The child who simply `vanished'

Family, police search for clues to find Garnell Moore, who has not been seen in years

February 04, 2007|By Julie Bykowicz | Julie Bykowicz,Sun Reporter

The only current photo of the boy is not even of him. It's an age-progressed digital image of what Garnell Moore might look like now.

Garnell hasn't been seen in at least four years, since he was about 7. In the eyes of the Baltimore police detectives who investigated 298 missing-persons cases last year, he is the one person who has "completely vanished."

Even when relatives knew where he was, Garnell was barely under anyone's care. His parents fell out of his life early. The aunt who became his default guardian never enrolled him in school, and he never came to the attention of any child welfare agency.

Garnell appeared to hardly register on anyone's radar until he didn't register at all. His aunt, Belinda Cash, later told police that in the summer of 2005 she could not care for him anymore and left him on the steps of a social services building in West Baltimore. Some in Garnell's family don't believe that story. Last year, they called police.

What's clear is that the adult world failed Garnell.

"How can we have a society that doesn't know where a kid is for four years?" asks Susan Leviton, who has worked on children's issues for 30 years and runs the University of Maryland Children's Law Clinic.

"To think that a kid could spend all those years with no one knowing he's not going to school - it's just so sad. It's like a kid with no one."

In his youngest years, from when he was born in May 1995 to August 2001, Garnell lived in a two-story red-brick rowhouse with his father's relatives in the 3700 block of Harlem Ave., just south of Gwynns Falls Park on the city's west side.

Latonya Williams never lived with her little brother. They share a mother but have different fathers, and Williams and her two younger sisters were raised by their maternal aunt, Trina Morton.

Young Garnell used to visit Morton's home in Northeast Baltimore. Williams, 26, and Morton, 37, remember him as a playful, hyper little boy who carried around a toy car or figurine. He struggled to pronounce Morton's first name, she says, calling her "Aunt Frina."

Garnell's mother, who is in prison and has a collection of drug-related convictions that dates to the mid-1980s, had almost no contact with the boy. His father was nomadic, police say, using Harlem Avenue as a home base while moving from place to place.

Frequently, Garnell was left in the care of his paternal aunt, Cash, police say.

Now 49 and living in the Essex area, police say, Cash could not be found for this article. She has used several last names in the past decade. Police say they know her as Belinda Cash, adding that she recently divorced, remarried and may now use a different last name.

Cash had no children, but took in Garnell in 2001, when he was about 6 years old - an informal arrangement between family members that was never made legal, police say.

Morton remembers vividly the last time she saw Garnell. She was nine months pregnant in August 2001, and she was picking up two of Garnell's sisters on Harlem Avenue. Garnell, who had turned 6 that May, was playing outside.

Morton says she intended to let Garnell stay at her house the next weekend, but she went into labor. About a week later, Morton says, she spoke to Cash about rescheduling the visit. Morton says Cash told her she was in the process of moving, and it wasn't a convenient time for a visit.

Then, Morton and Williams say, Garnell's paternal relatives began slipping out of reach.

The phone number the women had for Cash was disconnected. The address she had given them, near the Harlem Avenue home she and Garnell had supposedly left, was fictitious, Morton says.

Garnell's father, Harold Moore, and the woman he was dating at the time later told police they saw Cash and Garnell around Easter about four years ago, meaning either 2002 or 2003. Garnell would have been 6 or 7 years old. The family had gathered at a house in the 1000 block of Ellicott Drive, just across Gwynns Falls from the Harlem Avenue house.

Moore rarely had a steady telephone number or mailing address, but he would occasionally visit his two young daughters at Morton's house. Morton says he would tell her that he knew Garnell was with Cash, though he said he had no way of contacting them.

Moore could not be reached for this article.

Cash told police that from 2001 to 2005 she moved between Harlem Avenue and her husband's small public housing development in the 4000 block of Old Frederick Road. The two homes are about a mile apart, less than a five-minute drive through West Baltimore.

Neighbors in the Old Frederick Road development recalled seeing Garnell occasionally just after 2001, and they told police Cash called him her son.

Morton and Williams say that in 2005 Moore gave them the phone number of another of Cash's relatives. That relative said she had not seen Garnell with Cash in years, Morton says.

"It struck me," Morton says. "Where could he be?"

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