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Missing children: How racial disparities impact the search for the missing | States of America

USA TODAY Investigative Reporter Gina Barton and the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel explore how the media and police handle cases that involve missing children of color. Gina examines two cases – the story of 7-year-old Alexis Patterson who went missing on May 3, 2002, in Milwaukee, and the widely publicized case of 14-year-old Elizabeth Smart who went missing a month later in Salt Lake City. Alexis was Black and Elizabeth was white. Through an emotional interview with Alexis’ mother, we learn why she feels her daughter’s investigation was handled differently because of her race and socioeconomic level. We also interview the current chief of the Milwaukee Police Department who acknowledges that, “trust is a continuous process” with communities of color. Gina Barton has followed the story of Alexis Patterson for 20 years and on States of America she reveals what her research suggests are some of the flaws in the way that cases of missing children of color are handled by both the police and media.

Help USA TODAY investigate missing kids
If you believe you have experienced unfair treatment when reporting a child missing or if you know of a case you think we should look into, we want to hear from you. Please fill out this form: or reach out to USA TODAY investigative reporter Gina Barton at

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