When former Waveland Mayor Tommy Longo’s daughter went missing in December, Waveland police thought she would show up to school after Christmas break.
Raven Longo, 16, did not show up for class, and Police Chief David Allen said officials hurriedly prepared a press release to send out to the media. Before the send button on the email was hit Jan. 4, Allen said investigators grabbed the first photo of Raven they could find — her Facebook profile photo.
News of Raven’s disappearance spread quickly, and she was found the day after police circulated the press release.
A conversation among Sun Herald readers in the comments section of our Facebook page, though, presented an issue that police officials say is becoming more common — Raven’s photo appeared to have been altered with a filter of some sort. A filter, such as those commonly seen on Snapchat or the Perfect 365 app, can digitally add makeup to a photo or selfie.
“It’s quite common for kids to want to take pictures to make them look older,” Allen said. “It’s very common in the teenage world.”
Readers asked how can people help find missing children or teenagers when they don’t have a clear example of what the person looks like.
Snapchat allows users to send photos and videos to followers, but they disappear in 10 seconds or less unless someone takes a screen shot or saves the photo before it’s sent. The app is very popular among teens and young adults — The Statistic Portal reports 60 percent of Snapchat users in 2016 were 25 or younger. Twenty-three percent of those users were ages 13 to 17. Hootsuite.com says about a quarter of Snapchat users have yet to graduate high school.
But as social media grows in popularity, Coast law enforcement wants parents to remember that sometimes a Facebook profile picture is not what police need in case the unthinkable happens.
“It’s very important for parents to have pictures that show them as they are,” Allen said, “not just profile pictures kids want to post.”
Allen said Waveland police have run into problems when children have been lost or missing. Parents either give them pictures to circulate that have filters or are not current. Children’s appearance changes from year to year, Allen said, and parents need to have up-to-date photos on hand.
For example, he said, if a 6-year-old gets lost or is reported missing, a school picture from the year before is not very accurate.
“A year later, the child’s going to look quite a bit different,” he said.
Gulfport police Sgt. Joshua Bromen said most cases of lost or missing children involve kids who have run way from home, and in the age of social media, finding a good picture to share could become a major issue.
“Most pictures we have now are edited, are filtered,” Bromen said.
Bromen said he can’t recall any photos given to Gulfport police being edited beyond recognition. Still, he said, law enforcement “would definitely encourage parents to have an unaltered, original, current photo” handy to release to the media.
Bromen said most pictures of children are now taken on mobile devices. The power of having an accessible camera at all times is priceless, he said.
Bromen said parents can take a picture of their child any time they go out in public or go to a big event, such as Mardi Gras parades or a holiday celebration.
“If you get separated from your kid, you have a picture of your kid and what they’re wearing the moment they went missing,” he said.
Parents should also be in the know about what kind of photos children are posting on their social media accounts, officials said.
Hancock County resident Anna LaFontaine said her 10-year-old daughter, Ryleigh, has three social media accounts: Instagram, Musically and Snapchat. LaFontaine said she checks them regularly and monitors what her daughter is posting.
She can watch the short videos created on Musically and check out the photos she posts on Instagram, but LaFontaine said she doesn’t know much about Snapchat, so it’s harder for her to see what Ryleigh sends to followers.
“I know all her friends that she talks to (on Snapchat) and pretty much know the parents, so I feel safe about that,” LaFontaine said.
She also has access to Ryleigh’s iTunes account info so she can check her pictures at any time.
She said Ryleigh loves a lot of the sillier filters on Snapchat, including those that add a face full of makeup.
LaFontaine always has unedited photos of her daughter on her iPhone, though.
“I like to know what my kids actually look like, and show others what they actually look like,” she said.