Although African Americans make up just 13 percent of the U.S. population, we account for 37 percent of the missing in the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s database under the age of 18 and 26 percent above the age of 18. Cases involving African Americans also tend to receive less media coverage than missing Whites, with missing men of color getting even less attention.
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Latania Janelle Carwell
Case Type: Endangered
Date of Birth: April 17, 2001
Missing Date: Apr 17, 2017
Age Now: 16
Missing City: Augusta
Missing State: Georgia
Case Number: 2017-00153988
Hair Color: Black
Hair Length: Shoulder Length
Eye Color: Brown
Wear Glasses or Contacts: No
The Richmond County Sheriff’s Office has issued a warrant for Leon Lamar Tripp, 38, on charges of kidnapping in the disappearance of his stepdaughter, Latania Janelle Carwell, Sgt. Tim Owen, of the violent crimes division, tells NewsOne
Latania and Tripp were last seen in the 3100 block of Tate Road in August, Georgia, in a 1990 GMC Sierra pickup truck with Georgia license plate number PYT6004. She and Tripp left the family home at about 1:30 a.m. on April 17, police say.
When Latania’s mother, Tanya Tripp, was alerted by another child that Latania and Tripp had left the house together, she immediately called him to find out what happened, relatives tell NewsOne. He reportedly told Tanya he received a call from a friend in need of help with a broken down vehicle. Relatives say he then claimed to have asked Latania to accompany him to help read the GPS on a smart phone to locate the friend whose identity has not been released by police.
“[The individual’s] car wasn’t broke[n] down and [t]he story he told [the teen’s] mother about the location is not true,” Owen tells NewsOne. “Since that point in time [Tripp has not been in] contact with [family] or friends.”
Since April 17, Tripp has been spotted in Atlanta, but tipsters reportedly did not see Latania, prompting law enforcement to issue the kidnapping warrant, police say. Further, Tripp’s GMC truck was discovered just blocks away from the family’s home with the keys inside the vehicle, according to police.
“It’s just one more strange thing in this whole case,” Owen says.
Latania’s uncle, Charles Carwell, 33, a warehouse inventory clerk, tells NewsOne he suspected foul play as soon as his niece went missing, but his sister is in denial about the kidnapping allegation against her husband.
“My niece is the victim,” Carwell tells NewsOne. “This girl has no resources and no money. [Latania] didn’t catch a taxi or an Uber or drive herself off. [It’s not in her character to] run off. Even if [Tripp’s] weird story were true, [he should not have] put her in jeopardy by bringing her out the house that early in the morning.”
Latania, who turned 16 just 90 minutes before she went missing, has not been active on her social media accounts. That has sparked concern among law enforcement officers.
“It’s unusual that she went missing just as she turned 16 and that she’s not talking about that with her friends,” said Owen.
Owen said there have been no previous allegations of impropriety against Tripp toward Latania and that he has no history of kidnapping.
Carwell says he’s disappointed that police did not act sooner to obtain the kidnapping warrant and that no Amber alert has been issued for his niece.
“What was the two week delay? I don’t see what’s different now,” Carwell laments. “My sister has this picture where she wants her family back and she doesn’t see it.”
Owen said that Latania’s case does not meet the criteria for a Levi’s Call, Georgia’s version of an Amber Alert, because they do not have the description of Tripp’s vehicle. A description of the vehicle would allow authorities to allow prospective tipsters to be on the lookout for the car.
Tanya Tripp did not immediately respond to a request for comment from NewsOne. But in an interview with WRDW 12, she says she does not believe her husband did not do anything wrong.
“I don’t believe that. I know in my heart it’s not that at all,” she tells the television station.
Carwell is holding out hope for the best.
“I feel in my heart and soul that she is alive,” he says.
Tripp is described as being 5 feet 11 inches tall and weighing about 202 pounds. He has black hair and brown eyes. Tripp also has tattoos between his eyes, on his neck and on both arms.
Anyone with information regarding the whereabouts of Latania Janelle Carwell and Leon Lamar Tripp is being asked to contact the Richmond County Sheriff’s Office at (706) 821-1020 or (706) 821-1080. You may also contact the Black and Missing Foundation’s confidential Tip Line.
Jeffery C. Mays is a contributing writer for NewsOne, specializing in politics and news about missing persons in conjunction with the Black and Missing Foundation. Jeff is the former New York City politics reporter for DNAinfo New York and also a former reporter for the Star-Ledger in New Jersey. His work has also appeared in The New York Times, The Root, and Wired magazine. Jeff is the recipient of reporting awards from the New York Press Club, the Center for Community and Ethnic Media and the National Association of Black Journalists. Follow him on Twitter at @JeffCMays.