June 21 -- A month before the entire nation first learned about Elizabeth Smart, a 7-year-old African-American Milwaukee girl disappeared on her way to school — and her vanishing remains a mystery without much fanfare.
Alexis Patterson has not been seen since May 3, when her stepfather said he walked her across the street — less than a block away — from their home to the corner of her school and dropped her off. Alexis apparently never made it to class. Teachers at Hi-Mount Community School in Milwaukee said they never saw her or her stepfather near or on school grounds that day.
Students told police they saw Alexis in the school playground before and after school but not in class. Alexis's parents reported her missing after she failed to return home from school that afternoon.
Despite the search efforts of investigators and local volunteers, Milwaukee police have been unable to find any meaningful clues and leads in Alexis's disappearance. Her parents have been interviewed extensively, and teachers and family friends and acquaintances have been questioned, but Alexis's whereabouts remain a mystery.
Still, Alexis's case has received little publicity outside Wisconsin. She has been featured on America's Most Wanted, but Alexis's story has not attracted the throng of national coverage or received the daily media updates that the Elizabeth Smart case has had on CNN, FOX News, MSNBC, ABCNEWS.com, and other news organizations. The June 5 disappearance of 14-year-old Elizabeth from her Utah home, apparently at gunpoint as her 9-year-old sister looked on, attracted almost immediate national attention.
Both the disappearances of Elizabeth and Alexis are tragic and illustrate parents' worst nightmare. One child was taken out of her own home while another child vanished less than a block from her residence. Yet, Elizabeth's kidnapping generated national headlines right away while Alexis has largely been overlooked.
"It [the missing case] has to be something other than your all-in-the family type kidnapping," said Robert Thompson, professor of public communications at Syracuse University. "If there is a potential murder involved, something other than a disgruntled parent case, it may stand a chance of being elevated to something other than local level news."