Lured Into the Night: The Disappearance of Hailey Burns

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Hailey Burns

On Sunday, May 22, 2016, the Burns family turned in for a, seemingly, uneventful night prepared to begin a busy school/work week the next morning.  However, this night would be unlike any other and irrevocably alter the lives of those within the Burns family. Sunday, May 22, 2016 would unknowingly be the last time they saw their beloved sixteen-year-old daughter and sibling, Hailey Elizabeth Burns, before her inexplicable and frightening disappearance.

Hailey was last seen at the home around 12:30 AM on the early morning of May 23, 2016.  Before going to bed that night, Hailey’s mother, Shaunna Burns, ensured that all of the doors were locked to their Charlotte, North Carolina residence on the 17000 block of Baldwin Hall Drive in the Ballantyne area.  But, upon waking, Hailey’s parents discovered “the front door was wide open.”

The family quickly realized that Hailey was not in her room.  Hailey’s father, Tony Burns, told reporters:

“It was the worst feeling you could ever imagine. You feel completely out of control. You don’t know what to do.  You just panic.”

They called police at 8:28 AM.  However, the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department was also unable to locate Hailey.  They have since joined forces with the FBI in the ensuing investigation.


Preying on Innocence

The few clues to Hailey’s potential disappearance have proven to be as fruitless as they are deeply disconcerting.

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Hailey Burns had been diagnosed and struggled with Asperger syndrome, a developmental condition “characterized by significant difficulties in social interaction and nonverbal communication, along with restricted and repetitive patterns of behavior and interests.”

Screen Shot 2017-05-11 at 11.15.53 PMShaunna and Tony Burns, Hailey’s mother and father, had previously discovered troubling communications in internet chat rooms where Hailey was interacting with anonymous posters.

Consequently, the concerned parents attempted to “[restrict] her computer use” and “took her cell phone.”  However, it is now apparent that Hailey borrowed the phones of friends and may have been using school computers to continue the social interactions.

Hailey’s parents and Charlotte authorities fear that Hailey’s difficulties with Asperger’s may have made her a prime target for predatory internet criminals.  Sadly, she had been bullied in school and “didn’t have lot of friends.”  These factors drove Hailey to “[decide] to make her friends online.”

Tony further elaborated that:

“Hailey really wasn’t 16, she was like maybe 12, so naive and so impressionable and so easily manipulated.”


Disturbing Clues

Police soon found that Hailey had left behind a diary which detailed “a plan to run away with a 32-year-old man she met online.”  Her family discovered “more than 10,000 messages online in which Hailey appeared to be communicating with an older man who made her call him ‘Daddy.'”

A list of commands entitled Daddy’s Rules was also located, describing how Hailey was to “wear her hair in pigtails and to be sucking on a pacifier” for this still-unidentified opportunist.

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Unfortunately, this disturbing development has not led to a clear and concise resolution in Hailey’s disappearance.  Authorities have been unable to successfully track the online predator.

Hailey’s father detailed the frustration surrounding the fruitless search for an internet phantom, mentioning that:

“The guy covered up all the tracks. There is nowhere to look and nowhere to find her.”

The family has implored the public to contact authorities if anyone has “a clue, tip, or idea that might help [help] figure out what happened to [Hailey],” or if anyone has any additional information relating to Hailey’s interactions and internet communications.

Authorities have emphasized that, if necessary, anyone “can call Crimestoppers to report a tip anonymously.”


A City & Its Demons

According to local investigative reports, each Charlotte Mecklenburg Police Department detective is responsible for around “400 to 500 cases.”  On average, one investigative unit, comprised of only five detectives, may handle around “2,200 to 2,400 cases a year.”

On the  website for Charlotte Mecklenburg Police Missing Persons Unit, it states that “approximately 70% of [missing person] reports involve juveniles between the age of 13 and 17.”  According to Police Sergeant, Todd Walther, many cases may involve “predators luring some young girls into human trafficking.”  He continued by stating:

“The lack of concern from some parents is my biggest concern.  When reports come in, parents don’t know who their child’s friends are.  They don’t know who they are hanging out with, who they play with in afternoons.  They don’t know what classes they are in at school and some don’t have a recent picture of their child.”

According to one news report, an average of around “78 victims across North Carolina are sex trafficked each year.”  A prosperous and always-expanding urban locale, the city of Charlotte, unfortunately, ranks as the No. 1 place for sex trafficking in the state.

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Charlotte, NC

However, according to the Executive Director of Present Age Ministries, Hannah Arrowood, “the vast majority of these victims were not kidnapped by their abuser.”  She further emphasized that:

“Often times, these girls are going willingly to meet their perpetrators.”

Misconceptions and myths cloud the complex concept of human trafficking in the United States.  Unlike the depiction of sex trafficking proponents in media, predators are oftentimes very resourceful and convincing.  Modern-day trafficking victims are rarely plucked off of the streets and immediately forced into overtly alarming situations.

Instead, modern technology often provides traffickers with a variety of approaches, plausible cover stories, and the essential anonymity needed in order to prime their targets.  Oftentimes, predators locate victims by “meeting, chatting and building a relationship” through the utilization of “social media websites.”

Recently, North Carolina lawmakers have introduced a bill which would “allocate $37.5 million for shelter beds, $13.5 million for mental health services, and $4.5 million to educate students on the warning signs for trafficking.”

Though a hopeful response to trafficking activity in the area, the measures may be, tragically, too little and too late for many.

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Where is Hailey?


