Family continues search for Alonzo Williams
First, it was Thanksgiving. Then it was Christmas and New Year’s.
Alonzo L. Williams’ family marked the time he’d been missing by hours, then days. Now, they measure the duration by holidays.
Williams, 20, of Rochester, walked away from his 19th Ward home early in the morning of Nov. 22 and became a missing person in Rochester.
On any given day, Rochester police have between 50 and 75 open missing persons cases. That includes anyone who has been reported missing, regardless of age or the circumstances under which they disappeared.
“That could be runaways, people who are gone for a couple hours then come home, anything,” said Rochester police Sgt. Norma Marchetti-Smith, a supervisor in the Major Crimes Unit.
Williams’ family has continued its efforts to bring Williams home safely and they want to let other families of people who have gone missing know that they are not alone. His face is on not only posters but also water bottles and candy bars in the city.
“We have learned a lot through this,” said Williams’ aunt, Nicole Coleman. “There are families out there that just don’t know what to do or where to turn.”
Williams’ family is hosting a “Missing Persons Awareness Day” at Wilson Foundation Academy today to bring attention to Williams’ disappearance and inform people about their options if they find themselves in a similar situation.
“Missing persons in our community is a problem,” Coleman said. “We need to support the families that are missing loved ones. We need to let the community know that this could happen to you. But if it does happen, do you know what to do? Do you know what agencies and organizations are out there to help you? Do you know how far they can go to help you?”
Marchetti-Smith said the department investigated 1,188 missing persons cases in 2011, which was down slightly from 2010.
The investigation into Williams’ disappearance has involved several officers and included contacting his friends, interviewing family, checking phone records, credit cards and other financial accounts for activity. Investigators checked to see if he applied for state or county benefits. So far, there has been no activity. There have been calls to 911 reporting sightings, but none have been confirmed and the case remains open.
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“We try to think of it as — if it was your family member, wouldn’t you want the same resources put toward it?” Marchetti-Smith said. “Whether he was mentally unstable or not, it’s an RPD issue. We will hit dead ends; we’ve sort of hit a dead end here. But we’ll continue to follow up on anything that comes in.”
The RPD’s general orders are that missing people under the age of 18 take priority, particularly if they are abducted or go missing under nefarious circumstances. Older than 18, police try to determine if the missing person could be a harm to themselves or if they could easily be harmed by someone else in a weakened emotional state.
Missing persons cases — particularly concerning adults — are difficult because “there is a tremendous gray area,” Marchetti-Smith said.
“You have to look at each individual case. Is someone missing because they are depressed, do they want to get away from something? Or is it something else? We need to find that out,” she said.
Williams’ parents, three sisters and extended family are having regular meetings to explore their options.
Williams — a 2009 Franklin High School graduate and student at Monroe Community College — had been depressed in the weeks leading up to his disappearance, but it was not like him to leave without telling his mother, Carla Wims, where he would be, Coleman said.
“He was not happy with school and work, but we can’t say that’s the reason why he left. There was nothing that stood out that could explain this. He loved his mom. They have a bond that is out of this world. He had friends that he hung out with, but he always came back to his mom because he didn’t want her to worry,” she said.
The family has sought the advice of families who have dealt with similar situations, such as the families of Brittanee Drexel and Brian Sullivan.
Drexel was 17 when she was last seen leaving a Myrtle Beach, S.C., hotel in April 2009. There have been dozens of searches in Georgetown, Horry and Charleston counties since she disappeared.
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Sullivan was 19 when he was last seen July 8, 2007, at the Burger King restaurant on Chili Avenue in Gates. He was wearing blue jean shorts, a blue pinstriped button-down shirt and a green baseball cap. His 1995 red Pontiac Sunfire was found nearby, at the end of Lettington Avenue, off Hinchey Road.
Both families are planning to attend today’s event, along with police, City Council members, and representatives of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, Coleman said.
Williams’ family said they feel it is their responsibility to not only search for Alonzo, but to help other families.
“If a family doesn’t know how far they can go, they won’t go there. They need information,” Coleman said.
“We are hopeful that he is out there somewhere, alive and well and he’ll be home soon. We have not entertained the thought of anything negative happening to him. We want to make it clear that if he is out there and afraid to come home that he knows it’s OK to come home. We want him home.”