You Know Madeleine McCann. These Missing Girls Of Color Are Cold Cases, Too.

Three-year-old Madeleine McCann disappeared on May 3, 2007 from a holiday apartment in Praia da Luz, Portugal. Her story became an international sensation. What had become of the angelic, little, blonde British girl? Had she been murdered by her parents? Abducted and sold into a pedophilia ring?

It’s been 10 year’s and Madeleine’s story still captures headlines. In March 2019, she was the subject of the Australian podcast Maddie, and a Netflix series called The Disappearance of Madeline McCann. So why do we remain captivated by the fate of this specific little girl, especially when so many other children go missing every day? The answer might have something to do with a phenomenon coined “missing white woman syndrome” by journalist Gwen Ifill to refer to the media’s obsession with covering the cases of missing and endangered white women like Natalee Holloway, Elizabeth Smart, and Mollie Tibbetts.

While every missing person deserves attention, not all cases are treated equally in the media. In particular, there seems to be little interest in missing persons of color – even children as young at Madeleine. Zach Sommers, a law and science fellow at Northwestern University School of Law undertook a study to empirically prove the largely anecdotal theory that women of color receive different treatment from the media. He found distinct disparities in race and gender in both how often the media covered missing women of color, and in the intensity of that coverage once it did appear in the news, with the numbers overwhelmingly favoring white women and girls.

“A person’s race plays into the types of assumptions we make,” Sommers told Refinery29. “The labeling of teenagers as runaways tends to be racialized. There is a hierarchy of victims in the media and in society, where we are more willing to label a young white girl as blameless.”

This blamelessness feeds into an old societal trope of “the damsel in distress” creating a cyclical process in which media producers present white victims as more relatable and media consumers find their stories, through repeated exposure, to be more “universal.”

Ahead, we’ve highlighted the cases of three young girls who all disappeared around the same time as Madeleine McCann and whose cases remain unsolved. The big difference? These girls are not white and their cases attracted just a fraction of the media coverage.


In the early morning hours of February 14, 2000 several passing motorists spotted 9-year-old Asha Degree walking along the side of the highway in her hometown of Shelby, NC in heavy wind and rain. When one driver stopped and began to approach the little girl she ran into the woods. Asha was wearing a New Kids 0n the Block T-shirt, a Tweety Bird purse, and a black backpack into which she’d packed a book –  McElligot’s Pool by Dr. Seuss –that she’d recently checked out from the Fallston Elementary School in Cleveland County.

At 6:30 a.m., Asha’s family discovered she was not in her bedroom and immediately reported her disappearance to police. Her family describes her as being a shy child and good student. At the time of her disappearance, she was reading The Whipping Boy by Sid Fleischman, a book about a prince and a commoner who runaway. Asha’s parents believe the book, coupled with her being upset about losing a basketball game, may have influenced her leaving home but law enforcement believes she was likely abducted at some point.

In 2001, her backpack was found buried along the side of the road in Burke County. In 2016, the FBI announced they’d received a tip and were looking for an early 1970s Lincoln Mark IV or Thunderbird they believe Asha may have gotten into around the time of her disappearance.

There is a $45,000 reward for information related to the case. If you know anything about Asha’s disappearance please call 704-484-4822.

Photo: Courtesy of Cleveland County Sheriff’s Office.


When Sofia Juarez went missing on February 4, 2003, the day before her fifth birthday, she triggered Washington’s first-ever Amber alert. Her disappearance remains unsolved.

Sofia’s mother, Maria, last saw her when she gave her a dollar to go to the store five blocks away in Kennewick, WA. When Sofia was not back an hour later, Maria reported her missing. A 10-year-old relative reported seeing the young girl walking down the driveway with a man dressed in a black sweatshirt, black pants, and sneakers. Her grandmother’s boyfriend Jose Lopez Torres, and Kevin Ireland, a neighbor with a record of minor sex offenses have both been considered people of interest in Sofia’s disappearance but neither is a strong suspect.

Some believe that Sofia’s father may have kidnapped her and taken her to Mexico, but despite a search in that country, police have been unable to substantiate the theory. Sofia’s mother died in 2009. Her family has vowed to continue the search. The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children has posted an age progressed photo of what Sofia might look like today.

Photo: Courtesy of National Center for Missing & Exploited Children.


Myra Lewis was two years old when she disappeared from her home in Camden, MS on March 2, 2014.

She was last seen playing outside by her mother, Ericka, who told Myra and her sister to go inside with their father and one-month- old sibling when she left to go shopping. The police began their search, which included a nearby pond, for the little girl within four hours of that last known sighting, using dogs and ATVs. Since that time law enforcement has followed every lead, including speaking to psychics.

The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children features an age-progressed photo of what Myra might look like today. There is a $20,000 reward for information related to her disappearance. Anyone with information should contact the Madison County Sheriff’s Office at 601-859-2345.

Photo: Courtesy of National Center for Missing & Exploited Children.

Like what you see? How about some more R29 goodness, right here?

The Equal Rights Amendment: It's Not Over 'Til It's Over

Exclusive: Bernie Sanders Campaign Announces 10 New Women Hires

New Zealand PM Jacinda Ardern Promises Tougher Gun Laws Within Days Of Shooting