Runaway girl found 2 miles from home
A tip leads her mother and a police officer to the St. Petersburg girl, who complained about being found, police say.
By CURTIS KRUEGER
Published April 12, 2006
ST. PETERSBURG - A 14-year-old girl who spent more than a month as a runaway was found this week after her mother received a tip about her whereabouts.
"Oh, I just can't believe it," said Frances Bentley, mother of Latifa B. Brown. "I'm just so happy."
Latifa was featured Monday in the St. Petersburg Times in an article about the large number of missing children who do not qualify for Amber Alerts. That night, Bentley got a call from someone who said Latifa could be found in apartments near 18th Avenue S and 34th Street. It was the best lead she or police had gotten since Latifa disappeared March 4.
Bentley called police after getting the tip. She and Officer Lamont Robinson went to the spot and ultimately found Latifa on some stairs outside an apartment building on 18th Avenue.
Bentley had scoured St. Petersburg neighborhoods and posted fliers bearing her daughter's picture, but she ended up finding her within 2 miles from home, which she also shares with another daughter, who is 17, and a son, 13.
Bentley, 36, a room inspector for a hotel, said she got a chance to hug Latifa Monday night, but the reunion was short-lived. She said her daughter had an outstanding charge for violation of probation in the juvenile system, so she was taken to the Pinellas Juvenile Detention Center. She's not sure how long Latifa will stay.
As a runaway, Latifa was an example of a missing child who did not qualify for an Amber Alert, because she had not been abducted. Amber Alerts are used rarely - only 99 times since they were instituted in Florida in 2000 - and are designed to quickly marshal police and news media resources to save children facing immediate harm.
But even children who are not abducted can face dangers if they run away and roam the streets, scrounge money for food, and beg for places to stay. Bentley still doesn't know what Latifa did during her time on the run.
"I'm just scared because I don't know what she's been exposed to," Bentley said. She also was concerned that Latifa did not have access to medicine for bipolar disorder during the five weeks she was gone.
Horace Nero, a St. Petersburg police investigator who had been searching for Latifa, was happy to learn she had been found. But he was worried, too, after reading reports saying that Latifa declined to tell police exactly where she had been staying, although she said it was more than one location. Reports also said she complained about being found, and said she did not want to go back home.
"That kind of behavior is not uncommon with runaways," Nero said.
Nero said when teenagers have survived away from home as long as a month, they sometimes become emboldened to run away again. "I'm hoping she doesn't do it," Nero said. "But there is that good possibility."
Nero and Bentley think that the newspaper story about Latifa prompted the tip that led to her discovery on Monday. Bentley said she got calls from members of the Nation of Islam who began searching neighborhoods for her Monday night.
St. Petersburg police regularly have 90 missing children at a time, and other departments sometimes have more. Most do not receive that much publicity, police said.
[Last modified April 12, 2006, 01:06:10]
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