Elizabeth Ennen Murder (Part 3): Runaway status impedes family’s efforts
LUBBOCK, Texas — Recently Lubbock, Texas mom Virginia Ennen was thrust into a situation no mother is prepared for – on Jan. 5 her 15-year-old daughter Elizabeth Ennen went missing and was, in her family’s eyes, misclassified a runaway – a classification they say severely impeded their efforts in seeking help to find her. Read: Elizabeth Ennen murder: Her story begins to unfold.
Quick links to “Elizabeth Ennen Murder” series (as they are written):
Part 1: Her story begins to unfold
Part 2: The night Elizabeth vanished
Part 3: Runaway status impedes family’s efforts
— Lack of media support in ‘runaway’ teen cases
— Runaway, abducted? Factors show likely abducted
— Importance of police actions when child goes missing
Part 4: The missing link
Elizabeth’s family learned quickly that so long as Elizabeth was classified a “runaway” they would get little local or national media attention, little help from police, and that outside missing person’s agencies would not be able to help other than to post her missing person’s flier on their websites.
Virginia didn’t wait hours or days to report Elizabeth missing – she called within minutes of learning her daughter was gone.
She knew it was out of character for Elizabeth to take off. She told the officer Elizabeth was scared of the dark and that she knew she wouldn’t run away. She didn’t have her medication with her, she didn’t have her purse, cell phone, or any other personal belongings. All of her Christmas presents were still in her bedroom. She was excited that she and mom were going shopping in the morning for a new pair of shoes.
The last words Virginia said to Elizabeth were “I love you” and the last words Elizabeth said to her mom were “I love you, too.”
Virginia said that until Jan. 20 no one would listen or understand. “It took 15 days for anyone to listen and 16 days for anyone to do anything to help our family,” she said. Read: The missing link.
While to some that doesn’t sound like a lot of time, it’s an eternity for the child, parents, and family. Those who understand the sensitive nature of missing children understand how critical the first moments, hours, and days are when a child goes missing.
Over two weeks went by and no one knew where Elizabeth was. She never told anyone she was planning to run away, and there was nothing, her mother said, that would lead her to believe Elizabeth would have left of her own free will.
Virginia says she remembers telling one of the detectives, “I only wish Elizabeth had run away.” She said it would have been better than the alternative – that Elizabeth had been abducted and possibly killed.
Virginia said she always knew in her heart that Elizabeth had not run away, and repeatedly told this to police, yet they refused to change her classification to “missing.”
It all begins with the initial call to police. How the officer classifies the missing teen will make all the difference in the world on how her case is handled. Had Elizabeth been classified missing her family would have had many options available to them.
Instead the officer chose to classify Elizabeth a “runaway” even though, her mother says, she told him she did not believe Elizabeth ran away. It didn’t stop there. Throughout the next 16 days Virginia and her family reached out for help begging police to change her classification because they saw how it was impeding their search efforts.
Elizabeth’s aunt, Lily Huckabee, said that in Elizabeth’s case the “runaway” status served as a barrier between getting help and not getting help.
It is the hope of this writer that those most intimately involved in “runaway” cases – police, media, parents, missing persons’ organizations – as well as the general public – will review Elizabeth’s case and determine what can be gleaned from it.
What went wrong? What went right? What can be done, Elizabeth’s family asks, to bring about change? Since a criminal is considered innocent until proven guilty, why can’t teens be considered missing until proven runaways, they ask? They make a good point.
This article is part three of a seven-part behind-the-scenes view of one family’s frustration and anguish when their loved one went missing and was, in their eyes, misclassified a runaway, and a police department’s frustration when they felt lied to, manipulated, and misled by the man who they now suspect kidnapped and killed Elizabeth.
For links to all parts of the article as they are written go to: Elizabeth Ennen Murder: Her story begins to unfold.
I called Lubbock Police Friday to find out what policy is in place when a child goes missing, and to find out if officers are provided a list of sorts that they can refer to when making a determination whether the child is a runway or whether the child could have been abducted. Read: Importance of police actions when child goes missing.
