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Mitchell: Mother’s claims about boy’s disappearance highlights race

LakeshiBaker phoher s1-year-old  BryeHunter. | Courtesy NBC5

Lakeshia Baker and photo of her son, 1-year-old Bryeon Hunter. | Courtesy NBC5

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Updated: May 19, 2013 7:52AM

Twenty-four hours after Bryeon Hunter was reported missing from Maywood, police officials from across the west suburbs came together to search the Des Plaines River.

Police vehicles and trucks lined both sides of the street on the bridge that separates Maywood from River Forest, its closest neighbor.

For most of the day, under dark clouds and intermittent rain, rescue operators searched the murky brown water looking for the body of a 1-year old.

The river at this location is strangled at points by tree branches felled by winter. But on Wednesday, the water moved swiftly under the bridge, as a handful of people stood watching from behind yellow police tape.

On Tuesday, Bryeon’s distraught mother told police officers that she had been abducted and brutally beaten by three Hispanic men while walking near Main and 6th Street with the boy. The mother, who had a black eye and other visible bruises, claimed the men had forcibly snatched her and her son off the street and drove them to the wooded Forest Preserve area not far from the bridge. There, the men beat her again, then drove her back to the spot where they picked her up, kicked her out of the car, described as a black sports car with tinted windows, and drove off with her son.

Maywood officials immediately issued an Amber alert.

While strangers kept watch inside the McDonald’s restaurant at Lake and 1st Avenue watching rescuers go in and come out of the water empty-handed, police were apparently questioning the mother, 23-year-old Lakeshia Baker, about her son’s disappearance.

“The information that there were three male Hispanics involved wasn’t true,” said Maywood’s Police Chief Tim Curry in a telephone interview.

“We are not ruling anything out. We have searched the area of the home and the neighborhood. The search has brought us to the river. It doesn’t mean there is anything.”

“I just feel sick to my stomach,” said Elizabeth Davis, who watched the frantic police activity from the McDonald’s parking lot adjacent to the bridge.

Davis has lived in Maywood for more than 24 years. She stumbled upon the scene as she was returning from picking her daughter up from school.

“I saw the reality that a crime may have been committed, and it was like somebody sucker-punched me in the stomach,” she said.

I lived in Maywood for more than 30 years before moving back to the city last October. Over the years, the north end of Maywood, where the abduction allegedly took place, changed from primarily African-American families to Hispanics. Although there were some tensions between the two groups, most of the conflicts involved gang activity.

Frankly, I did not know what to make of this mother’s claim that Hispanic men had warned her to stay out of the area, and that these men are responsible for her injuries and her son’s disappearance.

Black people have always lived in North Maywood in relative peace with their Hispanic neighbors. Now that police officials have cleared the three Hispanic men they picked up in this case, Bryeon’s fate seems even more ominous.

Curry, who had worked as a police officer in Maywood for years before becoming police chief, was not optimistic about a positive outcome.

“In my time here, we have never heard of an actual abduction or kidnapping,” he told me. “We’ve had a lot of missing cases reported. But people returned home and had their reasons for leaving. To my knowledge, we never had a real kidnapping, where somebody was taken out of the town and held for ransom.”

Bryeon was last seen wearing a blue, long-sleeved shirt, blue jeans and Nike shoes.

Police officials called off the search of the Des Plaines River around 3:20 p.m. after a heavy thunderstorm moved in.

As rescue workers began to pull out in ambulances, police vehicles and trucks with boats in tow, my heart sank.

I have no doubt that police officials will figure out what happened to this child.

And my prayer is that the boy will turn up in a safe place.

But in the meantime, whether the mother’s racial accusations are true or untrue, they could cause great harm in this struggling, diverse community.

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