This morning, we saw reports in print and on television noting cops' fervent search for missing 12-year-old Mireya Zapata
. Disturbingly, the Tenderloin pre-teen had reportedly refused to text her mother
their agreed-upon code indicating she was all right. Instead she sent along the messages "Don't look for me no more," and "Just don't."
Police ominously noted that Zapata did not have a history of running away
. And yet, with 30 seconds of searching on the Internet, SF Weekly
discovered that, yes, she did have a history of running away. Two years ago, she took off for more than 24 hours. Just like the present case, this sparked a frantic police search and a bevy of media outlets putting out the hue and call. It inspired several articles in the San Francisco Chronicle
alone, including a lengthy writeup of her tearful, voluntary return to her parents' apartment
. Police now describe Zapata -- who, by the way, is believed to be in the East Bay, safe with friends -- as a "voluntary and habitual runaway
Do the cops do a rudimentary Google search before raising the alarm in a case like this? No. No they do not.
SFPD spokesman Officer Boaz Mariles said that a police inspector would conduct a more thorough investigation -- which, likely, includes punching the name of the missing person into an Internet search engine. Yet the information disseminated to the media yesterday was assembled by police on the scene.
These cops, Marilies said, were told by Zapata's family that the girl was not a habitual runaway and this was unusual behavior. So that was what went out on the wire. It wasn't until police inspectors "got a hold of members of the family outside of the immediate circle" that the SFPD realized that Zapata apparently is a habitual runaway and this is
Police do not have Internet access in their squad cars, Marilies said. No one with Internet access punched in Zapata's name prior to the missing child report hitting the Web.
On the other hand, however, perhaps it's for the best that time constraints not be placed on the police when dealing with a missing child the family claims isn't a persistent runaway. Perhaps this is an exceptional case. Perhaps.
Zapata, finally, "is a 12-year-old dealing with 12-year-old issues," said Mariles.
Hopefully everything works out all right. And hopefully he won't be forced to utter similar lines in years 13, 14, 15, and beyond.