WHITE CLOUD, Mich. (WOOD) — Victoria Foster knows there was nothing police could have done to save her daughter.
In July 2004, mushroom hunters found the badly beaten body of Amanda Lankey, 13, in the Manistee National Forest.
The bubbly, butterfly-loving teen had vanished from a sleepover at a friend’s house in White Cloud two weeks earlier.
“No matter what they labeled her as, it was already too late for her. We know that,” Foster said in a Zoom interview from her home in Florida.
Seven years after her body was discovered, the stepfather of the friend at whose house Amanda stayed that night was named a person of interest in her murder.
Cecil Wallis Sr. had been charged with sexually assaulting two other minors — alleged crimes that came to light because police were investigating Amanda’s killing.
Wallis died by suicide before prosecutors could charge him in the 13-year-old’s murder.
Now nearly 17 years later, Amanda’s mom is determined to create a new protocol for how police handle reports of missing children.
While Foster knows her daughter was likely dead before anyone knew she was missing, she believes banning the “runaway” label could save other children.
“What if there’s another child who is reported as a runaway and this child was abducted? This child is being held somewhere. This child is being tortured, and this child is waiting for someone to come looking for them. But nobody can because of the label they were given. So, we want to change that,” Foster said.
She believes the current policy gives the responding officer discretion over how to categorize a missing child.
“I wouldn’t want one person to have to make that decision. Not only is it unfair to that child, but it’s unfair to that officer,” Foster said.
In Michigan, state law requires that police enter vulnerable or endangered people reported missing, including children, into three databases — Law Enforcement Information Network, the National Crime Information Center and the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System.
Additionally, missing children must be entered into the state’s missing child information clearinghouse.
Amber Alerts are triggered only if police believe “a child under 18 has been abducted and is in imminent danger of serious bodily injury or death,” according to Michigan State Police.
News 8 reached out for comment from Michigan State Police and the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.
Neither agency had anyone available to talk about how law enforcement handles reports of missing children, nor if change is needed.
Foster hopes to provide more details — and officially launch the campaign — at a remembrance and memorial scheduled for late June.
The event will take place June 27 from 2 p.m. to 6 p.m. across from Millpond Park on James Street in White Cloud.
The celebration is open to everyone, and Foster hopes people who work within the child welfare and safety system will attend the memorial and join the campaign.
“Anybody who’s listening, anybody who has any knowledge about the laws or can help us go in the right direction, please contact us. Because this is what we need. We need everybody to come together. Because what’s better than having that child’s face out there. Everybody around the whole neighborhood, they can be looking for this child. That’s a million more eyes looking for this child.”
If you’d like to help, you can email Victoria Foster at email@example.com.