Crime

His parents tried to report him missing. KC police said no. He was soon found killed

A memorial marks the open field near 17th Street and White Avenue in Kansas City where the body of 26-year-old Justin Graham, right, was discovered Aug. 7, 2018.
A memorial marks the open field near 17th Street and White Avenue in Kansas City where the body of 26-year-old Justin Graham, right, was discovered Aug. 7, 2018. Graham's photo courtesy his family

Yes, they had checked the local jails.

Vicki and David Greenwood snapped their answer at the officer behind the glass in a Kansas City police station.

Vicki Greenwood’s son, 26-year-old Justin Graham, was missing. She and his stepfather had driven three hours from Branson. Justin’s father, James Graham, came from Mosby — all of them suffocating in the growing fear that something was wrong.

In that moment, they felt the callous chill of a world they think looks past people like their son.

They couldn’t stop the course of events. The police would decline to take a missing person report. Graham’s body would be found a week later, Aug. 7, in a vacant lot at 17th Street and White Avenue, his death listed as a homicide and under investigation.

When the three parents stood in the Shoal Creek police station in the Northland asking for a missing person report, the officer at the front desk obviously had called up Graham’s record. The officer saw what his parents knew well enough — his string of minor crimes, traffic violations, small drug offenses, misdemeanors all.

And if the officer suspected Graham was drifting, finding different friends to stay with to keep his head under a roof at night, she’d be right.

The officer replied that the parents should probably check some more, David Greenwood said, because she insisted “he’s probably in a jail someplace.”

“Our son’s not perfect,” David Greenwood told The Star. “He’s bounced around. But we weren’t there to talk about his record. We were there to find our child.”

The Police Department declined to take a missing person report. Graham’s circumstances did not meet the department’s criteria, spokesman Sgt. Jacob Becchina said. Graham was an adult. There were no specific concerns about mental illness, threat of suicide or a life-threatening medical condition.

To file a missing person report, the policy otherwise requires a “strong indication of foul play being involved in the disappearance.”

“He was known to move around,” Becchina said. “There was no indication of anything abnormal going on.”

With the department’s denial, and stung by the references to jails, Vicki Greenwood left the police station distraught.

“’(Because) he had a record and he was my couch surfer, he didn’t matter,” she wrote The Star. “That doesn’t mean he is not human . . . And what about our homeless people? Do they not matter (because) they don’t have a permanent address?”

Missouri state law sets requirements for local police departments in taking missing person reports. In situations involving adults, the law says a person is considered missing if the person “is missing under circumstances indicating that the person’s safety may be in danger.”

The Kansas City Police Department filled out 401 missing person reports on adults in 2017, Becchina said. Those included many, he said, that weren’t required under the statute but were taken anyway. And many were people with criminal histories and transient lifestyles, he said.

The department could have taken the Greenwoods’ report, he said. It has taken others similar to it. But it was not required. The officers made a decision not to.

The fact that Graham was a homicide victim “was a terrible outcome,” Becchina said. “We feel awful for the family’s loss.”

It had been close to a week since Vicki Greenwood last heard from her son when she tried, first by phone, to make a missing person report.

That was more than enough time for her to believe something was wrong.

Even though he wasn’t staying in a steady place, even in those times he was held briefly in jail, he always called or posted messages to her.

Graham had two young children — a son and a stepdaughter — whom he was struggling to bring back into his life. He and the children’s mother were going through difficulties, David Greenwood said.

Graham was talking about getting away from his wildness, promising his parents he’d take them up on their offer to come live in Branson to help get himself settled — he and maybe his children someday.

This young man who was missing, Greenwood said, was a wanderer who had cried on his mother’s shoulder, missing his children, still in love with their mother.

“He told us, ‘All I want is my family back,’” Graham’s stepfather said. “His heart was bigger than anyone’s you’d ever see.”

As far as his family can tell, the last any of them or Graham’s known friends talked to him was July 25. The Greenwoods had been to Kansas City the previous week and visited him at a friend’s house in Kansas City, North.

Everything seemed fine. He was keeping busy with different odd jobs. He was active as usual online with his provocative, sarcastic, fun-seeking social media posts.

It all cut off July 25, and the aching silence carried over into the car ride July 31 as Vicki and David Greenwood traveled north from Branson.

“It was a lonely ride,” David Greenwood said, “with thoughts on your mind. Where’s your kid? Has something happened to him?”

They tried in vain to talk to police, and they retraced some of the last places where he’d stayed, driving around, getting no answers.

They had returned to Branson when, a few days later, Greenwood said, “we got the call.”

Graham’s was the 76th of at least 86 homicides in Kansas City this year, and the eighth of at least 17 so far in August.

Read Next

Investigators have not released the cause of death, nor has any suspect information been shared. Police are asking anyone with information to call the TIPS Hotline, 816-474-8477.

“I hope whoever did it gets caught,” Graham’s aunt, Christy Graham of Platte City, told The Star. “He didn’t deserve to die like that. He was a good person.”

In the spaces where Graham used to fill social media, small tributes sprinkle in. His mother’s latest post is simple, attached to one of his old selfie videos: “Missing my brat.”

Carrie Mae Blewett was found dead on Aug. 4, at 51st and College in Kansas City, three weeks after family reported her missing to police. An officer failed to take initial missing person’s report because there was nothing to suggest Blewett was in

Related stories from Kansas City Star

  Comments