WATCHING the nightly newscast followed by the missing children’s bulletin was a routine for 51-year-old mother Michelle Cole until 2013 when it became a lifeline she clung to as she anxiously prayed that someone would recognise the face of her 15-year-old son Anthony Johnson who was now in that line-up.
Johnson, who left home on Cox Street in Port Maria, St Mary, on a Monday morning in July 2013, hours after a blaze that destroyed his sister’s dwelling, has not been seen or heard from, leaving his family with multiple unanswered questions and a mother who has been ailing since.
He is among the 3,745 children the Child Protection and Family Service Agency (CPFSA) has flagged as “still missing” of the total 22,716 reported missing from 2009 to June this year.
Of the children said to be “still missing” 2,948 are female and 797 male.
For the parents or guardians of 84 children who had been among the missing, however, the door of hope has closed as they have been confirmed dead. In 2013, the year Johnson went missing, 2,206 children were reported missing, of that number 1,725 returned home a total 467 remain listed as “still missing” while 14 have been confirmed dead.
Speaking with the Jamaica Observer in a recent interview, Cole, who is yet to receive any news about her son since he exited the gate of the home claiming he was going to meet someone and would be back soon, believes something dreadful is preventing him from keeping that promise even while she clings to hope.
“Back then I always watch the news and after the news I would watch the missing children broadcast, I never thought I would once be looking at my son on the television. I never dreamed of that,” Cole said.
The mother of seven, who vividly remembers the last day she saw her son, says she has developed several medical conditions over the nine years she has been waiting to hear her gate open and hear the familiar sound of his voice saying, “Mother”.
“Since my son went missing I took sick, from that day until now, I am not able to work, I have developed a lot of sickness since that time; it’s heart-rending. I’m not happy at all, my life hasn’t been the same since my son went missing, I cannot work, I used to, but my business went down and I still can’t go back up in my business or anything at all. My life is very shaken up,” she said.
Cole said on the day he went missing “he was acting suspicious”.
“Like he was bummy [agitated] at the time. I know that he wanted to go somewhere but he didn’t tell us [where]. But I can remember he was in the bathroom bathing and his phone rang and my little daughter answered and she asked, ‘Who is that?’ and the person said, ‘We people do not give out such information,’ ” she recalled.
According to Cole, aside from a prank caller — who for a month offered her false hope that he knew the whereabouts of her child — the efforts to find Johnson on the part of the Port Maria Police have been anaemic.
“I think if the police did go more on the case I think they would find my son at the time. I don’t think I got the kind of help I was looking for. I sent out a lot of pictures, but nobody saw him,” she said, adding that with the passage of each day a deep sense of foreboding overshadows her but, with nothing concrete, she remains in limbo.
“I know he is not okay. He is not that type of person. He is not okay. Something went wrong, something went wrong, he wouldn’t be out there for so long, he is not that type of person,” she told the Observer.
“I am still without closure. I’m longing to see him, his family also wants to see him as well. It is very heartbreaking,” Cole said.
His 60-year-old father, Claudius Johnson, who was the last member of the family to see his son that day, feels the youngest of his six children is amongst the most doleful statistics held by the CPFSA.
“All the call mi call the number nah ring. Go station and report it, put him on the searching sumptn [Ananda Alert], him deh pon it a long time, no response. Mi jus’ feel seh is some bad company him reach inna and dem use him,” the elder Johnson stated.
“Mi feel seh him dead, Miss, him have all a him sister dem and him modda numba, everybody numba him nuh can mek a phone call and say mi deh here so? Is one a di the biggest surprise in life fi know seh him missing for so long,” he said.
He is theorising that his son’s disappearance is tied to a friend with whom he would go out from time to time.
“He is not a person who know whole heap a places, so mi a seh only place mi know him go is him did have a friend weh always go meet boat a Ocho Rios when dem come in a week time, so di guy always call him, but when him get fi him phone call nobody don’t know,” he said.
“Yuh try to bring the kids certain way and yuh bring dem and yuh would see dem with a friend and yuh say don’t talk to dat friend deh and dem rush yuh, sometime is just on bad company get dem out, dem nah hear.
“Mi grow my kids dem outta farming, is about three years now mi come a town, and the six a dem pass right through; everybody a work, this disappointing,” he lamented.
According to the CPFSA, between January 2009 and June this year a 18,887 children who had been reported missing have returned home. Specifically for January to June this year a total 506 children were reported missing, of which 320 returned home. A total 186 children, however, remain missing, with none confirmed dead.