OLYMPIA, Washington (Isabelle Zehnder reporting) -- Fifteen-year-old Madeline “Maddy” Price Harris, missing since May 7 from Olympia, Washington, is classified an “Endangered Runaway” on the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children website.
However, Greg Elwin, Detective Division Lieutenant for the Thurston County Sheriff’s Office said during a phone conversation Friday afternoon that Maddie is classified with their department as “just a runaway – well not just a runaway," he said, "but a runaway.”
According to her family Maddy was struggling before she left. Her step-mother said she cut off large amounts of her own hair and left her personal belongings behind. She left a note with her intentions to leave.
There is concern she could have met someone online or in her daily travels that saw she was in a weakened emotional state over the upcoming events in her life – her parents were divorced, her father had recently remarried, her mother was planning to marry in a few weeks with talk of moving Maddy to California.
All events, her step-mother said, that would likely make a girl her age feel unsettled and confused, and that could have led her to look for comfort outside her own circle of friends and family – those she can trust.
Maddy – a beautiful young 15-year-old girl – is out there, somewhere, and her family doesn’t know who she’s with, where she’s gone, how she’s eating since she had no money, where she’s sleeping, or what someone else might have promised her.
There is no telling who may have assisted in her disappearance. She likely could not have pulled this off on her own, her step-mother said.
Maddy may have made the initial decision to walk out the door, but the question is – what happened once she left? Who might have been in contact with her prior to her disappearance? Did she meet some unsavory guy online who lured her to join him somewhere, promising her the world? No one knows which is what’s so disturbing to her family.
There’s always the chance a concerned person who believes they’re doing Maddy a favor is assisting in her disappearance, but there’s just as much of a chance she’s now being held against her will by a person with deviant intentions.
Maddy’s family is making another plea for people in her local community, across the U.S., and around the world to help find her. “Maddy is not a statistic, she’s our daughter,” her step-mother Kelly Harris said.
Later during Friday’s call Lt. Elwin was asked if Maddy is classified by his department as an “Endangered Runaway,” since that's how she's been classified by the NCMEC. Lt. Elwin said, “No, she’s classified just a runaway at this point. There would have to be risk factors involved for us to change the classification, and we’d need facts to back that up.”
This doesn’t bode well for families whose children, too, were classified as “just runaways” when their classification should have been “missing” or “endangered missing” all along.
Thirteen-year-old Ashley Kingsbury’s parents weren’t taken seriously when they begged police to issue an Amber Alert when she went missing in March.
Ashley’s father, Albert, said, “We were told by authorities that Ashley’s abductor was not considered to be dangerous but they were dead wrong. Please tell Maddy’s family to fight and not give up, for had I simply took everything that the authorities were saying to me and my wife as law, I don’t think Ashley would be home, happy and safe.”
When 15-year-old Elizabeth Ennen vanished last January her mother and family begged police to change her classification from “runaway” to “missing” saying they knew she’d never run away. They realized that as long as the classification remained “runaway” they could not get assistance from police, missing persons’ agencies, or search and rescue teams. Sadly, it was too late for Elizabeth by the time someone finally listened. Read more on Elizabeth and Ashley’s stories below.
Maddy has been missing for 24 days. She is only 15. Like Elizabeth and Ashley she did not take her cell phone, she didn’t take her purse. Her step-mother Kelly Harris said in an email late Wednesday night that Maddy had been a student at Capital High School as a sophomore. She had met new friends and numerous adversaries, she said.
“She left on the eve of Mother’s Day,” Kelly said, “frustrated and destructive to herself. She cut off large amounts of her hair. Left her cell phone and just about all of her belongings with no known money.”
Leaving all of their personal items behind was a huge red flag to Ashley’s and Elizabeth’s families, to others who are familiar with missing persons’ cases, and to me.
I mentioned this to Lt. Elwin who said, “That’s why we have detectives on her case. We don’t usually do that in runaway cases but we have in her case because of that red flag. We have two detectives out today shagging some leads.”
Kelly said there were a lot of things going on in Maddy’s life. Her parents had divorced and major changes were taking place at the time Maddy went missing. Her father and Kelly had married in September and her mother is getting married in a few weeks. There was talk of moving to California in the next few weeks.
“As often goes with teenagers,” Kelly said, “when their parents start a new life, the kids feel a loss of control and search for their own role in life. I think Maddy was struggling to figure out her future.”
“She cut herself off from her boyfriend, best friend, numerous family members, and close siblings with a good-bye letter. There are indications that she may have had help from someone outside of her circle of friends and family.”