Monica Sharp, 17, of Richmond, Va., has been missing since Sept. 18, the day she was last seen in the area with a 57-year-old that police believe she met over the Internet, says the Richmond Times-Dispatch. The Web is a place “where adolescents are making their social connections,” says Bela Sood, professor of psychiatry and pediatrics at Virginia Commonwealth University Health Systems. Richmond Police Chief Rodney Monroe says that race played no role in how police handled the missing-person cases of Sharp, who is black, and dead college student Tayor Marie Behl, who is white. Police treated Behl’s case as a probable homicide; Sharp’s was considered a possible runaway. That, and not race, influenced police decisions, Monroe said.
While the Sharp case is not a criminal one now, the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children says that one in five kids online is sexually solicited. The center’s Robert O’Brien says that of 800,000 missing-children cases each year in the U.S., said the Internet has played a role in a “significant” number of them. As in Sharp’s case, when the Internet is involved in a missing-person case, police usually concentrate on the child’s computer and messages that have been sent and received.