Daughter's absence leaves family bewildered, worried

July 02, 2005|By GREGORY KANE

It was around 2:30 in the afternoon on June 21 when Ebony Jenkins' grandmother dropped her off at the Owings Mills station subway stop.

As the girl prepared to head south to meet friends at Mondawmin Mall, her grandmother admonished her to be careful.

"OK, Nana," Ebony said.

The grandmother hasn't seen 16-year-old Ebony Jenkins since.

Her mother, Karen Juste, hasn't seen her, either. Juste sat in her Owings Mills home yesterday, looking very much like a woman who has had very little sleep for 10 days. But her nerves started to frazzle well before Ebony's curfew June 21.

"I kept calling her cell phone and not getting an answer," said Juste, adding that she left message after message. Yesterday, Day 11 of Ebony's absence, Juste said the girl's cell phone message queue is filled and can't hold any more messages.

Juste contacted police. She and other family members have posted Ebony's picture at several places. On Tuesday, Juste and her husband even hired a private detective to look into the case.

So that is how one Ebony Sophia Marie Jenkins - a rising senior at Owings Mills High School who wants to be a psychiatrist - came to be one of the 48 children listed in the Maryland section of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children's Web site as having vanished within the past year.

Of the 48 listed within the last year, one is an infant boy who was abandoned. Referred to only as "Baby Doe," the child was left on the side of an Eastern Shore road in September.

The remaining 47 are all teens. Thirty-nine are girls and eight are boys. The overwhelming majority are classified as "endangered runaways." Ebony is in that classification, and the term rankles Juste.

"My daughter wouldn't leave here for 10 days with no money, no key, no nothing," Juste said. Her daughter had just received her learner's permit to drive. She was excited about that and her approaching senior year in high school. Juste said the girl had no reason to run away.

But Juste admitted that Ebony did run away for about three days last year. The two had quarreled about Ebony's curfew. Juste said the two hashed out an agreement and Ebony promised to never run away again.

"I do not believe my daughter ran away," Juste said. There was no quarrel this time. When Juste left home for work on June 21, Ebony was still asleep. When she awoke, she donned a turquoise T-shirt with an inscription the girl's grandmother remembered as saying, in part, "if you don't like my attitude." She also wore blue jeans and cut-out shoes. She sported a white purse that could be slung across her back like a knapsack. Her hair was pulled back in a bun.

Ebony's grandmother took her to Owings Mills Mall to apply for summer jobs at an ice cream shop and a clothing store before dropping her off at the subway stop, Juste said.

Officer Shawn Vinson, a spokesman for the Baltimore County Police Department, confirmed Juste's account of events. He said the decision to list a child as an "endangered runaway" as opposed to "missing" depends on several factors.

"An endangered runaway is someone who's under 18 and pretty much left home without the permission of parents [or] guardians," Vinson said. "Missing children are under 14 and have either not ever been reported missing, disappeared suspiciously or may have been abducted."

Vinson added that children classified as missing have no prior history of running away.

"Nothing in this case appears to be any foul play or anything that indicates she's being held against her will," Vinson said of the investigation into Ebony's disappearance. Vinson said detectives are following some leads, but that "nothing can be confirmed as a positive sighting."

Juste believes a positive sighting will be reported.

"Somebody had to see something," she said. "How can a child just disappear?"

Let's all pray that Ebony Jenkins hasn't disappeared and that her absence is nothing more than an episode of girlish tomfoolery. We have to wonder whether teen disappearances aren't primarily a girl thing. With 39 of the 47 missing in Maryland for the last year being female, that seems to be the case.

And every parent who's had - or has - a teen daughter knows that when the girl goes bad, there's usually a knucklehead guy around giving active encouragement. But Juste said that's not the case with Ebony.

She broke up with her boyfriend over two months ago.

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