Thursday, September 29, 2011
Aliyah Lunsford: Questions and Answers
Today is Day 6 in the search for Aliyah Lunsford, 3 year old, who was reported missing on Saturday, September 24, 2011. Police have released little information regarding the investigation, other than to say that their search parameters have been limited and purposeful.
One local station reported that the Lunsford home has been declared a "crime scene" and that police searched the home, only in earnest on Wednesday, removing many items in evidence collection.
Statement Analysis has been limited since the mother has said very little, and the step father has not spoken to media. What follows is Question and Answer about the case, and what we know thus far.
Q. Is the mother a suspect?
A. Police have not said who is, or isn't a suspect, or "person of interest", other than to say that they have polygraphed and interviewed many, including known sex offenders in the area.
Q. What did the mother's video appearance indicate?
A. Media showed a short video clip of the mother sitting next to Aliyah's grandmother in which the mother said, "we want her to come home." While she said this, she looked away and shook her head 'no'. I am not an expert in body language, but this appeared contradictory.
Q. Has Statement Analysis made a conclusion?
A. No. The sample is too small for a conclusion, but the few statements by the mother and the aunt are concerning. Here is why:
The mother said "we want her home" using the plural, "we", as she sat next to her own mother. This is appropriate when someone speaks for another, but is weak (Dilingham) when we expect someone to speak for himself or herself.
In missing child cases, we sometimes see a mother and father appearing together on camera, with the father often using "we", speaking for both, but in the earliest days of a disappearance, we normally find the mother using the stronger, and more personal, "I", as her focus is solely upon the missing child. The husband may use the plural more often, indicating that he feels a sense of responsibility towards both child and spouse, but a maternal instinct often is so focused that the singular, "I" is more often heard.
In this case, the mother was not speaking for her husband, nor for the child's father. If the grandmother lives in the home and is co-caretaker for the child, the use of "we" is less concerning. If the grandmother does not live in the home, and is not co-raising the child, the use of "we" bothers me.
Q. What do you make of the picture of Aliyah?
A. I don't know what to make of it. Who submitted it to the press? Why would such a picture be submitted? The child appears sad, and there may be a bruise above her left eye. By itself, it may not say much, but when taken with other details, it bothers me.
Q. What other details?
A. Particularly bothersome is the missing teeth. Media reports that the 3 year old is missing her 4 front teeth. Too often I have seen this due to bottle rot, as a result of neglect. Aliyah could have fallen in an accident, but as pieces of the puzzle come together, it may prove to be from neglect. A neglected child, especially by a mother who is overwhelmed (She is 28 years old and shortly will give birth to her 7th child) and puts her child to bed, constantly, with a bottle, often with high sugars, including sodas, which rot out a child's mouth, and can even cause deformation. Her aunt said she is "pretty close" to the family. What does that mean? How does someone describe a 3 year old as "pretty close" since a 3 year old is vulnerable and dependent?
In neglected homes, outsiders will often describe the children as "highly independent" or "old for their age" because the children learn, early in life, to fend for themselves due to neglect, not maturity. Older children are often "parentified"; that is, they act like a parent to a younger child.
The expectations by neglectful parents often shock outsiders (as well as medical professionals and social workers new to their field) as the neglectful mother, for example, expects a child to take care of responsibilities that most parents believe are best carried out by adults, including supervision, hygiene, and dietary. The neglectful mother will go into rage when challenged, rather than remorse; often carrying on the way she herself was raised.
Other details include criminal history of the mother, including a law suit against the state's Dept of Corrections. Locals speak now of rumors of drug abuse, and that the child's father was not informed of his child.
The aunt is reported to live next door, and described the child in past tense language. She appeared to speak of Christmas (a past tense event) but continued and may have spoke of the child in general terms this way. This is an indication that the aunt may believe the child is deceased (or possess knowledge) of it. Have the police indicated to her that Aliyah is likely dead?
Q. Why hasn't the mother and step father spoken publicly?
A. I don't know.
I had expected the mother to make an appeal of some sort, but the lack is concerning.
In the short interview with local media, we do not hear media asking questions and it appears to be heavily edited. This is a shame.
In a missing child case, the more information we can glean from those of the household, the more we learn. Sometimes in a quest to land an interview, politeness gets in the way of investigative journalism. Aliyah is a citizen and deserves, in the least, strong questions asked to those who were the last to be with her.
