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|September 25, 2012
Director of Communications
Plymouth Juvenile Probation Officer Uses Social Media To Locate Teen Runaway
Plymouth Juvenile Court Probation Officer Ann MacDonald used Facebook to locate a teenage boy who ran away three months ago with a traveling circus. The fact that the young man had recently suffered a neck injury and was dealing with substance abuse issues added to the urgency of MacDonald's search.
Based on the photos the 16-year-old boy posted on his Facebook Page, MacDonald was able to determine that the boy was working as a “carney” in a circus, she said. “Carney” is a slang word for carnival worker or circus hand. Through her sleuthing, MacDonald learned that a circus was set to open in Waverly, Virginia last week. MacDonald contacted the state police who found the teen and then placed him in custody. Probation's Interstate Compact Unit is working with Virginia law enforcement authorities to return the youngster back to Massachusetts this week.
MacDonald said she worked closely with the boy's worried mother who was concerned about the teen's health. The boy broke his neck following a tumble from a window while he was in a rehabilatation facility months prior to his running away from home. MacDonald said the youngster was on Probation for larceny under $250.
“His Mom and I would check Facebook. We found photos of him. After a while, I started to realize that he was out of state. Although he could walk, he had a broken neck and his mother was very concerned. She did not want him to become permanently disabled,” said MacDonald, who has worked as a Juvenile Probation Officer for 16 years.
The Probation Officer, who works out of the Wareham office, said she searched Facebook at night on her home computer because she does not have internet access at work. MacDonald said the young man posted pictures of himself in various locations, one of which she was able to determine was in Maine. She said the break in the case occurred when she checked to see when and where the traveling circus-- which was in place in Massachusetts around the time of the boy's disappearance—would stop next. The next stop, according to the circus' website, was Waverly, Virginia.
“I called the boy's Mom to tell her that he might be in Virginia and that I was sending police to look for him. I called the Waverly (Virginia) State Police at 4:40 p.m. Wednesday. By 6:30 p.m., they had him in custody,” MacDonald said.
She added, “A hearing is scheduled in Virginia and then he will be sent to Massachusetts. I will work to ensure that he gets the help he needs.”
The boy's relieved mother said, “I am so thankful to Probation Officer MacDonald. She has always stayed on top of the case and has had my son's best interest in mind. Ann genuinely cares. She's been spectacular. I have called and texted her and she has returned every text and call.”
MacDonald's boss, Plymouth County Juvenile Chief Probation Officer Joel West, said, “Ann is a Probation Officer who always goes above and beyond. She and my other Probation Officers care about the safety of the juveniles they are supervising. It is such a relief to have a happy ending to this story.”
This was not the first time MacDonald has located a runaway or absconded teen. Five years ago, she used the internet to track down a teen who was suffering with substance abuse issues and entered a life of prostitution.
“I got her computer password from her sister and we were able to track her down using her IP address,” said MacDonald who also located another individual on a 15-year-old warrant after viewing him on Facebook.
“Having the ability to explore social media is so valuable. It is really such a useful tool. Kids will post things on Facebook and eventually, we can track things down,” she said.