by: Monica Caison
16-year-old Cami DiGirolamo was last seen on Feb. 4th 2014 in Herriman Utah. After reading all the background on the circumstances of her disappearance, getting all the fact finding together and arriving at her family home in Utah, I had a clear sense that this was a “mistaken” runaway case. I believed after speaking with her family that this really was a case of miscommunication that had grown and gotten out of hand.
Cami had snuck out of her house on that February night for a period of time and then tried to return. Cami had run away before and her family thought she had again, so they involved law enforcement. When Cami tried to return home and discovered the police were involved she was too scared to return, she knew she was in trouble, even though she had not run this time. She was so fearful that she decided living on the streets was a better choice, and she did so for six weeks.
The challenge in this case from the beginning was getting the family to understand that what was most important was finding an avenue for Cami to come home, rather than punishing her for her initial crime of sneaking out. We needed to “find her a way home,” but I knew that walking into her front door was not going to be the best solution to the situation. Finding her long term care and a place that would provide her with tools to grow as a person and how to be more accountable for her life and her actions was the number one goal after finding her and getting our message to her.
In doing my homework on the case, research and my victimology I began to get a true picture of who Cami was and what her growing pains were about. I began to get to the truth of the situation and I knew what kind of kid I was dealing with and what she was thinking. She had made some bad decisions and had set all of this in motion, and after the fact the adults involved played a part in it as well.
After meeting and speaking with the family I began reaching out to friends. Many of these kids had spoken with Cami but did not know where she was. Law enforcement had also spoken with many of the same kids but they would not give them any information.
I finally connected with a young man who had recent contact with her and we spoke in depth. Cami had reached out to him and wanted necessity items such as deodorant and toothpaste. Listening to him recount their conversation, I realized that she would not be able to survive on the streets for long and that she was not as savvy as everyone gave her credit for.
I met this young man at his job, we were able to speak in person and he began to trust me, he would become my messenger, and I knew if the message was right we could find Cami.
The message was simple really, it was about finding her a way home, I needed her to understand that I was not trying to trap her, but wanted to give her the help she needed. Cami needed to hear that we were seeking out alternatives for her, a place to go where she could heal and work things out with her family. Finding her was most important and it was not about “getting her in trouble”, she needed to understand and trust that. Cami needed to know that I was not lying to her, and her family and I needed to be patient with her as this part of the investigation unfolded. My messenger kept reaching out on my behalf and getting the word out.
While I worked at getting the message to her we never stopped searching, and the whole time we searched we worked on the plan for when she was found. Cami was also aware of when I would be leaving Utah, my plane information and more. I knew instinctively that her call to me would come after I left, and sure enough it was while I was in the air. I got back in touch immediately and we arranged through her sister, safe passage home. The plan was in place, which was key, there was a trust in place and now the healing could begin.
There needs to be a greater understanding of why kids run, many times these kids are “lost before they ever become missing.” Law enforcement needs to understand that these kids are not “just runaways”. There needs to be an understanding of who the kid is, a plan needs to be put in place so that once they are found there can be safe passage home and safe passage to a safe place. It is not about finding them and putting them in Juvy. It’s not about finding them and dumping them back from where they ran. Locate them and make sure they are and will be safe.
There needs to be more work done on addressing the issues of runaways. Every runaway does not have to be chased; they will come to you if you build the trust. In most cases, somewhere along the line their trust has been broken with an adult. This was true in Carmi’s case and I needed to live up to my message and what I had told her, because I know what it’s like to be lied to. I needed to get Cami’s family on board as well with all I was doing in the case and what my message would be.
In all runaway cases investigators need to get to the source of the problem and why the kid is running. What happens many times is the longer they are out there the chances are great that they will become a victim of another crime. We need to help fix the kid and help them to deal with their issues and then fix the situation to get them home.
I am hopeful that in Cami’s case the healing process is well under way and that she has been given the tools that she needs to grow and make good choices in her life and to be accountable for all the decisions she makes as well as having the support and understanding of her family.
Monica Caison has dedicated 20 years of her life to the search for missing persons. In 1994, she launched the non-profit CUE Center for Missing Persons, which has since processed more than 9,000 cases across North America.