The family of 16-year-old Susana Morales, who was found dead last month, said police ignored their fears when she first went missing and wrote her off as a runaway.
The family has also questioned how the man suspected of killing her could have worked as an officer for another local police department after he reportedly stalked another young woman. The Morales family has now launched a petition seeking accountability, and on Thursday, they joined Atlanta-area organizers and community members to say they don't want other families to share the experience they had.
“It's not just Gwinnett County. In Washington, DC, there are still dozens of unsolved, missing cases related to Black and brown girls under the age of 21,” Cheyenne said at the Justice 4 Susana event. “Families like Susana's come to America for the very thing that we just can't seem to offer: peace and safety.”
According to the Gwinnett County Police Department, Susana was reported missing on July 26, 2022, after she texted her mother she was on her way home but never showed up.
In the online petition, her sister Jasmine Morales said the family begged Gwinnett County police to look for Susana immediately. They were told a person couldn’t be considered missing until they’d been gone for 48 hours, she wrote.
“Throughout the entire investigation, the police dismissed us and said that she was a runaway when we knew she would never do that,” Jasmine wrote. “How could she run away when she was on her way home?”
Susana’s remains were found on Feb. 6 in the woods.
"No amount of money, no amount of justice can bring her back to us," Jasmine said at the press conference on Thursday. "But what we can do is to try and make sure that this doesn't happen to anybody else again, and that's why we are here today."
Gwinnett County police announced that detectives searching the area had found a gun that belonged to Miles Bryant, 22, who was a police officer for the Doraville Police Department. Susana’s family said Bryant had also worked security at the apartment complex where Susana had been hanging out with a friend; she was last seen on a neighbor’s security camera walking home from the complex.
Bryant was arrested on Feb. 13 on suspicion of concealing her death and falsely reporting the crime, then fired from the Doraville Police Department. On Feb. 22, he was charged with kidnapping and murder in connection with Susana's death.
According to local news outlet WSB-TV, before Susana’s death, Bryant had spent months stalking and attempting to break into the home of Elesha Bates, a childhood friend he had reconnected with. Bates told WSB-TV she reported what happened to police after Susana was reported missing.
“I knew he was capable of it,” Bates told the outlet. “When the officer asked me why he was trying to break into my apartment, I told him that I was scared and he was trying to rape me.”
Cheyenne, the activist working with the Morales family, said at the press conference on Thursday that Susana’s death should never have happened.
“He should have been detained after the first harassment and battery offenses he committed against previous [victims],” Cheyenne said. “The law should have done its job and protected Susana from him long before he saw her walking down that street.”
Gwinnett County police told BuzzFeed News that Bates's case has now been assigned to the detectives who are handling Susana’s homicide case.
In the petition, Jasmine said the Morales family wants more transparency from police in her sister’s case as well as in others involving missing minors. She also questioned how Bryant could have been hired by the Doraville Police Department in the first place.
“We are still seeking justice,” she said. “We want the [Doraville Police Department] to be held accountable for knowingly hiring a man with a history of violence, and for not taking accountability for the harm their officer has committed against any sister, my family, and the other women he has victimized.”