UPDATE: Mom of N.J. teen who went missing for a month is charged with endangering children
The 14-year-old New Jersey girl who had been missing since mid-October had been living in a shelter in Brooklyn after running away from home, authorities said Friday.
The extensive search for the teen, a resident of East Orange, involved multiple agencies and ended with the announcement Thursday night by the Essex County Prosecutor’s Office that she had been found safe.
“She was found, last night, and she was found unharmed,” acting Essex County Prosecutor Theodore N. Stephens said Friday during a press conference in Newark. “It did appear that she was a runaway.”
He said there was no evidence the teen was abducted and no charges have been filed, though the investigation is continuing. She had stayed at multiple locations in New Jersey before ending up in New York.
“We are pursuing certain leads, which we believe may yield to some charges,” Stephens said.
The girl went missing Oct. 14 and was captured on surveillance video at Poppies Deli, an East Orange market on Central Avenue near her home, around 10 a.m. that day, police said. She returned home and told her mother that she had lost the credit card she paid with before heading out again. The mother told reporters that was the last time she saw her daughter.
Stephens said the girl pent time at several locations while missing, the last being a shelter in Brooklyn. Someone contacted the girl Thursday night and she met that person at an uptown New York location, he said. The New York Police Department was then called to meet with her in Harlem and took the girl to the hospital.
The teen remains in police custody has not yet been reunited with her mother, said Stephens, who noted the girl was not registered to a school at the time she went missing.
A reward of $20,000 had been offered for information on her whereabouts and multiple press conferences were called to seek the public’s help in locating the missing girl.
Stephens and East Orange Police Chief Phyllis L. Bindi thanked all those who helped with the search and spreading the word about the missing teen.
“This is a perfect example of the positive outcomes when we come together and work as a community,” Bindi said.
Sharif Amenhotep is a family friend of the missing girl who joined the search and was with the girl’s mother on Thursday night. The group was canvassing in Orange when the Essex County Prosecutors office called with word the teen had been found.
The mother broke down in tears, and the group joined hands in a prayer circle.
“We prayed before we started, and we prayed afterward,” Amenhotep said. “All she wanted was for her baby to come home, and by the grace of God she got her wish.”
Still, there’s lingering anger from some people in the community who believe the initial response by police was too slow, and the word didn’t get out among the local departments.
“We were in Irvington four days ago on a possible sighting and an Irvington officer rolled up and had no idea (the girl) was missing,” said Donna Jackson, a Newark resident. “The Amber Alert system has to change. The mandatory notification system has to change”
Jackson said it wasn’t until a press conference by the Essex County Prosecutor’s Office enlisting the media and the public to help find the girl that the investigation got moving.
She said the way authorities approach missing persons is different for Black people than white people.
“We are not going to keep playing this game in New Jersey that white children get the Amber Alert and Black children don’t,” she said.
Note: NJ Advance Media has removed the name of the teenage girl because she is a juvenile and has been found.
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