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Police: Runaways pursued no less than 'missing persons'

By By Caleb James, Reporter
Published On: Jun 27 2013 12:31:01 AM CDT

Caleb James reports.

Often viewers reach out to our station with good questions.  

There's one in particular that gets asked a lot.

Do police consider reports of runaway kids different from missing persons?

Reporter Caleb James wanted to answer that question Wednesday night.

On Tuesday night on N. Higbee in Idaho Falls, a 16-year-old runaway girl from California was found at the home of a 23-year-old man after a domestic disturbance call. That man is now in jail on sexual battery of a minor charges.

Considering the case, our stations asked: Do police pursue cases involving known runaways as agressively as they pursue missing persons reports?

To answer that question, we talked to a woman who was once a runaway herself:

"I wanted to go home the whole entire time," said 24-year-old Sami Williams, in her Idaho Falls living room.
 
No matter how much time goes by, Williams says it feels like yesterday she ran away from her parents home near Jackson, WY.

"I was 14," she said. "When I ran away I was hurt, and I was scared. I quickly found out I didn't know much."

After a fight with her mom and dad, Williams left her parents' home and ran to Salt Lake City, Utah.

It wasn't long before Williams realized she was in over her head.

"I got in with some drug dealers who I found out later on were involved in sex trafficking," she said. "They actually got to runaway girls. That's how they'd build their business."
 
Soon Williams was running from the world she hoped would comfort her after that fight with her parents.

"My parents did report me missing," she said.

And all along her parents were searching, and so were police.

"We take it very seriously," said Idaho Falls Police patrolman John Cowley.

IFPD Cowley said it bothers him when folks say police don't care about finding runaways.

"That's absolutely false," said Cowley.
 
Cowley said the only difference between a missing person and a runaway is a signature from parents, saying the child ran away purposefully. They are no less of a priority.

"The police found me before anything was able to happen," said Williams.

Williams said she may be proof of police dedication to finding runaways. Thanks to her name in a national database, Salt Lake City Police picked her up 5 days after she left.

Williams is a mom herself now -- and watching her son Daniel grow up is a reminder.

"Now that I'm a parent I kind of understand what I put (my parents) through," she said.

Officer Cowley said when a runaway is located, they are interviewed extensively to determine if a real danger may exist in the home.
 
If it is determined home isn't a safe place, child protective services is called to investigate.

It's estimated by outreach groups that 1 in 5 teenagers run away from home at some point.

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