Tuesday, January 29, 2008
Marlaina "Nikki" Reed wasn't finished being a child. Marlaina was beaten to death – stuffed into a cardboard box and discarded with the trash in a north side Chicago alley. She was located on January 21, 2007 and had been deceased for several days. She was 17 years old.
The last missing person report for Marlaina said she was missing since May 5, 2006. It wasn't unusual – Marlaina ran away often – at least since she was 14. Marlaina was a ward of the state of Illinois, living in a group home on the city's north side. She was listed on the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children's website as a missing child until the following year, May 2007. Just after her 18th birthday, she was removed from the site. Released from the jurisdiction of the state of Illinois when she reached 18, she was also removed from LEADS and NCIC by the Chicago police department. Perhaps this is department policy, perhaps it was an error, or perhaps it is an inherent flaw in a system that must protect the privacy of adults as well as the lives of children. Whatever the reason, Marlaina not only vanished in life, she vanished from the rolls of the missing and endangered. NCMEC, following federal privacy law guidelines, had to remove her case file when she was removed from NCIC. In fact, by the time her case files were purged from the databases, Marlaina had been lying in the Cook County Medical Examiner's office for 4 months, an unidentified Jane Doe.
God Bless the investigators with the Chicago Police Department who made the extraordinary effort to identify her. For the first time since 1980, the Cook County Medical Examiner's turned to forensic reconstruction to put a face to the young woman whose own face was disfigured by the beating she sustained, as well as decomposition. Forensic artist Karen Taylor did a remarkable job. That face was combined with the knowledge that the teen had once worn braces and sent to an Illinois Dental magazine, where, she was recognized by a Doctor and his nurse. Jane Doe now had a name and Marlaina was no longer missing.
Had Marlaina remained in NCIC and LEADS, perhaps closure to this case would have come sooner – perhaps not. But the fact that juveniles are considered 'missing' one day before they are 18 and no longer missing one day later is a huge crack in the system that is striving every day to bring investigative techniques and cutting edge technology into play to identify the thousands of unidentified John and Jane Does nationwide. Marlaina wasn't on anyone's radar. Even though she remained missing on my own site – I never made the connection to the Jane Doe – I didn't see the forest for the trees.
I am told that there is legislation on the books of several states that mandate that missing juveniles that turn 18 be transitioned to another database – as missing emancipated juveniles or missing adults. Missing children and missing adults are a nationwide problem. It is imperative that we centralize the data so that the missing and the unidentified can be compared on a national basis. We need federal legislation that mandates that these cases be carried over once a child attains the age of 18. I urge you to help me do this. Marlaina's life and death deserve more.