Although African Americans make up just 13 percent of the U.S. population, we account for 33 percent of the missing in the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s database. Cases involving African Americans also tend to receive less media coverage than missing Whites, with missing men of color getting even less attention.

NewsOne has partnered with the Black and Missing Foundation to focus on the crisis of missing African Americans.

To be a part of the solution, NewsOne will profile a missing person weekly and provide tips about how to keep your loved ones safe and what to do if someone goes missing.

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635507181173207305-womanOftentimes, the news I report to you in this column is grim. Men, women and children go missing and their families and law enforcement do everything possible to find them, often without luck. Years go by with families not knowing what happened to their loved ones. The pain those family members describe to me in interviews and e-mails is difficult to stomach. Other times, the missing are found dead.

That’s why the news that Carlesha Freeland-Gaither, a 22-year-old woman violently snatched off the streets of Philadelphia on Sunday, was found alive Wednesday in Maryland is uplifting. It gives families searching for their missing loved ones reason to hope and it confirms the role the public can play in helping to find people who go missing.

What makes Freeland-Gaither’s case so frightening is that it could have happened to anyone. The nursing aide was walking down the street at 9:40 p.m. in the Germantown section of Philadelphia as she returned home from a visit with her godson. A man, whom the FBI now identifies as 37-year-old Delven Barnes, is allegedly seen on the video approaching Freeland-Gaither before dragging her the length of a block to his waiting car.

Freeland-Gaither is shown on surveillance video trying to escape and to fight the man off. Witnesses say she screamed for help. She dropped to the ground to prevent the man from putting her in the car but he was able to force her into the vehicle anyway.

Freeland-Gaither’s family held on to hope during the three days she was missing.

“Carlesha, I love you. I know you are on your way home. Just fight. Just fight. Come on,” said Freeland-Gaither’s mother Keisha Gaither said. “All you got to do is just get out. I got you. Just come home. Just come home.”

On Wednesday, acting on tips from the public about a car used in the abduction, an FBI taskforce was able to track the vehicle to a street in Jessup, Md. Freeland-Gaither was rescued from the car. barnes_1_4x3_992

Barnes (pictured at right)  is being held on a Virginia warrant for attempted capital murder and now also faces federal kidnapping and assault charges for what he is accused of doing to Freeland-Gaither.

FBI officials believe Barnes allegedly kidnapped Freeland-Gaither at random.

“He’s a thug and this is what he does apparently,” Philadelphia Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey said about Barnes at a news conference. “He’s a vicious predator. He’s off the streets and hopefully he’ll be in jail for the rest of his life.”

Over the last few days, video of someone using Freeland-Gaither’s ATM card at a Maryland bank surfaced along with other surveillance videos show the alleged suspect in stores. The Philadelphia Inquirer writes that it was the smart thinking of one woman that helped lead to the capture.

Investigators had been searching for a man in dark clothing who had been captured in at least three surveillance videos connected to the kidnapping of the nursing assistant, who attended high school in Maryland before moving to Philadelphia. The new evidence – a receipt from an Acme in Rhawnhurst, a broken key chain, smashed glass, a zip tie and an empty Herr’s potato chip bag – was discovered on a property in Havre de Grace, Md. the sources said.

The woman who found the items on her property had heard news reports about the abduction and called police, the sources said. The items were being examined by forensic experts, the sources said, and the receipt in particular led investigators to the Rhawnhurst Acme. There, they recovered new video showing a clearer image of the person of interest in Freeland-Gaither’s kidnapping.

The video, released Wednesday, shows a man walking into the store at 8200 Roosevelt Blvd. and making a purchase of what appears to be potato chips. The footage was recorded Sunday afternoon, hours before the victim was dragged into a car on West Coulter Street.Police believe it is the same man who was captured on video in Aberdeen, Md. after the kidnapping, using Freeland-Gaither’s ATM card to withdraw money from a PNC Bank, then purchasing Herr’s potato chips and water from a gas station.

 

The FBI says tips from the public allowed authorities to “identify this individual, identify his car and track it into Maryland,” said Ed Hanko, the special agent in charge of the Philadelphia FBI field office.

Natalie Wilson, co-founder of the Black and Missing Foundation, said the fact that tips from the public led to Freeland-Gaither’s recovery is important.

“It shows that collectively we all– law enforcement, media and the community– play a vital role in finding our missing.,” Wilson told NewsOne in an interview. “Together, we can bring more of our missing home.”

FBI officials say Freeland-Gaither suffered some injuries but was in stable condition. She was taken to a Maryland hospital for examination. Family members say they do not recognize the man pictured in the various surveillance videos released by police.

But the family says they are ecstatic to have Freeland-Gaither back with them.

“She was very upset. She was crying,” Keisha Gaither said of the phone conversation she had with her daughter. “Thank you for keeping me up. Thank you for being there for us. I’m taking my baby home.”

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