Abducted vs. runaway
The article, Runaway or Abduction? Assement tool for the first responder, states there are two things that must be considered when a child under the age of 18 goes missing:
(1) Motivation; and (2) Capability.
Was the child motivated to leave, and did the child have the capability to leave? Were those two things present in Elizabeth’s case? Was she motivated to leave home? Did she have the capability to leave?
The authors of Runaway or Abduction? presented factors to consider in making the determination whether the missing child is likely a runaway or was likely abducted. Many factors were present in Elizabeth’s case that indicate she was likely abducted. Read: Elizabeth Ennen murder: Runaway, abducted? Factors show she was likely abducted.
What about outside missing person’s agencies, media, search-and-rescue organizations, etc.? Should they look at their current policy? They were unable to assist Elizabeth’s family, they say, because Elizabeth was classified a runaway.
Capt. Stevens questions if these agencies and organizations should reevaluate their policies and reassess whether they should continue to look only to police when it comes to determining if the child was likely abducted or a runaway. He said agencies ask “How did police classify it?”
Stevens said he worries that everyone looks to police when they could be wrong. He said, “We never say we’re absolutely right.”
If agencies feel they must continue looking to police for the classification into whether a child was possibly abducted or is a runaway, then what can be done to assist police in making the proper classification the first time around?
Some of these kids that are misclassified as runaways end up dead, as evidenced in Elizabeth’s case.
Stevens also said that if everybody had a constant process of evaluating, then in reality each entity could help the other. He also said it could end up working in reverse because in some cases parents don’t even notify police when their kids return home. “It’s one of their biggest problems,” Stevens said.
It is important for parents to remember to do their part and to assist police to the best of their abilities. If, as Stevens says, a child returns home, or a parent determines where the child is, notify police and let them know so they can take them out of the national database.
Elizabeth’s certainly isn’t the only case where this has happened. This is a national problem, not just a Texas problem. As such, perhaps changes need to be made at the federal level.
In the meantime, everyone involved should perhaps take a look at what typically goes wrong in these cases and take them more seriously when they hear a parent and family crying out, “She wouldn’t run away, it’s not like him to leave and not call someone. She wouldn’t leave without her purse or cell phone. She wouldn’t leave without her meds.”
Mom felt unheard
Elizabeth went to babysit for family friends the evening of Jan. 4, Humberto Salinas, Jr. and his common-law wife Carmen Manzanares. Salinas, Jr. picked Elizabeth up from her home around 6:30 p.m. and took her to the Carriage House Inn & Suites where the couple was living with their two young children and Salinas, Jr.’s teen daughter.
According to Salinas, Jr. he drove Elizabeth home around 1:30 in the morning.
Virginia said that at around 1:45 a.m. the morning of Jan. 5 there was a knock at the door. Her 17-year-old son answered and Salinas, Jr. handed him Elizabeth’s purse saying she’d forgotten it in his car.
Virginia overhead the conversation and panicked, asking where Elizabeth was. Salinas, Jr. told her he’d just dropped her off about 15 minutes earlier and watched her open the screen.
Virginia and her family were in the living room watching TV at the time and said they never heard the screen door open or shut. Virginia rushed to the motel to see for herself that Elizabeth wasn’t there, that this wasn’t some kind of a joke, Huckabee said. Salinas, Jr. followed behind.
When she saw that Elizabeth was not at the motel she rushed home. Salinas, Jr., once again following behind her.
Virginia immediately called police to report Elizabeth missing. They stood out on her porch while the officer took the report because her younger son had fallen asleep on the couch and she didn’t want to disturb him. The officer never asked to come inside. Once the initial interview was over Virginia went back into the house.
During the interview Virginia says she told the officer that Elizabeth had babysat for Salinas, Jr. that night at the Carriage House, and that Salinas, Jr. confirmed she had babysat there.
Virginia said Salinas, Jr. told the officer Elizabeth and his son, Humberto Salinas, III were boyfriend/girlfriend. Virginia said she told the officer that Elizabeth and Salinas, III liked each other but said they never dated.
