CLEVELAND — On Oct. 29, 2009, Cleveland police arrived at 12205 Seymour Avenue to serve an arrest warrant on Anthony Sowell. It was a list of charges that would soon grow. Sowell wasn’t home, but inside the home police found the remains of two decomposing bodies. The next day they found an additional three. The number would eventually grow to 11.
“Tonia Carmichael, Nancy Cobbs, Tishana Culver, Crystal Dozier, Telacia Fortson, Amelda Hunter, Leshanda Long, Michelle Mason, Kim Yvette Smith, Diane Turner, and Janice Webb were not just cases, victims or names, they were mothers, daughters, sisters and cousins,” Sondra Miller, President & CEO of Cleveland’s Rape Crisis Center, wrote in remembrance of the Imperial Avenue victims. “They left behind families and friends who loved them—who still mourn them.”
Miller, reflecting on this 10th anniversary, said she hopes this serves as a reminder that there were promises made to the community when the city convened the Special Commission on Missing Persons and Sex Crimes Investigations to make recommendations about how to improve response in the hopes that a tragedy like this would never happen again.
“After some initial momentum, the efforts of these groups and their related recommendations were largely forgotten,” she wrote. “Public attention moved to other areas of concern. The city failed to dedicate additional resources to sex crimes investigations, and rape survivors continue to face an inadequate response when they report crimes.”
“This is especially concerning because we know that women and children are the most vulnerable to rape and sexual abuse, as are people of color, those who live in poverty and those who suffer from addiction or mental illness. These same factors seem to make it more likely for our criminal justice system to re-victimize survivors by not believing them, not fully investigating their cases and not helping them find a path to healing and justice.”
Miller shared her thoughts with Cleveland City Council’s Safety Committee last week while appearing to speak on behalf of a grant the city received that will add a second full-time employee from the rape crisis center to work with police.
This news story was published by News 5 Cleveland on October 30, 2019.