Over the last two months, eight teenage girls have disappeared from Florence Crittenton Agency, a social services organization located in Knoxville, Tennessee.
To the best of my knowledge, only one has since been located.
The vanishing streak began—again, to the best of my knowledge—when a trio of teenaged clients absconded the facility on September 13, 2018. 16-year-old Reagan Sky Loveday, Monica Ashbey, and Emilee Kanipe were last seen leaving the site at 1531 Dick Lonas Drive on foot.
So little is out there about this disappearance: Ashbey and Kanipe are not listed in NamUs, but both are mentioned in Loveday’s terse, photo-free case summary. I was able to find an archived missing kid alert from the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (that’s since been removed), which states a 16-year-old Emilee Kanipe disappeared from Spring Hill, TN on March 20th of this year—this makes me wonder if the other two have previously been reported missing, but I digress.
I’ve also yet to find any related local news coverage or social media postings from the Knoxville PD, who maintain a very active Facebook presence. In this informational void, I’m unsure if I should rage at the seeming lack of media attention, or if it’s safe to tentatively adopt a “no news is good news” mindset:
If three teenage girls had been missing for two months, surely someone would be raising internet-based hell about it, right?
Maybe they are. Maybe I just haven’t found them yet.
Regardless, it happened again less than one month later, on October 10th: 16-year-old Shyanne Cespedes and 14-year-old Juliana Adams left FCA on foot, disappearing into the night. According to a Facebook post by a person stating to be Adams’s aunt, the facility “made no attempts at finding her other than calling local authorities.” Julie Adams has since been found, according to the Knox County Sheriff. Shyanne Cespedes remains missing.
At this point, the missing girl count totals up to four.
Most recently, 15-year-old Kelly Michelle Bumbalough was last seen leaving the Florence Crittenton Agency in Knoxville on October 21, 2018, in the company of Alina Reed and Melissa L. Gutierrez. Per Bumbalough’s NamUs case file, all three were clients of the East Tennessee social services agency. Curiously, neither Reed nor Gutierrez have NamUs profiles. The circumstances of their disappearance remain murky.
Knoxville’s Florence Crittenton Agency is one of 27 quasi-affiliated organizations providing social services to “young women in crisis” across the United States.
The agency was founded in 1883 by a wealthy New York City chemist/grieving father, Charles N. Crittenton, as a home for “lost and fallen women.” This often meant soon-to-be unwed mothers. Mr. Crittenton cross-country travels, during which he’d donate $500 to any town that agreed to open a home for wayward women, led to the organization’s rapid expansion across the United States. In the mid-twentieth century, it became the kind of place you could
But, with the introduction of birth control, legalization of abortion, and waning stigma of single unwed motherhood, FCA’s mission shifted. Today, the National Crittenton Foundation is based in Portland, Oregon, and operates as an advocacy and support group for marginalized women. It shares the Crittenton name with 27 affiliated but independent social service agencies across the country, to whom girls and young women are typically referred by educational, juvenile justice, and child welfare workers, according to the New York Times.
Writing the words “Nestled on a 26-acre ranch,” reminds me of when a rehab review website (in my opinion) ghosted me midway through an interview for an editorial position. That being said, nestled on a 26-acre ranch, Knoxville’s branch offers treatment in both residential (where you sleep at the treatment center) and outpatient (where you sleep in your own bed after leaving treatment) settings for teens with emotional, familial, or substance use problems. Over half of clients are referred from the juvenile justice system, according to its 2015-2016 annual report, the most recent available on its website.
The Florence Crittenton Agency’s Knoxville campus [Image via: Rehab Reviews]
According to Rehab Reviews, the ranch contains two residential buildings. One 32-bed facility houses the participants in the Crittenton Youth Residential Services program, which serves 13- to 18-year-old girls with moderate to severe emotional, behavioral, or substance abuse issues. The second residential structure contains gender-segregated housing for the roughly 20 teenagers receiving inpatient addiction treatment through the Youth Summit of Recovery program.
I work at an agency that provides similar services to court-involved youth, albeit in a different corner of the US and in an outpatient setting. I’m well aware of the challenges that come from working with this population. Court-involved youth often face a challenging combination of trauma, poverty, mental or behavioral health issues, and the stigma of being labeled a “juvenile offender.” Kids without justice histories often still face a cornucopia of challenging issues—FCA is, after all, a treatment center.
It is my familiarity with this population that keeps me thinking about these disappearances.
I’ve seen some suggest that escape attempts are pretty par for the course with this type of “troubled” client. Okay. Sure. And while we have no reason to believe the missing girls are anything more than missing, that ambivalence, to me, smells an awful lot like the rhetoric that shrugs off people deemed are “less dead,” defined in The Encyclopedia of Murder and Violent Crime as:
The less-dead is a term coined to refer to the majority of serial murder victims, who belong to marginalized groups of society. They lack prestige or power and generally come from lower socioeconomic groups. They are considered less-dead because before their deaths, they virtually “never were,” according to prevailing social attitudes. In other words, they are essentially ignored and devalued by their own communities or members of their neighborhoods and generally not missed when they are gone. Examples are prostitutes, the homeless, vagrants, migrant farm workers, homosexuals, the poor, elderly women, and runaways.
Let’s be clear: I don’t have reason to believe any of the seven fell victim to foul play.
There’s too little information to suggest they’ve fallen victim to foul play. I don’t think they were kidnapped. I don’t think an unidentified serial predator’s picked them off.
I do, however, think any of the seven might find themselves in particularly tricky positions: even—and maybe even especially—runaways can be manipulated or lured (I’m suddenly reminded of how many older men a troubled 13-year-old me actually believed were actually interested in my personality). And I worry that a troubled background and history of running away could dissuade overworked law enforcement agencies and treatment providers from prioritizing a teen who’s gone missing.
My agency’s substance use counselors and social workers must regularly submit court reports on the behalf of their court-mandated clients; is that not how it works in Tennessee? Is it that easy to dismiss a vulnerable teen’s disappearance as a runaway?
I’m also troubled by the agency’s, uh, colorful assortment of Indeed and Glassdoor reviews. As with Rate My Professor and Yelp, I tend to take this stuff with a dump’-truck of salt: people generally don’t go out of their way to review their employer unless they’re either really drinking the Flavor-Aid or deeply disgruntled. There is, however, a disturbing—and all too familiar—trend in employee feedback:
This is not the first time Florence Crittenton’s had a missing client problem.
On May 29, 2008, 14-year-old Stephanie Litton and an unnamed 16-year-old client went missing from the Knoxville campus, according to WVLT. A Crittenton Agency employee reportedly observed the pair running out the door, but apparently told Litton’s father that, because employees aren’t allowed to touch the kids, she didn’t try to stop them. Litton was found on June 4, 2008 at a gas station. The other client’s status (and name, for that matter) is unknown.
On November 9, 2017, 15-year-old Hannah Jagers and Jenna White, both clients, ran away from the facility, believed to be travelling to Johnson City, according to WBIR News. Jagers was located two days later, while White’s ultimate whereabouts remain unclear.
I would love to speak to someone who’s familiar with Florence Crittenton, whether it be an employee, client, or parent. Is this place as bad as the interwebs would suggest? If you know anything about this agency or the missing girls, please drop me a comment below.