Apr 26, 2023 - News

East Boston mom's disappearance highlights disparities in coverage of missing persons

A composite image showing six photos of a missing Latina woman, Reina Carolina Morales Rojas. Her most recent photo shows her with medium black hair.

Photo courtesy of Boston Police Department

Five months ago, an East Boston mother of two stepped out of a silver van in Somerville and was never seen again.

  • Reina Carolina Morales Rojas, 41, remains missing, with no new details from the Boston Police Department about what happened to her.

Why it matters: Rojas’ disappearance has become a case study in how differently investigators treat missing women of color. Of the thousands of girls and women who go missing, women of color are less likely to receive media attention, PBS News Hour notes.

Between the lines: Community leaders, and the Boston Globe’s Marcela Garcia, noticed a stark difference between Boston police’s response to the missing Latina resident and Cohasset police’s response to the disappearance of Ana Walshe, a white mother of three from the wealthier coastal town of Cohasset.

  • Local police announced Walshe’s disappearance within days, and the case got round-the-clock media coverage.

Catch up quick: Boston police learned Rojas was missing in late November, but didn’t notify the public until three months later in a Jan. 19 press release. The case got little media coverage, and police haven’t shared details since.

Zoom in: Rojas emigrated from El Salvador in May 2022 and settled in East Boston, per the Globe. She left her two children in the care of her sister Alicia Morales de Diaz and had video chats with her kids almost daily.

  • They noticed something was off the Sunday after Thanksgiving when Rojas hadn’t responded to a text.
  • Reports say she was last seen getting into a silver van in East Boston and then being dropped off on Allston Street in Somerville.

Local advocates, city councilors and state representatives have pushed for more details about the police investigation and why it took so long to publicize Rojas’ disappearance.

  • Lawyers for Civil Rights called on the city to audit the public safety agencies on how they handle diversity, equity, inclusion and unconscious bias.
  • Latinos Unidos en Massachusetts (LUMA) has held vigils for Rojas and is continuing to plan community events to raise awareness about her disappearance.

What they're saying: "For many immigrant women who have fled domestic violence and femicide in Central America and other places seeking safety, the idea that you can go missing and that police won’t act fast enough is terrifying," says Mirian Albert, a staff attorney at Lawyers for Civil Rights. "People of color and immigrants deserve the same level of public safety as others."

Boston police did not respond to emails seeking comment.

Editor’s note: This story has been corrected to reflect that Reina Carolina Morales Rojas has been missing for five months, not six.


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