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In rare move, D.C. police bump missing woman’s case to major crime unit

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The Washington Post
Keith L. Alexander
November 11, 2023

The last time Elisa Crawford spoke with her daughter Chyna was on Monday, Oct. 23. The two made plans to hang out that upcoming weekend with family. The next day, Chyna was supposed to go shopping with a girlfriend. But when her friend could not reach Chyna via phone, she called her mother.

For days, Crawford called and sent messages to her 25-year-old daughter’s cellphone. No response. She tried to find her daughter with the “Find My iPhone” app. But the phone was turned off and was unable to be located.

Crawford called 911. Police conducted a welfare check of Chyna’s one-bedroom apartment in Southwest Washington, but there were no signs of Crawford’s daughter or anything out of the ordinary.

Crawford and her family filed a missing person’s report with D.C. police. After nearly a week and no sign of Chyna, D.C. police made a rare move, reassigning Chyna’s case from the missing persons unit to the major case victims unit, and putting the investigation in the hands of the department’s most senior homicide detectives. Chyna is one of more than 2,400 who have gone missing this year in the nation’s capital, according to D.C. police statistics. The vast majority of those cases get resolved, but the shift in Chyna’s case reflects the serious concerns authorities have surrounding her disappearance.

“All I have is hope. I am so scared, but if I give up on that hope, I have nothing. And right now, I need to hold on to that so I can keep going,” Elisa Crawford said while wiping tears at her son’s apartment in Silver Spring.

With still no evidence of foul play, detectives are looking at “suspicious circumstances” surrounding Chyna disappearance, said Carlos Heraud, assistant chief of police for the investigative services bureau. Neither she, nor the gray Mercedes-Benz with temporary Virginia tags she was driving at the time, has been located. She was last seen in the 1600 block of Good Hope Road in Southeast Washington. The details of her disappearance, Heraud said without revealing the specifics, led detectives to believe Crawford’s case needed to be handled by investigators who specialize in homicides.

“Our biggest concern is Chyna right now. We have our best detectives from the major case squad on this. We don’t want to delay the efforts at all. But in the best interest of missing persons, as soon as we believe there might be suspicious activity, we want to turn it over to major case folks,” Heraud said. “Our hope is that Chyna is out there and well. But we believe there is information out there and we are not going to leave any stone unturned to find her.”

Crawford’s family and national advocates for missing people celebrated D.C. police’s decision to upgrade the investigation.

Natalie Wilson, co-founder of the national nonprofit Black and Missing Foundation, said D.C. is one of the few jurisdictions in the nation that have spent such time and resources on missing Black females, women or girls. Wilson said police departments, media outlets and residents often assume Black women are missing because they don’t want to be found. Wilson also said there is often an assumption that the disappearance is drug related, resulting in less attention compared with missing White women.

“Some jurisdictions are better than others,” Wilson said. “We applaud D.C. in how they handle missing person cases. But this is not across the board. We need to protect those that are most vulnerable and to ensure that these cases are taken seriously, and the missing persons are treated fairly.”

Wilson established the Hyattsville-based Black and Missing organization in 2008 with Derrica Wilson to work with families of missing people across the country. The organization has also been working with the Crawfords.

“Many times, Black women who are missing aren’t seen as victims because they may live in a neighborhood where economic or racial biases may impede their cases,” she said. “We have come a long way in removing those barriers, but there is still a lot more training and education that is needed in police departments across the country.”

Elisa Crawford and Chyna’s 33-year-old brother, Derrick Crawford, said Chyna has never been involved in drugs and had never been out of contact with her mother. Nicknamed “Chay-Chay,” Chyna lived with her mother until last year when, after finding a job as a community engagement liaison for a D.C. nonprofit organization, she got her own apartment in Southwest Washington. Still, she talked to or texted her mother daily, just to check in “or ask me for money,” Crawford said laughing.

The Crawfords say they were relieved D.C. policed upgraded the case to major crimes. After Chyna’s case was picked up by the missing persons unit, Derrick Crawford said he called the detective assigned to the case multiple times a day to find out if there were any updates or if the detectives had any questions for him or his family. He said he never heard from the detective. He then complained about his family’s treatment by the department on social media.

Three days later, he finally reached someone in the unit who told him that the detective was on leave.

“But how do you assign a case to a detective who is on leave,” Derrick Crawford says. “It made no sense.”

D.C. police spokesman Paris Lewbel said the case detective was on their regular days off, but “other detectives from the Missing Persons Unit worked on this case and conducted a number of investigative steps.”

The Crawfords believe Chyna was kidnapped, though police would only say her disappearance was “suspicious.”

“This city has more surveillance cameras than anywhere in the country,” Derrick Crawford said. “Yet, no one has seen or knows anything. It’s not like a UFO came down and took her away.”

The family has also created a GoFundMe account to raise reward money for individuals who provide information on Chyna’s whereabouts.

When a woman goes missing, detectives often look at the boyfriend or husband as a possible suspect. But Elisa Crawford said Chyna’s boyfriend was an inmate in D.C. jail for an unrelated case long before Chyna went missing. “We know he is not involved,” she said.

Heraud said detectives “don’t have any evidence, one way or another,” of Chyna’s boyfriend’s involvement.

Elisa Crawford said she’s trying to remain “hopeful” that her daughter will be returned to her safe. While her son speaks of his sister in the present tense, Crawford often uses the past tense. Then she’ll shake her head, correcting herself. She said she speaks to the major crime detectives on her daughter’s case daily, one of whom, she said, worked 24 hours straight while chasing leads.

“I’m just trying to keep myself together,” she said. “My daughter has a heart of gold. She was feisty yes, but if you needed her, she was very loyal, is very loyal to her family and friends. We just want her home. With us.”

Photo credit: Michael S. Williamson/The Washington Post

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