A family member of missing Charlottesville teenager DaShad "Sage" Smith lambasted the city’s response to his disappearance Monday night, saying that the city’s black, poor and gay communities "are not feeling safe."
Kenneth Jackson, of Rice, asked to address the City Council at Monday’s meeting, saying he was once proud of Charlottesville, his hometown.
"But I can’t brag on Charlottesville when my little 19-year-old cousin is missing," Jackson said, adding that the FBI and state police should be called in to help with the search.
He then turned to address city Police Chief Timothy J. Longo, who was sitting in the chamber.
"Chief, the police department has not done what it’s supposed to do to find our child," Jackson said.
In an interview, Longo said his department has brought in outside resources to help with the search for Smith, but he can't lay out details about everything police are doing due to the fact that a suspect may still be at large.
"This is a top priority for us," Longo said. "It will continue to be a top priority until we find this young man and, by the grace of God, bring him home."
Numerous vigils and search parties have been organized since Smith, who is transgendered, went missing on Nov. 20. The teen was supposed to meet city resident Eric McFadden at the Amtrak station on West Main Street, but McFadden told police Smith never showed up. Police now believe McFadden has left town. He is wanted for further questioning, but is not considered a suspect.
Amy Marshall, the president of LGBT group Charlottesville Pride Community Network, also criticized city councilors for taking the time to show up to the city’s first gay-pride festival earlier this year, but failing to show up to a vigil for Smith that was held in Lee Park last Wednesday. All the councilors showed up the festival organized by the Pride group, Marshall said, but just one showed up at the vigil.
"Supporting LGBT equality in Charlottesville is not just about going to the fun events," Marshall said.
Marshall said she appreciates the efforts of community members and police, but there is still a perception that the media and the city at large have not given the case the attention it deserves.
"People look to past cases of missing persons where the family had resources to hire a PR firm in order to keep the issue constantly out in front of the public eye and they wonder if what it looks like is true: That we live in a city that says it is liberal but still, when it comes down to it, privileges money, race, social status," Marshall said.
She then urged officials to participate in upcoming rallies and vigils against anti-gay sentiment.
Multiple city councilors professed their dedication to the cause of finding Smith, but some said they were out of town and weren’t told that the vigil was taking place.
"I’m sorry that we weren’t there. But we can’t read minds," said Councilor Kristin Szakos, who assured the audience that she was "thinking a lot about DaShad."
Councilor Kathy Galvin thanked the police department for doing everything in its power to find Smith.
"We are all committed to finding DaShad," Galvin said.
Councilor Dave Norris, who held up a missing-person poster featuring Smith at the beginning of the meeting, said he had spoken personally to Smith’s immediate family.
"We really do hope that he comes home soon," Norris said.