Kansas City community activist-comic book writer Alonzo Washington has been on a bittersweet -- and moderately successful -- mission: to shine the spotlight on "forgotten" missing children and adults.
Washington was one of the first -- and most persistent -- activists to call on the media and law enforcement officials to continue pursuing the case of the decapitated girl once known as "Precious Doe," whose gruesome beheading baffled authorities for more than four years because no one claimed her remains. When police identified Doe as Erica Michelle Green and arrested her mother and stepfather, Michelle and Harrell Johnson, in her death, Washington was gratified that his persistence paid off.
But it was also a time to mourn and reflect.
"It was bittersweet, very bittersweet," Washington said. "I was working so hard to keep on police to keep investigating the case, on the media to keep covering Precious Doe/Erica Green, to the point where people were making fun of me, saying, 'Oh, he's seeking publicity. Oh, he's crazy.' It was gratifying to see the work pay off, but once you finally know who this girl was and what happened to her, it was very sad.
"I just want to continue to work on cases of missing children who were once thought to be Precious Doe because they still need attention," Washington continued. "The work doesn't stop here."
The Precious Doe case opened Washington's eyes to what critics have called unbalanced coverage of missing children and adults in the news.
Washington and others have said that young, white, attractive missing children and adults with families that have the eloquence, wealth and resources to keep their stories in the headlines get more widespread and consistent coverage than minorities.
Missing children and adults like Elizabeth Smart, Danielle van Dam, Laci Peterson and currently Natalee Holloway received more attention than the lesser-known cases such as Tamika Huston, a South Carolina woman who has missing for more than a year, or Diamond and Tionda Bradley, two Chicago girls who have been missing since July 2001 and Jahi Turner, a San Diego boy whose disappearance has been a mystery since 2002.
"How long you cover a story, how much you held it up and for how long depended on whether you met the aesthetic," Washington said. "If you didn't have that aesthetic, you didn't get the coverage."
Last week, Harrell Johnson was indicted by a grand jury for first-degree murder in Erica Green's slaying, opening the door for prosecutors to seek the death penalty. Michelle Johnson faces second-degree murder charges in her daughter's death and is being held on $500,000 bail.
Johnson's uncle has said that he repeatedly contacted and tried to convince law enforcement officials that he knew the identity of Precious Doe and who killed her. He was able to get hair samples from Michelle Johnson, contacted Washington and they both convinced police to test the hair for a DNA match to the slain child. A match led investigations to the break in their case.