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Runaway children: Manatee not spared national problem

MANATEE -- The last time Tawanda Fakoyode of Heritage Harbour saw her 16-year-old daughter was Feb. 17.

“It’s been hard because I haven’t heard anything from her and I am not sure she is alive,” Fakoyode said Monday, the 19th day since Chelsea Jackson disappeared after school at Braden River High. “Friends of hers said she has talked to other friends on Facebook, but I don’t know for sure. All I know is that if she is living with a friend, it’s someone I don’t even know.”

As of Monday, Chelsea and six other Manatee County youth were among 3,500 to 4,000 cases of missing or runaway children being investigated by the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, said Robert Lowery, executive director at the center.

The list of Manatee County youth include Ingred Fayad, Gennie Nix, Samantha Houghton, Johnyece Cummings, Travis Fuller, Samantha Caudill and Chelsea Jackson, Lowry said.

There are doubtless other missing local children who have not been reported to the center.

The center has found 369 children from Manatee County since 1997, Lowry added.

Every case is unique

Every day, 2,000 children are reported missing nationally, Lowry said.

Some of the children on the center’s list are what the center terms, “social service runaways,” children who are in the child welfare system of a state and are discontent. Some are taken by their non-custodial parents.

But the bulk have run away from home and all of these children are termed “endangered.”

Lowry said the reasons why a child runs away are many.

“They are not always running away, they are sometimes running from,” Lowry said. “It could be neglect or abuse or, it could be some sort of activity or a relationship. But the longer they are out there, the more risk they are under.

“A child has to sustain themselves on the street and people will take advantage of that fact.”

Ingred Fayad, 2, was reported missing in September 2010 and is considered a family abduction, Lowry said.

Gennie Nix, 15, has been missing since Jan. 19, 2011, and is considered an endangered runaway.

Samantha Houghton, 16, missing since Jan. 30 and Samantha Caudill, 17, missing since March 4, are both listed as social service runaways.

Johnyece Cummings, 18, missing since Feb. 6, Travis Fuller, 13, missing since Feb. 21 and Chelsea Jackson are all listed as endangered runaways.

The center has permission only from the families of Samantha Houghton, Gennie Nix and Chelsea Jackson to release their photos, which is why only three pictures accompany this story.

Chelsea has run away before, but just overnight, said Fakoyode, a 38-year-old nurse at Manatee Memorial Hospital.

“This is the fourth time she has run away in the last five years,” Fakoyode said. “It’s never been this long. When she gets upset she will run, but she will come back home.”

Chelsea is on medication for attention deficit disorder.

“She’s a beautiful girl,” Fakoyode said. “This is a parent’s worst nightmare. I want to know she is not being held captive or has been abducted.”

Fakoyode’s 8-year-old, Ayonna Jackson, is constantly asking for her sister, Fakoyode said.

“I am not a bad parent,” Fakoyode said. “I try to have consequences when they do something wrong. I am not an abusive parent. She lives in a nice community. She can earn money to get whatever she wants. I don’t understand why she ran.”

Richard Dymond, Herald reporter, can be reached at 748-0411, ext. 6686