Mother charges police are neglecting search for 14-year-old son who came out just months ago
Alelia Newsome had been talking in a calm voice about her child, Edmond Tillman, missing since early August. She did not grow angry when she spoke of the police department that she believes never really searched for her 14-year-old son.
She was not frustrated when she spoke of the phone calls that began after his disappearance. They were from someone who did not hang up, but did not speak. Newsome assumed it was Eddie and so she spoke until the line went dead.
But after 90 minutes of discusing her son’s case in soft, subdued tones, as she took the photos of Eddie out of her purse, she began to cry quietly. When she looked at his school ID, her weeping became uncontrollable.
“I feel like I did something wrong,” Newsome said. “I lost my child.”
She last saw Eddie on August 10 when she dropped him off at a school on Manhattan’s Lower East Side where he was to take a test that would determine if he could advance to the eighth grade.
“I dropped him off in the morning,” Newsome said. “I gave him some money to get some breakfast, I watched him go into school.”
Two months earlier Eddie had come out to her. That had not caused any problems in the Marcy Houses apartment in Bushwick that Eddie shared with his mother and his three sisters.
“I accepted him,” Newsome said. “He told me two months before that he was having feelings for men. I accepted him. I told him I still loved him… There wasn’t no argument or anything before he left.”
Newsome has dealt with a great deal of frustration and pain. The police took a missing person report, but Newsome said she heard nothing from the 79th Precinct that patrols her neighborhood. After seven days the report is sent to the citywide Missing Person Squad in Manhattan.
“I ended up having to go there,” Newsome said of the 79th Precinct. “I sat there crying my heart out, telling my story… All they were doing was waiting for those seven days so they could send it off.”
Newsome said she also had problems with the Missing Person Squad. Detectives there told her, “He’s a runaway. You got to wait until he comes home,” Newsome said. Then she started traveling to the West Village where, she learned, her son would hang out. She found friends of Eddie’s and put them in touch with the police.
“I had to track them down,” Newsome said. “I tracked them down, I called the police.”
She called the squad every day at first, but she has largely given up.
“The detectives are not doing nothing,” Newsome said. “It’s not like it’s an investigation going on to try and find what happened to this child… It feels like they just tell me anything to get me off the phone.”
On October 4, she filed a complaint with the Civilian Complaint Review Board, which oversees charges of police misconduct, alleging that officers in the squad, Sergeant Francesco Pullozzuto and two detectives, Eric Wuss and Miguel Rodriguez, had not done their job. The complaint was referred to the Office of the Chief of Department which declined to comment as did the police department press office.
Rodriguez defended his squad’s performance.
“I’ve been in this unit for about five years,” he said. “Usually each detective works his own cases. This is one of the cases where I would say about 90 percent of the detectives have been involved in.”
The unit handles roughly 8,000 cases per year. Eddie is a runaway who does not want to be found and he does not want to go home, according to Rodriguez.
“We’ve done everything possible, but this kid just doesn’t want to come home,” Rodriguez said. “Her son has been seen in the West Village, but he is consciously choosing to not return home.”
Rodriguez said that it is possible “that he has left the New York City area” and his unit has reached out to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children and to police in San Francisco.
Lieutenant Chris Zimmerman, the commanding officer of the squad, said his officers had subpoenaed Eddie’s phone records and searched in the West Village roughly 10 times. It was possible that Eddie is living with “people he knows, people he associates with,” Zimmerman said.
Clarence Patton, the acting executive director of the New York City Gay and Lesbian Anti-Violence Project, could not say if the police response was sufficient.
“Do they generally reach out to us with missing kids? No,” Patton said. “Do they often reach out to us with LGBT stuff? Yes… We certainly will do whatever we can to try and solicit any information about this young man’s whereabouts.”
None of this is comforting to Newsome. Beginning in June, Eddie had been coming home increasingly late and he started having problems in school. As Newsome began looking for her son, she learned some things that disturbed her. Eddie may have had a boyfriend who was 18 and, until his computer broke down in July, he was talking to men who were older than that online.
“From what I’m hearing he was talking to grown men online,” Newsome said. Eddie sent photos of some of these men to a friend of his who forwarded them to Newsome after her son went missing. Learning these details about her son’s life has only added to her worries.
“It’s very hard,” Newsome said. “I can’t eat, I can’t sleep. I stay here in the living room. I want to hear if he comes to the door…To know that they are not really looking for him, it just hurts me.”