By Genoa Barrow | OBSERVER Senior Staff Writer
Two missing girls. Two moms on a mission for answers.
Yolanda Holmes and Ebony Berry’s paths may never cross, but the area mothers have the shared experience of a parent’s “worst nightmare,” not knowing where their daughters are and having the search prove more difficult than they imagined.
Holmes’ daughter Tymeah James was found safe on Tuesday, after being missing for five days. Police say there was no foul play and the family is thanking the public for its prayers and has asked for privacy. The 16-year-old didn’t show up for afternoon classes at Hiram Johnson High School last Friday. Holmes says the school didn’t notify her that her daughter had missed classes, but distributed a mass message to other parents afterwards about her disappearance.
When it was time for James to be picked up from cheer practice Friday evening, she wasn’t there.
“Some of the girls came out crying (saying) they haven’t seen Tymeah since lunchtime,” Holmes shared.
She began making frantic calls and canvassing the area. She also went to her daughter’s job at Taco Bell on Stockton Boulevard. Then she called the police. They went to the same places she’d already been, she says, and eventually told her, “We didn’t find her, good luck.”
The OBSERVER spoke to Holmes prior to her daughter being found. She wondered why her daughter was not “high risk” enough for more police focus. In her way of thinking, a teen who doesn’t have a history of running away, should be considered at higher risk than one that does.
There was speculation that James could have chosen to leave. A cashier at a Walmart on Zinfandel told Holmes she might have seen her in a line there. She was shown screenshots of posts that James supposedly made in an area of Instagram preferred by young people because older people don’t know about it.
“I just can’t believe she would do something like that. There would just be no reason,” Holmes shared prior to her daughter being found.
When teenagers go missing, Black girls in particular, many wonder if they’re “fast” and took off, “thinking they’re grown,” or their minds automatically go to them being abducted by a stranger to be abused, trafficked or killed.
Community advocate Berry Accius of Voice of the Youth says the community can’t afford to wait, speculate or underestimate what could be the case when a child goes missing. There are many dangers facing young girls today that parents and the public need to be aware of including the influence of their children’s peers, he says. They can’t just leave it at “she left school.”
“We are trying to make sure that we’re not waiting two weeks to say, ‘Oh, let’s go and check on the young lady’ because that’s what ends up happening to all those other young girls. OK, well, let’s give it a few days, she’ll come back.’ And next thing you know, they can’t be found,” Accius said.
Holmes spent a lot of time talking to area media, asking for the public’s help in finding her daughter. She describes James as a straight-A student who cheers, performs with her church’s praise dance team, babysits for older cousins who have children, and loves to get her nails done. She’s also demonstrated responsibility by holding fast food jobs.
While she hadn’t heard from her daughter or laid eyes on her for nearly a week, Holmes was on pins and needles. Someone called to say they saw her among prostitutes working Stockton Boulevard. While Holmes didn’t think that was plausible, she drove there anyway. The lead didn’t pan out.
After posting a picture and plea on FaceBook, Ms. Holmes was connected with Accius, who created a missing persons flier for her and immediately mobilized his team to circulate them.
“When I create the full social media space, that kind of gets the engine going, people are clear on what’s happening, they see the situation, they’re galvanized by wanting to do something to be a part of helping. If you are sitting in San Francisco, but the story is compelling to you, you’re going to feel a need to be activated,” Accius said.
Not everyone can be “on the ground” helping, he says, but spreading a flier or photo online also helps.
“The next thing you know, you get 1,000 people sharing the post. Now that becomes something that everybody’s looking at,” Accius continued.
Where Is Emani Coleman?
Ebony Berry’s 18-year-old daughter Emani Coleman was last seen on the morning of September 13 when she was dropped off near a Barnes & Noble and Panera Bread store in Natomas. She was planning to do some online job searching and buy books, her mother says. Hours later, when called to be picked up, there was no response from Coleman. Berry reported her missing the next morning . She says there was an issue with finding which agency had the jurisdiction.
According to Berry, it took a week for a detective to follow up with her in earnest. Because her daughter is 18, she says there didn’t seem to be a “sense of urgency” from law enforcement.
Berry doesn’t think her daughter simply left on her own.
“Nobody just leaves and goes with absolutely no money, no clothes, no nothing,” Berry said.
Berry, who also has a nine-year-old and an eight-month old, describes Coleman as an introvert and a “homebody” who could easily be taken advantage of.
“Who knows what, there’s just a million thoughts that go into your head, that you really can’t turn off. It’s really hard,” she said.
The family has been doing its own footwork. They’ve circulated fliers and they’ve requested indoor and outdoor surveillance video footage. Berry says managers from the bookstore said they didn’t see her, but they’re still looking through footage and Panera Bread representatives said their cameras are only pointed at their cashiers, not customers.
Coleman’s Google account was deleted. Coleman’s cell phone has pinged in Fresno. The family called her number and a woman answered. It wasn’t Coleman. The woman, Berry said, initially asked why strangers kept calling “her phone,” but later said she was a friend of Coleman’s.
“She said that she was OK, that ‘She’s with us, she’s fine,’ ” Berry shared.
The woman later claimed to have taken Coleman to a shelter in Santa Cruz. They were sent a photo of a supposed intake form, handwritten in pencil, Berry said.
The family also received a ransom note. The FBI became involved.
“The FBI says that’s just something that happens,” Berry said.
“When someone goes missing, people get these calls from scammers because we posted this information online.”
Berry is sickened that someone would take advantage of them at such a vulnerable time for her family. Coleman’s father is helping from Georgia and is trying to make his way to California. They’re open to any and all information as to Coleman’s whereabouts.
“The investigators said they were going to go take a look in the Santa Cruz area last week, but I haven’t heard anything so far,” she said on Sept. 27, which marked two weeks Coleman has been missing.
Berry says the best-case scenario is that her daughter did leave on her own and just doesn’t want to speak to her. Then she won’t have to imagine all the bad things that can happen to a young girl.
If Coleman is fine, Berry wants to hear it from her own mouth. Police should do the same, she says, rather than taking someone else’s word for it.
“I’m at this point, trying to let the police do whatever it is, because I really have no other choice,” Berry said.
Berry is hoping to get the same call that Holmes did, the one that says she can be reunited with her daughter.
Black Girls Matter
Youth mentor Jordan Robinson was among those helping pass out fliers with Tymeah James’ photo on them. Many don’t deem the disappearance of Black and brown girls as important, Robinson said.
“It is something that should be magnified within the media, but it’s not,” she said.
“A couple of weeks ago, we saw a Caucasian woman be blown up over the media; she left home with her boyfriend and she went missing. That was global news,” she said of Florida woman Gabby Petito who was found dead in Wyoming on September 18 after an exhaustive search.
The “Missing White Woman Syndrome” has been getting a great deal of attention lately, with Black leaders pointing out the disproportionate attention that White women like Petito and Sheridan Wahl receive when they disappear.
Bay Area news anchor Frank Somerville, who is White and the adoptive father of a Black daughter, was reportedly suspended from his on-air reporting duties last week after requesting to address the disparities in his reporting.
“When it’s a Caucasian woman, they get all eyes on them,” Accius said.
It’s an unfortunate reality, he says, that affirms the need to support Black families in these moments. to help them get the public to say their daughters’ names.
“It’s just as important to create this sense of urgency for our Black and brown girls too, because they matter. They matter as much as the next person,” Robinson shared.
A spokesperson for the Sacramento Police Department said it investigates missing persons leads regardless of person’s “at-risk” status. Anyone with information that could lead to the whereabouts of Emani Coleman are urged to contact SacPD dispatch at (916) 808-5471.