When 34-year-old Stacie Marie Burnite disappeared in East Baltimore in November, her mother contacted police — and then she called in the Guardian Angels.
The group, which works with families and authorities to find missing people, stood on the sidewalk Sunday in red T-shirts and berets holding signs with Burnite's picture in the fifth-annual "Honk 4 the Missing" event.
The Guardian Angels are a New York-based volunteer crime prevention group with chapters in cities around the world. The Baltimore chapter staged its rally at Orleans Street and Broadway near the Douglass Homes, where the Harford County woman had been known to spend time.
"Manning a corner with a face on a sign empowers the families so they don't feel helpless," said Victoria "Krush" Kent, the Guardian Angels' assistant regional director. "In a city like Baltimore, with 150 homicides, it keeps the missing person relevant."
"If nothing else," she said, "we just want people to remember their faces."
Kent, 29, who grew up in Baltimore and lives in Essex, joined the Guardian Angels after launching a separate initiative called "Remember Me," in which she profiled missing and killed people of color.
The 2010 disappearance of Phylicia Barnes, a 16-year-old honor student visiting Baltimore from Monroe, N.C., piqued Kent's interest. Kent attended a public vigil for Barnes, and met members of the Guardian Angels. She eventually joined the group.
Barnes went missing from her sister's Baltimore apartment in December 2010. Her body was found four months later in the Susquehanna River.
Kent couldn't help seeing herself in the pictures of Barnes — and wondering what her own mother would do if she disappeared. Joining the Guardian Angels felt like a way to make a difference.
"That could be me going to work, going to school," she said.
About 2,300 people go missing in the United States each year. A child goes missing every 40 minutes, according to Marcus "Strider" Dent, regional director of the Guardian Angels.
Dent waved a sign with a picture of Burnite, the missing Harford County woman, as drivers in passing cars and even a Charm City Circulator bus honked their horns. Burnite's mother could not be reached for comment, but the group said it stepped in to help at the family's request.
The volunteers handed out missing persons fliers to passersby, hoping to generate a tip about her whereabouts.
"We'll come out to the neighborhood where the crime was committed — we do it for homicides as well — or wherever that person was seen last," Dent said.
In addition to Burnite, the volunteers held signs for Cherice Ragins, 23, who went missing in February 2010. Ragins' mother, Clariese, who has participated in "Honk 4 the Missing" in previous years, said it "encouraged me to know that someone wanted to make the public aware that her life matters and that she still has not come home."
"This event serves to enlighten the public as to this monumental problem of missing persons," she said.
Dena Roney retired from the Baltimore Police Department's Southern District two years ago. She worked as an officer for 14 years in the Neighborhood Services unit. Her daughters, Jessica, 18, and Jadia, 15, both became Guardian Angels at 11 years old, she said.
"The Guardian Angels offer, for the community, a sense of awareness," the 47-year-old Randallstown woman said. They are important ambassadors between residents and police during a time of lingering distrust, she said.
The Guardian Angels help authorities close missing persons cases by amplifying the calls for tips, Baltimore Police Department spokesman T.J. Smith said. A police officer sat in a cruiser with its lights flashing at the corner during the event.
"Their efforts are truly appreciated and we are proud partners," Smith said.
The Guardian Angels receives many calls from anxious parents whose children are merely hiding from them at a friend's house or sneaking out for a night or a weekend, Dent said. The group posts missing person fliers on Facebook, which often prompts the child to return home.
"We try to feel it out before we get involved like this," he said. "We're not going to spin our wheels and waste time."
Edwin Johnson, 50, who lives nearby in Douglass Homes, took a flier and said he'd keep an eye out for Burnite.
"It's the first time I've heard of it," he said, looking down at her picture. "I'll keep her in my prayers. I hope they find her."