Family and friends of Yasmin Acree, who went missing from Austin in January 2008, gathered Thursday to remember the girl on what would have been her 20th birthday and announce the reward for helping find her has been increased to $10,000.
Pastor Cy Fields, head of New Landmark Missionary Baptist Church, announced the reward at Acree’s vigil, held at Greater St. John Bible Church, 1256 N. Waller Ave.
Since Acree went missing, family and friends have commemorated her birthday by passing out fliers and holding rallies urging police to make more inquiries about her case. But this year, loved ones took another route.
“Today is pretty much a statement of desperation,” said the Rev. Ira J. Acree, Yasmin’s cousin and pastor at Greater St. John. “We really wanted to invoke divine intervention because for many of us, there’s no closure.”
About 20 family and friends gathered in a semi-circle with candles around the front of the church, singing religious songs and praying for Acree’s safe return.
There have been different breaks in the case, including the discovery of a diary that revealed a man who lived near the girl and was later charged in the rape of five women and attempted murder might have been interested in Acree.
But Thursday night, Chicago Police said there have been no recent developments with the case.
Some relatives and a state legislative candidate said the case did not initially gain as much attention as it should have because Acree is African-American.
“Sometimes in (African-American) communities, we have less resources and see less response compared to other communities,” said Illinois Sen.-elect Patricia Watkins.
Rev. Acree said he thinks the police were initially inclined to say Acree was not kidnapped but ran away from home because of her race.
A complaint was made by the family against area police for an improper investigation of Starnes’ home, including waiting two days after Acree was reported missing to recover a broken padlock from the house, said Rev. Acree. The complaint was sustained.
Starnes said police still call her once a week to tell her about any updates. She said people have reported seeing Acree in Texas, Canada, Wisconsin, Indiana, Missouri and other states, but camera evidence in those places have proven all claims as false.
Acree was featured in a documentary called “Find Our Missing” in January, which may have gained national attention for the case and may explain the phone calls to Chicago police from various states.
Starnes said she was only angry with the “blue uniform” police officers for not properly responding to the initial missing persons report. She added that she is happy with detectives and does not want to hold a grudge against the Chicago Police Department—she just wants to know where her daughter is.
“Today, I got a lot of encouragement,” Starnes said. “I was feeling down and at a loss of hope.”
Rev. Acree said the vigil was also important to show his cousin that she is not forgotten, wherever she is.
“What if she’s being held hostage somewhere and finds out we’re not doing anything for her on her birthday?” said Rev. Acree. “This is just something we have to do.”
Click here to see a timeline of Yasmin’s case on our sister site chicagotalks.org