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Missing Baby Lisa Irwin vs. Missing Jahessye Shockley: Does Race Make a Difference?

Two media stories have recently surfaced concerning missing little girls: the first surrounds the disappearance of baby Lisa Irwin that has caught the nationwide spotlight; the second concerns five-year-old Jahessye Shockley, which has not had anywhere near as much national publicity.

Both girls are tragically yet to be found, but more and more people are now questioning why each case is receiving such varied degrees of publicity. Some have even gone as far as to question whether race is an issue affecting the investigations?

Baby Lisa Irwin and Jahessye Shockley both went missing within a week of each other in October. That’s where the similarities between the two cases end, though.

Since then, they’ve taken vastly different directions regarding the investigation, search methods, and publicity.

Baby Lisa was reported missing from her home by her father, Jeremy Irwin, Oct. 4 at 4 a.m. Lisa’s mother, Deborah Bradley, was home, and so were her two other children, aged 8 and 5.

After two days, both parents appeared on television begging for the return of their child. By Oct. 7, Matt Lauer interviewed the couple on The Today Show, and national media coverage began.

Jahessye Shockley was reported missing Oct. 11, when her mother, Jerice Hunter, came home from errands to find her daughter gone, while the older siblings played outside.

Shirley Johnson, Jahessye’s grandmother, campaigned and staged rallies at the Phoenix state capitol in an attempt to attract national media attention to the little girl’s disappearance. Ten days later, they finally did.

"It's because of the family and the community that [the case] got out to the national news,” Jahessye’s aunt, Josie Hunter, said.

“It's not because of the Glendale officials, police, or government officials," she said.

The two cases of baby Lisa and Jahessye Shockley have also attracted different reactions from authorities and the surrounding investigations.

Authorities came out in full force to investigate baby Lisa’s alleged kidnapping. Six days after baby Lisa was reported missing, FBI and police staged a “break in” to figure out how an intruder gained access to the Irwin home. Jay Nixon, the governor of Missouri, ordered the 25 National Guardsmen to assist in the search.

Bill Stanton, a private investigator, reported that an anonymous donor had paid for him to work on the case; this donor also offered $100,000 for the return of baby Lisa, or conviction of the kidnapper.

Irwin and Bradley dropped local lawyer Cyndy Short for high-profile New York attorney, Joe Tacopina and Kansas lawyer, John Picerno. How the working-class couple affords the lawyer’s fees is unknown.

The Glendale Police Department of Arizona started their search for Jahessye Shockley with over 100 officers and volunteers searching a three mile-wide radius around the home. Police also followed up about 100 leads.

The department has offered a $10,000 reward for information leading to Jahessye’s discovery; the $5,000 offered by the family and $1,000 by Silent Witness tip line bring the total to $16,000.

Johnson said, “The Glendale Police Department… botched this investigation… I believe it’s because she’s a little black girl,” according to AP.

Another striking difference between investigations comes in the way the parents of the missing children - always possible suspects in missing child cases – have been treated.

Deborah Bradley, baby Lisa’s mother, admitted to drinking between five and 10 glasses of wine - “enough to be drunk,” she told CNN - on the fateful night in question.

Jerice Hunter, mother of Jahessye Shockley, reported her daughter missing Oct. 11. She has not taken a polygraph test, but Oct. 12, Child Protective Services took her children; later, they returned for her newborn infant.

“They should quit holding my babies hostage and trying to get them to say something [about what happened to Jahessye],” said the frustrated mother. “It’s been 13 days.”

The searches for both baby Lisa and Jahessye Shockley continue to this day.

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