A young girl with bright red hair seems to leap off the computer screen of a message from the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.
Cierra Rundall was 14 when she went missing from Denison a year ago. She still has not been found. An alert from NCMEC said she may have attempted to go to Tulsa, Oklahoma, or might still be in this area.
As shocking as it may be that a 14-year-old child could be missing from her home for a whole year, it is not an uncommon happening with foster children. A report put out by the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services shows Rundall is just one of 1,707 Texas children in the foster care system who ran away in 2017. Like Rundall, 198 of them were just 14 years old.
Denison Police Lt. Mike Eppler said a missing person’s report about Rundall came in from a residence in the 1000 block of South Derby. Rundall’s foster mother, Kristina Ann Oliveri of Denison, said the girl was upset about her sister being in juvenile detention and wanted to go walk around and cool off. The report said Oliveri gave Rundall permission to walk up and down the street in front of the residence but nowhere else. Oliveri said she then saw Rundall getting into a passenger car and leaving.
In a phone conversation, Oliveri said she had both Rundall and her older sister living in her home, though it was not the first foster home for either of the girls. Nor were the girls her first foster children, but they were her last.
“They were all they had,” Oliveri said of the relationship between the two girls.
That closeness caused problems, she said, when the older girl wanted to leave.
“It was pretty horrific,” Oliveri said of the incident that caused the older girl to spend time in juvenile detention. “Her older sister decided that she didn’t want to be there anymore and she threatened to run away.”
The foster mother advised the older girl that she couldn’t leave, but that didn’t change the girl’s mind.
“She gave me a hefty shove,” Oliveri said. “I fell and broke my elbow.”
Oliveri said the older sister went to juvenile detention for the push and Rundall soon ran.
“They had been in care for over four years,” Oliveri said. “And this wasn’t even the first, second or third time that she had ran.”
Though Oliveri is fairly certain that Rundall made her way back to the mother who lost custody of her, there is no way to know that for sure. Oliveri said she has since talked to Rundall’s older sister, who won’t tell anyone where Rundall is, but says that she is safe.
That is more than can be said for many of the other children who run away from foster care. The DFPS report says the No. 1 risk factor for exploitation for a child like Rundall is being a runway or being homeless. That leaves them as easy prey for those who would offer them what, at first, seems like safety but ends up in a life as a sex worker. That can lead to drug use and other dangerous activities.
DFPS Media Specialist Marissa Gonzales confirmed that CPS currently has conservatorship over Rundall.
“Our procedure for locating children who have run away is aggressive and thorough,” Gonzales said via email. “1) Report it to local law enforcement with identifying information on the child; 2) A Special Investigator (SI) is assigned to each individual case and reports the runaway to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC). 3) The child’s individual caseworker and the SI work together on the child’s recent history, family, known friends, any known hangouts. Social media is often a source of very helpful information. 4) The SI will also pound the pavement and track down leads, do interviews, make calls, follow any information that may lead to his/her whereabouts. 5) If the youth is not found quickly the caseworker and the SI review information regularly, at least weekly, to figure out next steps. 6) Once a youth is located, an in-depth interview is conducted to try and determine why the child ran, and what was experienced while away; here is where any human trafficking experience is likely to be detected.”
Gonzales said those debriefings also allow CPS to make any changes in the child’s current placement or situation to prevent a repeat runaway. She said DFPS is constantly reviewing the protocol and making adjustments.
“The goal is ALWAYS to do whatever is necessary to find them,” she said.
Ceirra Rundall is described as being five feet, seven inches tall with blue eyes. Her natural hair color is brown but it was died bright red the last time she was seen in Denison. Anyone who sees her or knows of her whereabouts is asked to call the Denison Police Department at 903-465-2422.