Losing Hanna, Part II 

Every turn in the case of a teenage runaway gets her more lost in a bureaucratic maze

Page 6 of 7

Earlier this year, more than a year after Hanna was killed, Santa Ana police arrested a suspect in her murder. But in March, the district attorney in Orange County decided there wasn't enough evidence to indict the man, whose name is being withheld while police try to contact additional witnesses.

"Are we trying to bring the case back with more evidence?" Santa Ana Police Sgt. Lorenzo Carillo said in March. "Yes, absolutely."

DFACS, January-July 2005

In a January interview with CL, DFACS spokesman Bryan Toussaint contended that even though Hanna had been in DFACS' custody when she disappeared, once she was gone, she wasn't the agency's responsibility anymore.

"DFACS was acting under the guise that, once we notified the police that she was missing, it's pretty much up to the police department to handle it," says Toussaint, who is no longer with the agency. "Now, should DFACS have maybe made an initial call [to the Center for Missing and Exploited Children]? I personally can't say. But as far as policy is concerned, our position is that ... it's up to law enforcement to handle it. If the family had any kind of inkling she was in California ... they really should have stepped up to the plate and notified law enforcement."

DFACS documents reviewed by CL show that Hanna's family members informed the agency on at least three occasions that they believed Hanna was in California. And nothing in more than 300 pages of documents obtained through the state Open Records Act indicate DFACS told the family that finding Hanna was now their responsibility. According to the documents, neither did DFACS point Hanna's family to Cobb County police, who were investigating her disappearance.

click to enlarge Morse Drive, in Santa Ana, Calif. - MARA SHALHOUP

CL attempted to clarify details of Hanna's case, as well as DFACS' general practices regarding children who are lost while in the agency's custody. But between February and July 2005, repeated phone and e-mail requests for an interview were postponed, denied or ignored by the state Department of Human Resources, the agency that oversees DFACS.

At least one aspect of Hanna's case is clear: When DFACS' runaways dodge the law, there are few safety nets to catch them.

Neither DFACS nor Cobb County police had any legal obligation to send Hanna's information to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. And though Hanna likely would have lived had her fingerprints been submitted to either the center for missing children or the FBI, for privacy reasons, the FBI's fingerprint database rarely accepts prints from runaway juveniles.

The Center for Missing Children can accept children's prints, but it rarely does. The fingerprints the center keeps almost always come from cautious parents who intentionally had their kids' prints taken. It's almost impossible for parents to wrench juvenile fingerprints from police.

There simply is no central database for juvenile fingerprints.

That's what really gets Maxine. Not long after she began piecing together what went wrong with Hanna's case, Maxine started thinking about the need for law enforcement agencies and DFACS to share whatever information they have with each other. Why shouldn't there be a central database for juvenile fingerprints? Why shouldn't DFACS have been required to tell Cobb police everything the agency knew? Why shouldn't Henry County have been obligated to send Hanna's fingerprints to the FBI or the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children?

If even one life could be spared, there should be a database. And Maxine thinks the law that creates that database should be named for Hanna.

Riverdale, Ga., April 2004-June 2005

A few days after Maxine helps Detective Rodriguez identify Hanna's body, she calls Otis. He needs to know what happened.

"They're 99 percent that it's Hanna," she tells him.

"No, it's not," he says.

"Yes, it is."

He takes a pause.

"I gotta go."

Of all the people looking for Hanna, Otis was the last to learn she was gone - and the last to hear from her.

He'd been worried. He knew she'd do anything for attention. He knew that whatever she was looking for, she'd chase it all the way across the country. And he knew she would never find it, at least not the way she was looking.

But he never, ever, expected her to die.

Shortly after he hangs up on Maxine, Otis is scheduled to work a shift as a produce clerk at Publix. He shows up for work, then dips into the break room. He starts crying uncontrollably. His boss sends him home.

He sits in front of the computer, poring over the stories about Hanna's death. He finally lets it all sink in.

The Santa Ana police call. They want Otis to find old phone bills from when Hanna last called him. Police specifically want the number she'd been calling from. Otis asks his dad to find the old records (the phone is in his father's name), but he threw them away.


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