Jul 26th, 2019
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In September 2003 I was a student at Cleveland State University. I had just started an internship with the news radio station in Cleveland WTAM.
The media and the Internet put a lot of pressure on the police to find this missing girl and the question was raised about why an Amber Alert had not been issued.
I learned the business from Levon Putney, now of WCBS New York, about how to cover such a sensitive story.
Shakira’s case happened during my first two weeks of interning at WTAM 1100 in Cleveland.
It was common for us to attend press conferences, interview family members and on more than one occasion we interviewed Commander of the fourth district police, Michael McGrath.
It was a front-row seat to one of Cleveland’s saddest times. It was an eye-opener too for a kid from the suburbs. I realized quickly that there were certain stories you had to approach differently.
Shakira's abduction and disappearance were heavily covered through each step of the investigation. The plain dealer stated at the time the investigators worked under the “harsh spotlight of media attention.”
While Putney and I were hitting the pavement there was a whole other investigation-taking place.
An amber alert is something we have become accustomed to since it was first introduced in 1996. The radio or television is interrupted and a description of the missing child is relayed to the audience.
For one reason or another, there was no such alert when Shakira Johnson went missing. The authorities like to say that the criteria weren’t met in her case and therefore no alert was issued.
However, only two weeks after she went missing another girl on the east side of Cleveland disappeared, and an Amber Alert was issued in her case.
You may say ah…they learned their lesson… but let's not forget Shakira was still missing.
No one knows what would have happened if Shakira would have been treated the same way as Amanda Mulliken-White.
In a city where race has always been an issue, the fact the police issued an Amber Alert for a white girl from Cleveland Heights, only created more divide.