they should, says Cullen. "What they want are tender-age searches," he says. But because of the intense manpower needed, he says, "You couldn't do that in 4,000 cases, especially when most are returning on their own volition." That doesn't mean Juvenile Aid investigators aren't working hard to find a child. "It's a misconception some people have, that if people don't see the police going door-to-door, they think they've given up." Reports of missing children are handled by Juvenile Aid officers in the various detective divisions. Reports are turned over to each new shift. And, says Cullen, "Once we take a missing persons report, that case is never closed." All cases are entered into a nationwide police computer and stay there until the child turns up. After a month, if the child still isn't found, the case .. is sent to the Missing Persons Liaison Unit to make sure it stays active. Even years later, says Cullen, police will make periodic checks. About 20 open missing per (Dlt mm Body of son, 15, discovered in park, after 5-year ordeal by Edward Moran Daily News Staff Writer Jacqui Simmons knew the five-year search for her teen-age son had ended when keys found by police among some bones un-: locked her parents' front door. . The keys had been in the pocket of a pair of jeans found near skeletal remains discovered by two boys rolling a tire down a hill in Fairmount Park on Sunday. The remains were identified yesterday as John Benjamin Simmons, who was 15 when he disappeared. "When the keys fit the door to my parents' home," Jacqui Simmons said yesterday, "I knew." Police said they identified the body through dental records. Sim- sons cases are carried over each year, says Cullen. There are many reasons why children are reported missing. Sometimes, children leave home because of problems with parents or even more commonly with siblings. In other cases, they just want to go on an adventure, like a trip to Atlantic City. - Some kids just don't want to go home: Cullen says there's always a lot of kids reported missing around report-card time. Sometimes, children are taken by parents who don't have legal custody, or by older kids or baby sitters. In some cases, children are reported missing simply because of faulty communication by family members. Most missing children return or are found within 72 hours, says Cullen. "They storm out of the house, they have no clear plan," he says. But soon they realize that the world is "a cold and forbidding place, and they look for shelter and go home or to a friend's house." Usually the friend will know the person has been reported missing and will call police. But sometimes, says Cullen, there are "real bad cases." "You spend a lot of time pounding the pavement and searching the roofs," he says, "but they've just disappeared off the face of the Earth." a (say mons had apparently been shot in the head and left on the hill, just off Georges Hill Drive, police said. For Jacqui Simmons, the past five years have been a bitter experience from trying to get the police and the media to treat her son as more than a runaway, to starting a support group for the parents of other missing children. Simmons last saw her son the morning of Sept. 14, 1988, when he left for George Washington Carver School of Engineering and Science, where he had just began the 10th grade. John Simmons was a thoughtful, bright child, she said. He never went anywhere without leaving a note on the refrigerator or a message on the answering machine. "When I came home that day I knew something was wrong," Simmons said. "There was no note, no message and when I went to the school yard, he was not there playing ball. He just wasn't in the area." Simmons said she knew her son was in trouble and turned first to the police. She told them there was no reason for John to run away. He was a good student. He was studying Chinese with the hope of taking a school trip there. He had never been in trouble with the police, didn't skip school and stayed away from the drugs and dealers that plagued her West Philadelphia neighborhood. They could not investigate, she -was told. John Simmons was considered a runaway. Next she turned to the media. "I called the Daily News, they were not cooperative at all. John wasn't news then," she said. When she contacted the newspaper she said she was told that because police considered John a runaway, there would be no story. She asked if the paper would print a picture, with information about her son. "They told me that they couldn't put pictures of all of the missing children in the paper because it was too many. "I was referred to the classified section and told I could pay SI 10 dollars to run an ad," she said. Simmons said she was shocked and hurt by the response. "I was very disappointed. As a parent of a missing child regardless of how old he is, I just felt the media should have been more sympathetic to me." Finally after several months and some attention by then-City Councilman Lucien Blackwell, police responded. Eventually officers started in- Si John Benjamin Simmons: slain vestigating, she said. A year after he disappeared, John was listed as . a missing person. According to police records in 1988, 4,509 juveniles were reported missing. Only 18, including Simmons, had not been located by the end of the year. Simmons said neither she nor police know who might have shot John. Around the time John disappeared, neighborhood youths told Simmons he might have been abducted by drug dealers trying to recruit teens to deal for them. Some friends of John's told her they saw him get into a car at 49th Street near Locust, the corner near his home. In the years since he vanished, Simmons has distributed thousands of fliers with John's picture, gathered donations for a $2,000 reward, and started the -support group, which she runs out of her home with the mother of another missing teen-age boy. Simmons' support group, Parents and Friends of Missing Children, is funded out of Simmons' pocket and offers support and advice to distraught parents. She said she has dealt with at least 20 families. She tells parents to fingerprint their children, and to keep a lock of their hair and a current photograph in case they are needed to aid an investigation. Simmons said she will continue her work now that her son has been found, but said the discovery of his body has brought her no comfort. "The difference is, I think, is he was out in the park all of that time," she said. "I just never expected to find him like this." Staff writer Joe O'Dowd contrib- uted to this report. 4 I i 4: I t 1 j i i i

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