POWHATAN COUNTY, Va. -- In the early fall, 16-year-old Joni Bradley seemed to be doing better to those close in her life.
Having recently spent 21 days in acute care at the hospital for mental health treatment, she came back home on September 30 and was on the path to stability with continued treatment.
"Growing spiritually and just learning about yourself and self-reflecting and digging down deeper, it's not easy. It's why a lot of people don't do it but she was really trying," Kelli Bradley, her mother, said.
But on November 9, Joni ran away from her Powhatan home for the third time this year and the 12th time in her life. She was last seen on Old Buckingham Road near the courthouse.
Despite exhausting every effort to find her, Joni's family said that there's been no trace of her in 20 days, by far the longest that she has been missing.
"And she is at risk, she has a medical diagnosis that we've been following very closely and a mental health disorder. Those are two very serious things and I don't understand why they have to get a warrant now to ping her phone, it's not as easy as it was," Bradley said.
Kelli Bradley said Powhatan Sheriff's deputies told her they can't put a trace on her stepdaughter's phone without a warrant. However, a warrant can't be issued unless a child is considered to be in danger.
"I can understand what Joni's family is going through because we see it on daily basis," Kenny Jarels, the founder of the AWARE Foundation, said.
The foundation helps find missing children and he says that runaway cases have increased significantly.
"A lot of these guys who are working the cases, they've got kids and they want to bring these kids home but they run into roadblocks. You would think it would be simple as picking up the phone and getting the warrant and going after what they need but it's not that easy. There's a lot of roadblocks," Jarels said.
With each passing day, Jarels said runaway children are more at risk of sex trafficking, exploitation or suicide.
"We run into the cases where these runaways, they run into some bad people out there. That's what we look at. We don't want to be judge and jury, we want to get them off the streets and back into a safe environment," Jarels said.
Joni's family said they're heartbroken knowing that she wasn't making the progress they thought she was. They found the following letter on her laptop.
I do this thing where at school where I’m happy, I’m positive I’m the funny girl who is generally happy but at the end of of the day- I don’t feel like I’m anything I’m nothing, I’m nobody, I just have to keep on pretending to stop mental health hospital visits that get so exhausting, expecting doctors or therapists to know what is wrong with me, like expecting me to know why life is the way it is.
They say now, all they can do is hope for her safe return.
"I just really want her to come home. I really want her to be okay and for her to know that we love her no matter what," Bradley said.
Joni is described as being 5-foot-1 and around 120 to 135 pounds. She has green eyes and black hair with purple bangs, but her hair color could be different now.
Anyone with information on her whereabouts is asked to contact Detective Danny Joyner with the Powhatan County Sheriff's Office. You can reach him by calling (804) 598-5654, extension 4 or by emailing email@example.com.
This is a developing story, so anyone with more information can email firstname.lastname@example.org to send a tip.
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