In late May 1984, a little boy went missing on the Yakama Reservation.
Roland Jack Spencer III was 3 years old on May 25, the last day he was seen in the area of Knight Lane and Campbell Road in Wapato. Known as Jack, the Native boy with a scar on his abdomen wore a long-sleeved red T-shirt with white stripes on the sleeves, brown corduroy pants and tan boots when he disappeared, according to information on The Charley Project.
Jack, who was mentally disabled and suffering from epilepsy and hearing loss when last seen, would be 39 today. He has been declared legally dead, according to The Charley Project — he was presumed dead on Nov. 6, 2000, another website says — but his case remains unsolved.
Those sites devoted to missing person cases, along with Jack’s National Missing and Unidentified Persons System (NamUs) profile, all show the same small grainy photo in providing information about him.
“Just looking at that little picture of Jack where he’s smiling; he looks happy. What in the world could have happened that that little boy would just disappear?” asked Janet Franson, a retired law enforcement officer who created the Lost and Missing in Indian Country page on Facebook and has posted information about Jack and dozens of other missing Native children and youth.
May 25 is National Missing Children’s Day. President Ronald Reagan proclaimed it as such on May 25, 1983, in memory of 6-year-old Etan Patz, who disappeared while walking to his bus stop in lower Manhattan on May 25, 1979.
Pedro Henandez was convicted in 2017 of kidnapping and murdering Etan, but the case remains active with the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children because Etan’s body was never found.
The U.S. Department of Justice usually commemorates May 25 with activities honoring police and citizens for their efforts to rescue missing and exploited children. There is no in-person ceremony this year due to the coronavirus pandemic, but a website serves as a virtual commemoration.
More than 600,000 individuals go missing in the United States every year, according to NamUS. Tens of thousands of individuals remain missing for more than one year. NamUs primarily receives reports of long-term missing person cases, with 92% of its missing persons currently gone one year or more, said B.J. Spamer, executive director for operations.
As of Dec. 31, the National Crime Information Center included 87,438 active missing person records. Of those, 30,618 are juveniles under 18. When juvenile is defined as under 21, the number increases to 38,796, which is nearly half (44%) of the missing person cases.
Though the NCIC database is available only to law enforcement, NamUS is public and has 3,088 missing child cases, with 100 in the state of Washington, Spamer said. The Washington cases include Richard “Cody” Haynes, a Kittitas boy who was 11 when he went missing in September 2004.
Spamer said 86% of juvenile cases on NamUS involve a child who went missing more than a year ago. Adams, of Selah, was last seen on Pomona Road on June 1, 1978. Because she was a chronic runaway, her disappearance wasn’t reported to police until 2004, according to her profile on The Charley Project. That came at the request of the Green River Task Force.
A student at White Swan High School, Hannigan disappeared after she was discharged from the hospital on Christmas Eve 1971 for treatment of numerous bruises on her head and chest. Her sister, Trudi Lee Clark, died in December 2018 without answers. A recent post on the Let’s Find Janice Hannigan and Bring Her Home Facebook page notes that next year is the 50th anniversary of Hannigan’s disappearance.
Where is Jack?
Hannigan is among dozens of Native women who have gone missing, have been found murdered or who have died mysteriously on the 1.3 million-acre Yakama Reservation over decades. The database maintained by the Yakima Herald-Republic also includes Rosalita “Rose” Longee, who was 18 when she went missing from Wapato on June 30, 2015, and Jack’s mother, Celestine Faye Spencer, 21, of Wapato.
Jack lived with relatives after his mother was found dead at the bottom of a gully in a field off McCullough Road along the north slope of Ahtanum Ridge on Nov. 11, 1982. She had been missing for about two weeks.
Spencer, who died of hypothermia, was among several Native women whose bodies were found in remote locations on the Yakama Reservation in a string of cases beginning in 1980 and spanning two decades. Some of the women were strangled, while others died of hypothermia. Some deaths were undetermined.
Circumstances that led to Spencer’s mysterious death have never been explained, and Franson thinks it’s just as important to find out what happened to her son.
“Because he was so young, they usually get forgotten pretty fast, and there’s no DNA,” said Franson, who also worked for the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children for five years. The center handles cases of missing or exploited children from infancy to young adults through age 20.
Franson not only posts information about missing Native people and children on Facebook, she helps investigate cases. She wants to find out what happened to Jack. If relatives want to give DNA, she will help arrange it. Those who would like to give DNA or provide information can call or text her at 325-423-2458.
“Where is baby Jack? Some of us are still looking for him,” she said. “You have to always have hope.”