After missing for almost two months, 23-year-old East New Yorker TiJae Baker is now home safely due to the tireless efforts of her mother, Toquanna, who announced the news at a press conference from Councilwoman Darlene Mealy’s office this past Friday, June 24.
Baker disappeared on May 1 after taking a bus to Washington, D.C. The soon-to-graduate art major planned to meet a “client” she was making posters for. Her mother says she was lured to the nation’s capital. Police told Toquanna Baker that her daughter might be a runaway when she reported her missing. Not satisfied with the sidelines, she began making posters of her own and plastered them throughout her neighborhood.
“The police department has their own copy of their missing persons report, but the detective only came up there one time and only saw one poster out of the whole mall,” said Toquanna Baker. “I’ve already been [there] five times and every store had a poster because of me.”
Tips soon came pouring in and a terrified TiJae Baker called her mom on June 1 from a Maryland nail salon. While Toquanna Baker arrived too late at the time, she was soon able to narrow her daughter’s location to Prince George’s County, where she was seen sleeping in bus stations. A store reached out after they saw a young woman looking for food that matched Baker’s description on one of her mother’s posters. Then a security guard came forward and soon after, a bus driver identified TiJae Baker as one of the passengers in her vehicle. Toquanna Baker rushed down and found her daughter nearby the bus stop, shaken and hurt, but otherwise safe.
Councilmembers Darlene Mealy and Charles Barron, who both assisted with outreach on behalf of the Baker family, were present. Both were harshly critical of how police handle missing Black people.
“She did the police work, Ms. Baker should get the salary of all of those police officers that are supposed to be looking for her daughter in Washington, D.C. and here in New York,” said Barron. “I want to publicly criticize the police here in New York, and especially in D.C. If this was a white person, it would have been all-points bulletin out. They did not treat this case like that.”
“It’s sad that the police department did not do half as much as what Miss Baker did to find her daughter,” said Mealy. “It’s sad that the city of New York with all the resources, all these cameras, all these listening devices they have and they didn’t do what they were supposed to: find her daughter.”
The councilwoman also called Baker’s mother a “shero.” The NYPD says her return was not reported to police and is not investigating this case as a kidnapping. Another press statement will be made this week due to a time conflict with the recent overturning of Roe v. Wade.
As for TiJae Baker, she’s currently recovering from the wounds, both physically and emotionally. Her mother says she was kidnapped, and showed pictures of large abrasions on her daughter’s feet and ankles.
“She’s very frightened, she wants to go into hiding,” said Toquanna Baker. “I will have to deal with the after effects when I get my daughter and her life will never be the same. My life will never be the same. This wasn’t something that she went out and did and [sought] for herself. This was done to her.”
For parents of other missing children, Toquanna Baker’s story offers hope and agency.
“I want mothers and fathers who have missing girls and boys that are missing [to know] please do not give up because she could have easily given up and turned it over to the police and let them do their work,” said Mealy. “She didn’t. She kept the fire burning, [wanting] her child to come home. And her child is home.”