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Search For Missing Children Turns Chaotic In Milwaukee

Chuck Quirmbach
Police officers in front of a house on N. 40th St. in Milwaukee Wednesday morning. The house was set on fire Tuesday.

Updated at 4:03 p.m. 

After nearly four weeks of marching to protest violence by police, some Milwaukee activists zeroed in on an immediate problem Tuesday: a search, they say, for missing children. The hunt that stretched through the afternoon unfolded in an emotional and sometimes chaotic scene at N. 40th St. and W. Lloyd St. in Milwaukee.

Frank Nitty’s name has been front and center as a leader of marches crisscrossing the community, protesting violence by police. Tuesday, Nitty and fellow activists were consumed with a search for, they say, nine missing children.

Nitty says he and others had to step in because requests for police to assist in finding the children, who are Black, fell on deaf ears. The group feared some of the children had fallen victim to sex traffickers.

Nitty, who uses Facebook Live to communicate what’s happening in the community, streamed the search. The search took Nitty and a growing group of people from a house on N. 40th St. to Washington Park and back. They stopped at homes where they thought they might find the children.

“They said two little girls were found, we’ll see if that’s true,” he said. “What’s crazy is they said they were at this house, then they said they were at the other house, and when we went to the other house, one of them ran from the other house. So it’s possible they were here and they left here and went to the other house, we don’t know that. I’ve been talking about this for like a year. I know about the runaway houses. I know about the sex trafficking rings. I’ve been talking to the police about it. I try to set up organizations and stuff, but they would not help me do anything about it.”

Tension escalated as police eventually appeared on the scene — even Chief Alfonso Morales was seen there. Some in the crowd talked with officers, while others seemed to provoke them, yelling at or trying to argue with police.

Nitty urged people not to confront the officers — many of whom stood side by side, holding batons and wearing face shields. “They’re only standing here so you yell at them, literally. The kids are still missing; do you understand, the kids are still missing,” he said.

But anger seemed to swell within the crowd as years of pent up frustration with police erupted. Officers stood in lines to separate the crowd from a house where people in the crowd thought the children had been kept and a person suspected of being a child molester lived.

As police moved away from the building, some in the crowd moved in – soon the van and then the house were on fire. The Associated Press reports shots were fired by individuals in the crowd, resulting in three people, two of which are teenagers, being injured.

As the fire department responded, police returned and deployed rubber bullets and what residents suspected was tear gas to break up the crowd. The Milwaukee Police Department says people were throwing bricks and pieces of concrete at officers. The Associated Press reports seven police officers and a firefigher were injured Tuesday.

Credit Courtesy of Milwaukee Police Department
The Milwaukee Police Department says these pieces of concrete were thrown at officers Tuesday.

Tension filled the air for what felt like hours, as dozens of citizens stood in clusters on the sidewalk, while a line of officers held their ground in the street.

Elise Chay observed nearby, saying she believes the growing unrest is justifiable. “I think that there have been a lot of people have been protesting peacefully and trying to finding other symbolic ways to say what they wanted to say, and it didn’t work. They’ve been doing that for years and it wasn’t working,” Chay told WUWM.

Finally Nitty convinced many in the crowd to join him in an impromptu march away from the scene. Tension turned to celebration, with a steady stream of cars joining in, and people stopping at intersections to chant – even dance.

Credit Chuck Quirmbach / WUWM
Protesters gathered in the street around 8:30 p.m. Tuesday at the intersection of N. 35th St., W. Burleigh Ave. and W. Fond du Lac Ave. in Milwaukee.

Jus Lawren joined the group, saying it was his first time marching. “I feel we have more Black on Black issues, Black on Black crime if that’s what you want to call it, than we do white on Black crime. A lot of people don’t want to jump out there and say that for some reason. Even with the protest right now, they are saying, 'F the police.' And, it's like, why? Why not say, 'F the the sex traffickers,' you know? I decided to get out there because I like how the community came together and that’s why I’m out here. I’m out here for Black on Black violence, not all this other stuff,” Lawren told WUWM.

Community organizer Frank Nitty called the day a victory, saying it helped bring attention to the missing kids. Milwaukee police confirmed two children who had been missing, a 13-old-year female and a 15-year-old female, had been located and are with their families.

Police said during interviews the girls denied ever being at the house that was set on fire or knowing anyone who lived there, and there was no evidence human trafficking occurred at the house, reports the Associated Press.

Police Chief Alfonso Morales denounced the unrest as vigilantism and said some people were reacting to information that had not been proven, the Associated Press reports. “We investigate the information that is given to us. We can’t allow an unruly crowd to determine what that investigation is,” he said.

On Wednesday, the Milwaukee Police Department released this statement:

On Monday, June 22, 2020, Milwaukee Police responded to a residence located on the 2100 block of North 40th Street to check for a missing 13 year old female and a missing 15 year old female. The officers searched the residence multiple times; however, the teenagers were not located at the location. On Tuesday, June 23, 2020, at approximately 10:00 am, officers were dispatched to a trouble with subject call at the same location and were notified that individuals attempted to enter the residence to conduct their own missing check. Officers searched the residence again; however, the teenagers were once again not located at the location. An hour later, at approximately 11:00 am, officers responded to a ShotSpotter activation at the same house on the 2100 block of North 40th Street. Upon arrival, officers discovered that shots were exchanged between the residents of the home and the group of individuals who were attempting to enter the residence. While officers were on scene, the crowd continued to grow and individuals began to throw bricks and pieces of concrete at officers, which resulted in two officers being injured. Due to the large crowd and their unruly behavior, the officers who were at the location requested back up. Prior to additional officers arriving at the scene, the crowd surrounded the rear of the residence and set a couch, a vehicle and a residence on fire. Milwaukee Police had to escort members of the Milwaukee Fire Department to the scene in order for them to be able to safely extinguish the fire. As a result of responding to this incident, one member of the Milwaukee Fire Department sustained a non-life threatening injury and was transported to a local hospital. During this incident several shots were fired by individuals in the crowd and three individuals sustained non-life threatening gunshot injuries. The victims of those non-fatal shootings were taken to a local hospital for treatment where they are expected to survive. A total of ten officers sustained injuries. Later in the evening, the crowd returned and reignited the fire to the residence. Officers intervened; however, three officers were injured by individuals who were in the crowd who struck them with bricks. The Milwaukee Police Department can confirm that both missing teenagers have been located and are with their families. At no point did the missing teenagers qualify under the state guidelines for an Amber Alert. MPD interviewed both teenagers who denied going to or being at the residence and denied meeting or knowing anyone who lived at that residence. There is also no evidence to substantiate that human trafficking occurred at that location. The preliminary investigation revealed that no information has been provided to MPD to suggest that the teenagers were at the residence that was set on fire or that any foul play occurred at that location. This remains an active and ongoing investigation. MPD is currently seeking several suspects who are wanted in connection to the arson that occurred at the location as well as the suspects who were involved in the shots fired and shooting incidents. If anyone has any information regarding this incident they are asked to call Milwaukee Police at 414-935-7360 or Milwaukee Crime Stoppers at 414-224-TIPS for a cash reward.

Editor's note: WUWM reporter Chuck Quimbach helped gather audio for this story.

Susan is WUWM's environmental reporter.
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