Million Dollar Question

Amidst the demoralizing communications with a possible internet predator, and the renewed dialogue on human trafficking in Charlotte, Hailey Burns’s family just wants to know where Hailey is and, most pressingly, if she is okay.  
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Her mother worries that Hailey “is out there somewhere, calling for her mom and wanting her mom, and that she cannot find her.”  Her father adds:
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“It’s like a piece of your body is missing and you’re just trying to function but you’re missing your heart.”
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Hailey’s home is situated in a verifiable maze of suburban middle to upper-middle class residences.  The beautifully-manicured Ballantyne area of Charlotte does have some wooded areas and retention ponds, but is largely comprised of homes and businesses.
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It is unclear if the surrounding areas have been thoroughly canvased by searchers.  However, authorities appear especially insistent that Hailey willingly left her home, and presumably, the area.  Residents should still immediately contact authorities if they notice (or have noticed) anything remotely unusual in the surrounding area.
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No information has been released to confirm that Hailey ever definitively met up with her online acquaintance; however, evidence of this would be most likely be withheld by authorities during the ongoing investigation.  It does seem logical that she was lured out of her home and picked up by someone in a previously arranged, and pointedly clandestine, meeting.

Missing Girls

More hopeful internet speculators have raised the possibility, due to the insistence that Hailey willingly ran away from home, that she may re-emerge safely in the future.
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The distinct possibility of this theory is bolstered by a few rare cases where missing girls have eventually turned up unharmed and content.  Their previously-mysterious disappearances are oftentimes explained away as a voluntary escape from their stifling, or outright difficult, home lives.
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One such case was that of Rachel Owens, a teenager from Boiling Springs, North Carolina, who disappeared on May 5, 2011 at the young age of fifteen.  In 2016, she was located living in Columbus, Ohio using a false identity.  Authorities commented only that Rachel “left and remained away on her own will.”
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Another recent example is the short, but quickly sensationalized, disappearance of Kayla Reid, a 21-year-old woman from Newfoundland, Canada.  Kayla was reported missing in February 2017.  She was later discovered to be voluntarily living with a “tribe” in Costa Rica that believes “in harmony with nature, astrology and that [humans] are a consciousness just passing through [their] bodies, which don’t have races.”
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Kayla’s mother, Tammy Reid, was particularly disturbed by the incident, and told media outlets the following: “Kayla is not thinking clearly right now, I think [the group’s leader] has her brainwashed and she is more or less doing whatever he says to do.”
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Amidst a flurry of critical attention, Kayla returned to Canada on March 21, 2017, in order to “protect the group she had joined from negative attention.”  In an interesting interview with Jordan Bonaparte of The Night Time podcast, Kayla confirmed that at the time of her disappearance she just wanted to be left alone.
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However, it is difficult to compare Hailey’s disappearance to these situations.
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Firstly, the idea Hailey had the social skills and resources necessary to vanish by her own volition seems doubtful, at least according to her parents and the police.  In addition, she left medication “for several medical conditions” behind and “took few belongings with her.”
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As one Reddit user commented:
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“She had Asperger’s syndrome so it’s questionable whether or not she would have had the social wherewithal to disappear survive on the streets, but I know it’s a spectrum disorder and different people on the spectrum have different abilities so who knows.”  
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Another commenter, insightfully, added:
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“I have Aspergers and ran away from home. I remained safe and hidden from parents until I chose to see them many years later. Its a difficult thing to do, and my gut unfortunately tells me this particular case is very different, but Aspergers doesn’t stop you doing anything you want to do. Its the things society and other [people] want/need you to do that are so very difficult.”
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Hailey’s parents are also adamant that she has definitively encountered some kind of trouble, or else they believe “she would have contacted someone or posted something online by now.”
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Perhaps most importantly, the concerning diary entries and the creepy list of Daddy’s Rules, suggest that Hailey was being manipulated by an unidentified adult predator.  Even if Hailey were entirely complicit in the relationship, this would mean that she still most likely left to meet someone who was willing to have an illegal and intensely sexualized relationship with a minor.
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As FBI spokesperson, Shelley Lynch, has pointedly emphasized in reference to Hailey’s case:
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“Anytime you are talking about a missing child, there is reason to be concerned, even if the child walks out on their own. She is still 16-years-old and can’t make decisions like an adult.”

Important Details

According to the FBI’s website, Hailey is believed to have left her home “between midnight and 6:00 AM.”
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She was last seen wearing “blue jeans, a black long-sleeved T-shirt with Marilyn Monroe on it, and Converse tennis shoes” that night.  Authorities also believe that she “may be carrying a blue book bag with flowers on it.”
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Hailey has “several medical conditions that require medication” which was left behind in her home.  She is 5’4″ to 5’5″ tall and approximately 130 pounds with brown hair and hazel eyes.
Detective A. L. Hart, “who tracks missing teenagers and is working to find Hailey,” has suggested that there is reason to believe “Hailey is still somewhere in the United States.”
However, the case has gone tragically cold without any new developments.  Hailey’s seventeenth birthday came and passed on May 5th.  In a week, she will have been missing for an entire year.
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Hailey Burns Websleuths

Source: Websleuths

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Friends, neighbors, acquaintances, and classmates of Hailey Burns, along with the Charlotte public at large, are implored to report any details which could potentially relate to her disappearance, no matter how seemingly insignificant.  The lack of leads in her disappearance have made the search particularly difficult.  It is imperative that Hailey’s actions, comments, and demeanor in the days leading up to her disappearance be reported to authorities.
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If information was missed or initially withheld, these details could, potentially, be the only hope for solving the case and ensuring that Hailey is safe.
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Anyone with any information concerning Hailey Burns and her whereabouts should contact the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Crime Stoppers tip line immediately at 704-334-1600.

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