The family is reunited again, but the mother of a 15-year old transgender teen whose disappearance over the weekend sparked a 3-day search says she is disappointed in the way the Columbus police handled the case.
"I couldn't convince the police that it wasn't a runaway. The initial detective said: 'oh, yeah; that convention where people dress up as cartoons. We have problems with that every year.'"
Lane says didn't police check security footage from the convention until Monday afternoon, and didn't seem interested that Ashley had left her coat, boots and cell phone charger behind in the family's hotel room, despite the snow outside. When the family was finally reunited Tuesday afternoon, Lane says Ashley told her she *had* made arrangements to meet someone at the convention....
"She says she never planned to go home with this individual, but they said, 'Hey, why don't you come back to my place,” kind of lured her out. “We'll go back to my place, we'll watch a couple movies.' She said while she was there, the individual did not have television, but ran everything through an internet player so they didn't get local news. They never let her out of their sight. She told me she was scared and was afraid that if she left she wouldn't know how to get back because if she looked out the window, there was nothing that looked familiar."
Lane says the family has a lot of talking to do in coming days about communications and carrying cell phones, but she doesn't doubt that her daughter was held against her will. She's grateful for the tremendous amount of support she received from the Columbus community, which mobilized a grass-roots and social media campaign to help find her child. But she says she feels police treated Ashley's case with less urgency because of her gender identification.
"The police officer who initially took the report kept saying things like, “Oh, we see this a lot with these kids,” and ya know, “Oh, these things sorts of happen, these kids will run off.” I took it to mean trans kids because the police officer was having a very hard time taking my description of my 15-year-old physically male son, when I said, “No, that body had on ballet shoes and a dress.” Um I-I feel that they were very dismissive because my daughter's trans fluid. I do feel that if a 15-year-old female wearing a maid's costume had been picked up on the street in downtown Columbus, and it was known that she'd been missing, she would have been taken to the hospital by the cops or her parents would have been advised to. Since it's only someone who identifies as female, no one even suggested that we take her to the police to have her assessed. And I don't think that's right."
"I can tell you that at no point do we take into consideration gender, religion, ethnity, anything when it comes to a missing child. A missing child is a missing child."
Columbus Police spokesperson Sergeant Rich Weiner insists the Missing Person Unit handled Ashley's case appropriately. And he says they used a variety of resources to search for Ashley. But he also notes that Ashley's interview with police after she was found on a downtown street Tuesday afternoon painted a much different picture of her disappearance.
"During that interview, Ashley told us that went missing on her own. Uh, she had planned to meet up with somebody prior to coming to the event and that that she knew that police were looking for her and decided that she didn...she wasn't going to call her parents or police to let them know that she was okay. There was some information in the interview that Ashley told investigators. . Um there were a lot of inconsistencies that uh we need to work through. We will look into it and follow up if necessary. And that's what we will be doing to wrap the case up."
Weiner says the investigation is ongoing, and declined to elaborate on whether police are looking into suspects. Police are not charging Ashley with any criminal offense. Weiner says the primary goal in any child's disappearance is to reunite her with her family and that Ashley is now back with her family. But he says the case was frustrating for police, who investigate 45-hundred missing persons cases each year.