UPDATE: An alert mom noticed a 12-year-old girl who’d been missing more than a month riding the Staten Island Ferry on Oct. 29, helping to reunite a worried mother with her daughter, police said. Read more here.
STATEN ISLAND (PIX11) — The mother of a 12-year-old girl said her daughter never gave a hint she was unhappy at home before the girl failed to return from school on Sept. 21.
“I saw her in the morning when I was leaving for work,” said the mother, who said she works for the Department of Education, told PIX11 News. “I would never have thought that she would have run away.”
Yet there were clues the girl was being manipulated by an older man more than a year ago.
The mother said when her daughter had just started sixth grade at Intermediate School 51 in September 2021, she woke up suddenly one night.
“It’s late at night; I’m hearing like a man’s voice laughing,” the mother recalled. “When I go in the room, she’s talking to somebody with her shirt off with the laptop from DOE.”
The mother said the man’s face was blurred on a chat room site called Redden Anime, so she took the computer to school the following day.
“They called the cops, they took a report, and a week later the cops said it was like, a ‘burner phone'” the man was using, the mother recounted.
The Department of Education resolved the computer issue, but the mother said she later transferred her daughter from I.S. 51 in May 2022 after an incident involving boys near the school.
The girl started seventh grade at Intermediate School 72, nearly 5 miles from home, but the mom said her journal indicated she wasn’t happy there. The girl’s phone last “pinged” on Sept. 21 near Mariner’s Harbor public housing, just over a mile from her house. The family used to live there until they moved to a private home six years ago.
The missing girl’s neighbor on Wright Avenue is Lisa Smith. She said the girl’s mother cries every night.
“It’s heartbreaking,” Smith said. “She’s a sweet little girl. I see her every day. Never any trouble.”
Smith said she’s been riding the Staten Island Ferry at night, looking for her daughter, and searching a local McDonald’s. The mom has also returned to the housing project where the family lived.
The mother claimed her daughter’s school contacted the Administration for Children’s Services after a classmate claimed the mother neglected her daughter and knew the girl had a 20-year-old boyfriend.
“ACS came here for a visit,” the mother said.
Smith denied all allegations of abuse or neglect. The mother showed PIX11 her daughter’s bedroom, where she had hung curtains for her daughter with motivational phrases. The girl had also created some art with the word “Queen” painted prominently on the board.
The family’s neighbor, Lisa Smith, said she’s tried to be a support system for the girl’s mother by posting notices online about the girl’s disappearance.
“When I was trying help post it on the website, I came across a lot of kids that age that are missing,” Smith noted. “Black American kids…they’ve been missing a long time.”
When PIX11 News reached out to the Department of Education about the incident involving the missing girl’s DOE computer, spokesman Nathaniel Styer responded, “We wouldn’t be able to comment on student specifics like this due to federal privacy laws.”
The missing girl’s mother pleaded for someone to come forward with information about her daughter.
“Whoever has her, let her go,” the mother begged. “Let her go.”
Anyone with information in regard to this incident is asked to call the NYPD’s Crime Stoppers Hotline at 1-800-577-TIPS (8477) or for Spanish, 1-888-57-PISTA (74782). The public can also submit their tips by logging onto the CrimeStoppers website at https://crimestoppers.nypdonline.org/