Capt. Stevens said during a Feb. 1 telephone interview that detectives were provided information about Salinas, III. Stevens said they followed Salinas, III around, staked out the places he hangs out, where he lives, and they got nothing. He said they “followed a dead lead.”
Virginia believes that it was when she went back inside and Salinas, Jr. remained outside with the officer that Salinas, Jr. told the officer Elizabeth might have run away with his son.
If police had listened to Virginia and her family, if they had truly assessed the situation and taken all factors into account, they believe the investigation would have gone in a different direction and they would not have been following a dead lead. Read: Importance of police actions when child goes missing.
Instead, they would have followed the person who was last known to be with Elizabeth, they say, and the last place she was known to be. Then, they would have gotten their answers.
Instead they followed a lead provided to them by a man with a long history of violent crimes. A man, Stevens said, who “Threw his own son under the bus.”
It appears that once police deduced Salinas, III was not involved the investigation was basically dropped and picked up again on Jan. 21. Read: The missing link.
Did police follow up on information as it became known?
Ricky Wallace, Elizabeth’s cousin and a reserve police officer in a neighboring town, said during a phone call last Monday that he called Lubbock Police twice during the first 16 days Elizabeth was missing trying to get Elizabeth’s classification changed to “missing” and to check up on the status of the case.
When Wallace heard back from police he asked why the “runaway” classification hadn’t been changed, especially given Virginia’s insistence that her daughter had not run away and the fact they had no evidence pointing to Elizabeth running away. No one had come forward saying Elizabeth had threatened to run away, no one had heard from Elizabeth, and everything pointed to an abduction, not a runaway case.
Wallace said he was told by police that the only way they could change the classification was if they received leads in the case that indicated she was not a runaway.
Elizabeth’s family and members of the public have shared their frustration about how they believe the investigation into Elizabeth’s disappearance was mishandled. They believe that police did virtually nothing to help find Elizabeth for the first 16 days of her disappearance, but then turned things around during the last 72 hours.
But Capt. Stevens said in an email Tuesday that in his eyes, the “whole investigation was fine, not just the ending. Detectives worked steadily on the case according to the amount of information available at each stage; as information became known, it was followed up on.”
What information did police receive?
Did they act upon the information when it became known to them?
According to Elizabeth’s family, their biggest frustrations came from the fact that they felt police didn’t listen to them, and that police didn’t act on information the family provided to them:
- Elizabeth was babysitting at the Carriage House – police didn’t think to check surveillance video there until they received an anonymous tip on day 16
- The last person known to be with Elizabeth was Salinas, Jr. – he wasn’t interviewed until 16 days after Elizabeth vanished
- Her family said it repeatedly over 16 days – Elizabeth would not run away
- They wanted her classification changed to missing
- Elizabeth was not dating Salinas, III, and they didn’t believe she’d leave with him
- They didn’t believe Elizabeth would leave at night due to her fear of the dark
- No one came forward saying Elizabeth told them she planned to run away
- Elizabeth left no note saying she planned to leave
- Elizabeth’s Christmas gifts remained in her bedroom
- She was without her medication
- Elizabeth didn’t have her coat, purse, cell phone, or other personal belongings
- She had plans and was excited to go shopping with her mom the following day
Capt. Stevens pointed out in a Feb. 1 phone call, when an eight-year-old goes missing police don’t wait for leads in the case to classify the child missing. “There’s no holds barred,” he said
When a 28-year-old mother of two goes missing police don’t wait for leads in the case to classify the mom missing. They don’t automatically jump to the conclusion she ran away. They operate on the assumption the person is missing until and unless they determine otherwise. Not the other way around.
So why was it so different in Elizabeth’s case and in other teen cases when they disappear?
It is known that a missing teen is often a runaway. But it doesn’t mean police should get lax or treat their cases any differently, at least not initially and until they determine for certain the child has run away. Read: Importance of police actions when child goes missing.
Even then, each case should be reviewed to ensure the runaway child has not placed themselves in danger. Teenagers are not adults and as such do not have the benefit of much life experience. Instead, many are daring, are not street-smart, and can easily be swayed to do something they know they really shouldn’t do.