Q. What do you make of the mother's searching?
A. The time line is unusual.
The child is only 3, and was said to be afraid to go outside alone. I can see a mother running to the houses next door, or across the street, then calling 911. This would take 10 or 15 minutes, not 2 hours. The fact that she drove around until she ran out of gas has an alibi-building feel to it.
As many of you know, the 911 call transcripts would be revelatory. Guilty callers and innocent callers are very different and the analysis of such is not complicated.
Q. Why did the mother's praise of law enforcement bother you?
A. It bothered me because I expected to hear impatience and anxiety, not what sounded to me like resignation. I am not a body language expert, but her body language bothered me. When she said that they were doing all they could, the words felt like they came from someone who knew the outcome already. Others feel she was sincere and they were not alarmed.
She could have come across as resigned due to exhaustion. I leave it to the experts and feel uncomfortable disagreeing with experts.
It is easy to explain away anything.
The mother was out of her mind with anxiety so she searched...the sad picture was something they found to be cute...the teeth fell out naturally...the mother's criminal history has nothing to do with anything....and on and on.
Yet, it is a stretch to ignore all of these things when taken together.
Q. Is Aliyah alive?
A. I don't know. The best indicator would be the mother. If a mother, who has a natural, God given denial, speaks of her missing child in the past tense, the mother is telling us the child is dead. If this is early in the investigation, and police have not told her so, it is an indicator of guilty knowledge. In this case, the mother has not spoken much to the public.
As time goes by, hope decreases for many. For others, Jaycee Dugard will always be the reminder of beating the odds. But in the cases where the odds were beaten, like Elizabeth Smart, we had families who cooperated fully with police and did not lie.
In this case, we don't know if the family is cooperating, as police have been tight lipped. I would be more comfortable if the parents appeared on television and pleaded for Aliyah's safe return.
As in other cases, drugs and children do not mix. We do not know that drugs were involved here, but the criminal history and local rumors point to it.
The mother has not been polygraphed as she is about to give birth to twins. If they are found with drugs in their systems (DAB: Drug Affected Baby), an automatic report to Child and Family Services is generated by the hospital.
Q. How will this end?
A. I don't know. Right now, it does not look good and police need to work from the inside out; that is, to clear the family first, and work the circle's outer rings. This begins with the parents and siblings, and then to family close by, neighbors, and on it goes until it reaches the theory of stranger abduction. There have been no signs of forced entry in the home.
John Walsh advises parents to polygraph and clear themselves immediately in order to speed up the investigation. When parents (or family members) hinder an investigation, like Josh Powell, for example, there is a reason to do so.
When a parent lies while a child is missing, the parent has a reason to lie. This then causes the investigation to be focused upon the liar, and no further, until the truth is known.
With some real concerns, along with suggestions of criminal history and possible substance abuse and neglect, the case of Aliyah Lunsford does not look good, and the focus remains on the family.
The public speculates on what happened, as is a natural response to any mystery at any time. We all wonder what happened and who is responsible. Was it a stranger abduction? Was it a sex offender? Was it the step father?
Q. What scenario are you thinking happened?
A. I don't know what happened. With cases with little sample of statements for analysis, my opinion often changes with each new bit of information released.
At this point, I am thinking that Aliyah may have died and the parents disposed of her body in fear of an investigation. Here is why:
We learned that the 3 year old was reported to be staying overnight at a friends, was sick, had messed herself, and had to be brought home.
3 is young for a sleepover, but children that are brought up in neglectful homes sometimes quickly attach themselves to others and act much older than their age. Who raised Aliyah? Was she raised by her mother, her grandmother, her aunt, or others?
She was reported to be still sleeping at 9 or 9:30 in the morning, which is unusual.
One scenario which police should look into is to learn if the child had become sick, and was given the wrong medicine (dosage, rx, etc) died, and the mother/step father panicked and disposed of the body. This is similar to shaken baby syndrome where a crying baby is shaken, without premeditation, becomes silent, and dies.
The police are searching water close by, which suggests a deliberate hiding of the body.
Was Aliyah given adult medication to make her sleep? The inadvertent death due to such would cause a parent with criminal history to panic, knowing that tests would show drugs in the child's system.
Reports are that there are no signs of a forced entry, and that registered (or known) sex offenders have been interviewed.