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Family believes race may have hindered missing person investigation

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Authorities may have been slow to investigate Travis Lynch’s disappearance because he was a young black man, according to family members still grappling with their loss 16 years later.

“The disappearances of young black men aren’t treated as seriously as other cases,” said Travis’ uncle, Joe Lynch.

Travis, who was 21 when last seen, didn’t come home after being out with his girlfriend Carlisha Whitley on Christmas Eve 2003.

“When he didn’t come home that night, suspicions arose,” said Joe Lynch, a retired trooper with the N.C. Highway Patrol.

Joe Lynch also points out that when his family went to Whitley’s home on Claude Lewis Road in Middlesex looking for Travis, the Whitleys denied them access to the home’s interior.

The Lynch family has accepted that Travis is dead, likely killed the same night he disappeared.

Nash County sheriff’s Maj. Miste Strickland knew Travis prior to his disappearance. She served as a school resource officer at Southern Nash Junior High when Travis attended the school as a ninth grader. Strickland and Joe Lynch both describe Travis as a quiet, reserved person.

Strickland said Travis’ age and the timing of his disappearance may have impeded any very early investigation, but she doesn’t believe race was ever a factor.

“We treat all cases the same,” Strickland said, adding that with it being a holiday and Travis being a young adult, it may have been an original case of wait and see.

By the Numbers

Statistics seem to back up Joe Lynch’s claims about race and missing person cases. While 22% of North Carolinians are black, the demographic accounts for at least 30% of the state’s official long-term missing person cases, according to a comparison of the most recent available data accumulated by the U.S. Census Bureau and the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System.

Travis’ disappearance is just one of more than 100 cases in North Carolina of black men who have vanished with no resolution on the horizon.

Daniel Moses disappeared June 16, 2011, from his Northampton County home, which burned down the same day. Authorities believe the fire is most likely the result of Moses leaving suddenly with the stove still lit. Moses’ car and motorcycle were parked in his driveway and his credit cards haven’t been used since he vanished, according to authorities.

It now takes pressure from the family to keep authorities interested in the case, said Daniel Moses’ sister Sheila P. Moses, a Shaw University graduate, award-winning author and wife of a Hollywood movie star.

Speaking at a 2016 rally for missing people in Northampton and Halifax counties, she said that if two white men were missing, the FBI would have swooped in and taken over the cases.

“Two black men go missing in 18 months within 20 miles of each other and the FBI doesn’t consider it a federal case,” Moses said. “They don’t look for black folks, and I’m outraged at the way they have looked for my brother. Where is my dear brother? Who will speak for the other people that are missing?”

Missing from that area are Shawn Alston and Jamal Briggs, who both disappeared in the fall of 2012.

Alston, 39, of Garysburg near the Virginia state line, was last seen leaving a friend’s house.

Briggs, 14, of Roanoke Rapids, was last seen walking to school.

Other Cases

Suffering from dementia, William Hoover Moore III, 30, shed all his clothes and walked nude into the woods near his Jones County home on Dec. 11, 2013. No sign of him has ever been found.

Fourteen years ago this week, Army veteran Clarence Earl Jenkins left on foot from an assisted living facility in Tarboro. No indication of what happened has ever surfaced.

Carl Butler Jr., 56, vanished from his house on Marlee Drive in Rocky Mount on Feb. 1, 2005. His lifesaving medication was left behind.

With Hurricane Irene pummeling the North Carolina coast in October 1999, Marvin Earl Smaw left his Beaufort County home to never be seen again.

Suffering from Alzheimer’s disease, Astor Southerland, 70,wandered away from his Duplin County home on Oct. 30, 1990. His fate remains unknown, but he was never found.

Also in Duplin County about a year earlier on Aug. 9, 1989, Navy veteran Ellis Faison, 64, walked away from home barefoot in the middle of the night. He has never been seen again.

Anyone with information about any of these cases can contact the N.C. State Bureau of Investigation at 800-334-3000.

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