Last person, last place
Two things should happen immediately when a child goes missing. Police should interview the last person or persons known to have been with the child and investigate the last place where the child was known to be before he or she went missing.
That is what has infuriated people in this case. Neither of those things happened until 16 days after Elizabeth vanished.
Police claim they weren’t told about the Carriage House motel the night Elizabeth vanished. Yet Capt. Stevens said during a Jan. 26 press conference that police learned “early on” in the case about the Carriage House.
Virginia, her son, and a family friend who were all present during the time the officer took the initial report, said Virginia told the officer that night that Elizabeth was babysitting at the Carriage House.
Salinas, Jr. admitted to the officer that he was the last person to have been with Elizabeth that night.
Click here to read how the “runaway” classification further impeded Elizabeth’s family’s efforts, and how one local news writer says she’s hoping people will view these cases differently in the future.
Runaway status impedes family’s efforts
The “runaway” status delayed any large-scale ground search efforts for Elizabeth, and the case was not taken seriously by most. No Amber Alert was issued, no reward was offered, outside missing persons’ agencies could not help so long as Elizabeth was classified a runaway, Texas Eccu-Search were unable to search for Elizabeth because, according to Elizabeth’s aunt, Lily Huckabee, the Lubbock Police would not accept their offer to help, saying “we have our own horses,” and no Crimestoppers was involved.
Actually, a reward was offered, a Carriage House Inn & Suites manager said during a Feb. 5 phone conversation. He said he offered a $1,000 reward when officers came to the motel but they declined his offer and Elizabeth’s body was found later that day.
Elizabeth’s family says they don’t blame police for Elizabeth’s murder. They do, however, believe that: by not taking Elizabeth’s case more seriously; by not listening to a family’s cries for help; they allowed Elizabeth’s suspected kidnapper and murderer time to destroy or alter evidence; time to move Elizabeth’s body, or to dispose of her body in a manner in which she could never be found.
Kelly Garrett, the Utah woman who brought Elizabeth’s case to my attention, said Saturday that Salinas, Jr. had 16 days when he could have potentially harmed another child or fled the country. “It’s just lucky,” Garrett said, “that the Carriage House Motel surveillance was still available.” READ: The missing link.
“It was horrible that Salinas, Jr. had 16 days to interact with the victim’s family, causing addition long-term grief,” Garrett said.
“The perpetrator was on the streets 16 days longer than he had to be,” Huckabee said. “Because police and media did little to nothing to help our family find Elizabeth, and because they wouldn’t listen to Virginia when she told them Elizabeth didn’t run away, the perpetrator also had 16 days to clean his car and destroy evidence.”
Police say it would have made no difference in regard to Elizabeth’s life because, as Lubbock Police Capt. Greg Stevens said, Elizabeth died within the first 28 minutes after she was abducted. He told me during a lengthy phone conversation Feb. 1 that he’d stake his reputation on that.
The final medical examiner’s report won’t be available for another couple of weeks, Stevens said. So, perhaps it would have made no difference for Elizabeth, but perhaps it would have made all the difference in the world. Her family says for them, it would have made a difference for all of the reasons stated above.
And what about in future cases where a child goes missing and they are wrongly classified a runaway?
“What if they are still alive in 2, 3, 4 or 17 days?” Garrett asks, “Could it make a difference then?”
We know Elizabeth vanished Jan. 5 when she didn’t return after a babysitting job at the Carriage House Motel just three miles from her home.
Ongoing investigation – Tips still welcome
The family asks everyone to keep in mind that this is an ongoing investigation.
Elizabeth was kidnapped in the early morning hours of Jan. 5, around midnight. Her body was not found until Mon., Jan. 24.
Anyone with information, no matter how insignificant it may seem, about Elizabeth’s disappearance, or anyone who believes they saw Elizabeth between the time she disappeared Jan. 5 around midnight, and the time her body was found Jan. 24, are also asked to contact Lubbock Police at 806-775-2811 or 806-775-2865. They can also dial 911.
Click here for the Elizabeth Ennen benefit.
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Sources: FBI Law Bulletin, Stephanie Berzinski, Lubbock Avalanche-Journal