LOS ANGELES — Last month, a 34-year-old Black woman left her Hollywood apartment and boarded a Greyhound bus in Los Angeles. Her family expected her to head back east to Atlanta, where she grew up, but ShaLisa Pratt hasn’t been seen since her departure.
Now, Pratt’s family are desperately searching for her, and Pratt has become yet another face added to the list of missing people in California.
“I would have never imagined this in my whole entire life,” Pratt’s husband, Keith, said. “Me and her used to look at missing photos on walls. And like that's crazy how a person can go missing, you know what I mean. Like she's a missing person, and I've been trying to do everything that I can.”
On Aug. 22, Pratt’s husband called her mother, Felisha Bridget-Smith, to report that her daughter had walked away from him as she was going through a “mental health crisis.” No one has heard from her since.
“It's very odd for my daughter not to call any of us, when she was already calling us telling us everything that was going on with her,” Bridget-Smith told Yahoo News.
Pratt said his wife was having a breakdown and left him to head to the Greyhound bus station in downtown Los Angeles, probably to head back east to Atlanta, where her mother lives. He was able to locate her through her phone and found her at the station, but he wasn’t able to prevent her from leaving on the bus, he said. He then told ShaLisa’s family that he pinged his wife’s phone somewhere in San Bernardino, near a Greyhound station there.
“That wasn’t even her stop, so we don't know what made her get off at that stop [in San Bernardino], like she could have just kept going,” Pratt told Yahoo News in a two-hour conversation.
“The worst part for me is I feel like I had a chance to stop her when I bumped into her at the Greyhound station in L.A., but I just never knew she wasn’t going to go from point A to point B.”
Despite not hearing from her daughter, Bridget-Smith waited at the bus station in Atlanta at around the time a bus from Southern California would have arrived, in case ShaLisa was on it. Her daughter never showed up, and Bridget-Smith immediately booked a ticket to Los Angeles with the help of Pratt’s husband.
“The biggest red flag for us is this thing happened before, I think a month ago [in July], and she got a Greyhound ticket and she called us with the information,” Ebonee Best, ShaLisa’s sister, an active duty service member who is stationed in Germany, said in a conversation with Yahoo News.
“She sent us a picture of her ticket to let us know like, ‘Hey, this is what my route is for my bus and I'm going to be turning my phone off’ so that you know, her husband couldn't track her. And then, when she got to a certain destination, she would turn her phone back on and contact us. She ended up getting off of the bus and going back to her husband the first time. So that's why when he called my mom and told us all this information, we were like: OK, something is strange, because she hasn't told us anything.”
The family filed a report with San Bernardino police on Aug. 23, and the Los Angeles Police Department on Aug. 26, to list ShaLisa, or Lee as they call her, as missing from her apartment in Hollywood.
The LAPD Missing Persons Unit confirmed with Yahoo News that the San Bernardino Police Department is now solely handling the case. A representative said they would pick the case back up if any evidence shows she might still be in Los Angeles.
Both departments said that, based on the family's account, they consider ShaLisa Pratt a “voluntary missing person,” which means she left of her own volition.
ShaLisa was last seen on camera at her apartment in Hollywood, according to surveillance footage from the building. Then, at the Greyhound station in San Bernardino, employees reportedly noticed someone answering to her description and said that she had been forced to leave the station for stealing someone’s suitcase.
“That's when [LAPD] called me first, and then they said that they dropped the missing person case in L.A. … because they're confident that through their research and investigation that she was last seen in San Bernardino, in the incident at the Greyhound station,” Pratt said.
Police said they did not suspect foul play, Pratt said.
ShaLisa’s entire immediate family, including her sisters and stepfather, has traveled out to California to find her. They’ve gone to hotels, mental health facilities and nearby homes, yet have not found any traces of ShaLisa.
“She has pulled everybody together. We're all here in L.A. for her. Because she knows my baby daughter is presently a student in Valdosta, Ga., my [other] daughter is stationed in Germany, I'm in Atlanta, and all of us are here,” her mother told Yahoo News. “All of us have put a break on our lives to come here to find her.”
The latest development in the case is potential video of ShaLisa captured at the bus station in San Bernardino. Her family says police in that area are working on finding the footage to piece together clues as to where she might be.
Darrin Giglio, a missing persons private investigator, is not involved with this case but provided insight on how police typically investigate when a person goes missing.
“The most important thing is getting the most detailed information and taking statements from people that know the missing person,” he told Yahoo News. “Let's say your spouse went missing, the husband, who she lives with, is probably going to have the most up-to-date information. So you immediately have to get all the detailed information about anything that led up to that day of missing all the activities.”
Pairing data from the Census and National Crime Information Center, nearly 40% of missing people in the U.S. in 2021 were people of color, yet Black Americans only make up 13% of the population. Cases involving missing people of color rarely attract as much coverage as missing white people do, studies have shown.
The Black and Missing Foundation attributes the disparity in coverage to adults of color being labeled as associated with criminal activity, drugs or gangs; the belief that people of color live in impoverished conditions, leading to desensitization about such cases; and to children being labeled as runaways, as opposed to missing.
A 2016 study conducted by Northwestern University broke down the phrase “missing white woman syndrome,” a term coined to highlight the more extensive media coverage of white women who go missing, as opposed to the rest of the population. The research looked into certain news outlets and the intensity of coverage devoted to missing people from different demographics.
The study, in part, analyzes the online coverage of missing persons from four media outlets, the Atlanta-Journal Constitution, CNN, the Star Tribune and the Chicago Tribune. It reports: “In Stage I on the analysis, blacks are significantly underrepresented in the population of missing persons who received coverage from these four websites when compared to the black subset of the FBI population.”
“When looking at the number of articles published about the individuals in Stage I, black missing persons are underrepresented to an even greater extent…”
In 2021,10,235 adults were reported missing in Los Angeles County, according to the California Department of Justice. Of those, 9,132 were designated as voluntarily missing, 599 were unknown and 73 were considered suspicious.
“The majority of missing persons cases are solved within a few days or weeks,” according to the LAPD. It is now more than three weeks since ShaLisa’s disappearance.
Giglio said that there are many variables to consider when someone goes missing, including whether they left of their own accord.
“Timelines are super important, like: What was the last time people talked to her [and] saw her?” he said. “How did the person go missing? Were they on foot? [Did] they have a vehicle? Those are going to be very important. Everybody has their smartphones and devices, when were they accessed? There [are] banking records, are they making withdrawals after they went missing?”
Giglio noted that police departments can be occupied elsewhere in smaller cities, which usually do not have departments dedicated to missing persons. Even the LAPD recommends that families hire a missing persons investigator if a relative has been missing for at least several months. Pratt said he has hired one.
ShaLisa’s mother and her husband aren’t working together in the search, but both say they believe they will find her safe and sound.
“We feel like she's out there. … But as a whole, we're just praying that our thoughts are correct, that she's still alive and well, wherever she is, she just doesn't have a way to get in touch with us,” Bridget-Smith said.
Anyone with information regarding the case is urged to contact the San Bernardino police or the LAPD Missing Persons Unit at (213) 996-1800, or, during non-business hours, at 1-877-LAPD-24-7.