Although African Americans make up just 13 percent of the U.S. population, we account for 33 percent of the missing in the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s database. Cases involving African Americans also tend to receive less media coverage than missing Whites, with missing men of color getting even less attention.
NewsOne has partnered with the Black and Missing Foundation to focus on the crisis of missing African Americans.
To be a part of the solution, NewsOne will profile missing persons and provide tips about how to keep your loved ones safe and what to do if someone goes missing.
Case Type: Endangered
DOB: January 1, 1979
Missing Date: Aug. 6, 2012
Age Now: 36
Missing City: Detroit
Missing State: Michigan
Hair Color: Black
Hair Length: Medium
Eye Color: Brown
Wear Glasses or Contacts: No
Donna Wells-Davis couldn’t tell you how many times she’s traveled from her home in Florida to Detroit to search for her daughter Tamala Wells.
The 53-year-old who owns her own cleaning service remembers that there were at least seven trips she made after Wells went missing in 2012. The next year there were at least six trips. When the third anniversary of her daughter’s disappearance came this week, Wells-Davis had already made five trips so far this year.
“I’ve been there so many times that I stopped counting,” Wells-Davis told NewsOne in an interview. “Until the Lord tells me ‘Tamala is dead or Tamala is alive,’ I will keep going. I have to keep that hope, that glimpse of faith. I have to believe.”
Three years later, the circumstances of Wells’ disappearance still remain murky. According to Wells’ long-time boyfriend and the father of her daughter, Rickey Tennant, she left her house on the night of Aug. 6, 2012 and said she was going to be with friends.
The car that the mother of two was driving was found a few days afterward with some of her clothes inside. No one has seen or heard from Wells since.
None of that sits right with Wells-Davis. She says her then 6-year-old granddaughter is the one who called at 6:30 a.m. on the morning of Aug. 7 to say that her mother had not come home, not a responsible adult.
And Wells-Davis spoke with her daughter the day she went missing. Wells wouldn’t give her mother the full details but something seemed to be amiss in her personal life. Wells-Davis described her daughter’s state as “fragile” and out of the ordinary.
“Something is wrong. This girl would never leave her family, never leave her daughter and not be at her son’s high school graduation or her grandmother’s funeral,” said Wells-Davis.
Wells-Davis said she wasn’t able to get her daughter’s boyfriend on the phone for six days after she went missing.
“He really didn’t say much. It was strange that he didn’t seem to have much to be alarmed about. You would think there would be more urgency if the mother of your child went missing,” said Wells-Davis.
Wells’ boyfriend has not been arrested or charged with any crime in connection to the case.
He could not be reached for comment. But in a 2012 interview explaining why he watched a vigil for Wells from a distance, he said he felt he was being wrongly viewed as a suspect.
“I would never do something like this to Tamala. I don’t know where Tamala is,” Wells’ boyfriend told Local 4.
Wells-Davis says that it’s been difficult trying to keep interest in finding her daughter high. She says Detroit Police have not been as helpful as she would have hoped.
“The town has failed so many people,” said Wells-Davis whose family has lived in Detroit for three generations.
“When you have this high a rate of crime it’s going to be hard to expect police to help you. There are so many vacant houses and buildings and the grass is so tall and there are no streetlights, anything could have happened.”
Wells-Davis said police told her that because her daughter is an adult she could have gone anywhere.
“They said: ‘Tamala is grown. She can go where she wants to go. This is their theory,” said Wells-Davis. “But that’s not a mother’s theory.”
Detroit Police told NewsOne in a statement that Wells’ case “is an open and on-going investigation” and that they are in contact with the family.
“We are asking the public for tips,” said a spokesman for the department.
Derrica Wilson, a co-founder and president of the Black and Missing Foundation, said it’s not uncommon for African-Americans with missing loved ones to find themselves dealing with law enforcement that they find to be less than helpful.
“When families are not receiving satisfactory service from the investigating law enforcement agencies, we encourage them to involve their local elected officials and demand change,” said Wilson.
“Social media has also proven to be vital, so families should continue to saturate social media platforms with information about their missing loved one. Someone knows something,” added Wilson.
That’s the attitude that Wells-Davis has taken.
She has worked with other groups to set up rallies and vigils. She lobbied CrimeStoppers to put up a billboard with her missing daughter’s picture.
“The first year and a half I was consumed by this. I couldn’t eat, I couldn’t sleep. All I did was cry and call and walk the streets of Detroit. I went in vacant houses and dumpsters and visited the morgue numerous times,” said Wells-Davis.
“We still have not had an answer or a clue in three years. That’s a long time but I am a a real mother. I’m not going to give up on searching for my baby,” said Wells-Davis.
Now Wells-Davis is trying to win custody of her now 9-year-old granddaughter. She wants to move her out of Detroit, to Florida, to give her a better environment.
And this mom who refuses to quit has a message for any potential witnesses: “Please have some type of compassion and some type of dignity to help. Let someone know what you saw or heard. Just come forward and tell someone. It’s not snitching, it’s freeing yourself. If it was your mother or your sister or a friend you would want someone to help her,” said Wells-Davis.
The determined mom also has a message for her daughter.
“If Tamala is out there just know your mother loves you with all she got. Your family loves you and we will never give up until we find you,” said Wells-Davis.
Anyone with information regarding the disappearance of Tamala Wells may contact the Detroit Police Department at (313)-596-5640, Crimestoppers at 1 (800)-SPEAK-UP or the Black and Missing Foundation’s confidential Tip Line.