DOTHAN, Ala. (WDHN) — 14-year-old Brandon Layne Smith was missing for nine days; wandering alone in the woods.
A young teen with severe mental illness, including bipolar disorder.
But even in an age of instant social media, Dothan police did not alert the public in any way until eight days after he disappeared.
“The people in a position to help are not concerned or not utilizing that they could to help find him,” the mother of the missing child, Sarah Malone said. “Braedon’s mental illnesses keep him from being able to sustain himself on his own. He’s on four different medications, but he didn’t have any of them with him putting him at much more risk than the average runaway.”
Malone feels she had to do so much of the legwork to look for her son by herself.
She reached out to many organizations, like the FBI, The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, and even other police departments.
Braedon had run away before, but Malone says he always returned within 24 hours.
This time was different.
Several days after Brandon disappeared, she learned Dothan police had picked him up the week before and found directions to Irondale, Alabama in his pocket.
She says the FBI told her they asked Dothan to contact Irondale police, but according to Irondale, Dothan Police never did.
“We had no reason to contact the Irondale Police Department,” Dothan Police Department’s Lieutenant. Scott Owens said. “The juvenile was in NCIC. They have access to NCIC just like every agency in the county with an OIR number. So if they would’ve come across him, they would’ve gotten it.”
Lt. Owens says that Brandon’s mental illnesses were acknowledged during the investigation and played a factor in receiving an alert from Alabama Law Enforcement Agency (ALEA).
“We send them the specific criteria and then they make the determination on whether the runaway is endangered, or whether we should label the runaway as endangered,” Lt. Owens said. “If they say that they don’t meet the criteria, the alert doesn’t go out and all we have is what we have. If they say they do and they did in this case, that’s about all we can do. We operate on ALEA’s timeline.”
The alert from ALEA did not go out until several days after Braedon disappeared.
Malone feels her son’s case could’ve been made public prior to the eight days after her son’s disappearance when the flyer for her son was first posted on the Dothan Police Facebook page.
Malone took matters into her own hands by posting her own flyers, contacting the media, canvassing neighborhoods, and even sending her son’s photo to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.
All in an effort to find her son.
Lt. Owens defends the work by his department.
“I hate that someone feels like their case wasn’t taken seriously,” Lt. Owens said. “Unfortunately, it’s one of about 400 that they get per year. That’s the caseload an investigator up here gets. Without being up here and seeing it every day, it’s unfair to judge how seriously a case was taken without knowing the investigative steps that went into it.”