DCFS examined after Palatine girl found murdered

 
Teresa Mask
Daily Herald Staff Writer
Updated 4/8/2014 2:57 PM
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  • Amber Gail Creek

    Amber Gail Creek

Editor's note: This article was originally published in the Daily Herald on July 1, 1998.

While police continue to search for the killer of a former Palatine girl, a state inspector will investigate whether the agency charged with her welfare failed to properly report her missing the last time she ran away.

The Office of Inspector General of the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services is examining all state documents on 14-year-old Amber Gail Creek, who became a ward of the state Dec. 13, 1996 and was found murdered in Wisconsin nearly two months later.

Inspector general investigations are routine when a child dies while a ward of the state. But because of discrepancies between the state's records and police accounts of when Amber was last reported missing, the inspector also will zoom in on case workers, said Maudlyne Ihejirika, a DCFS spokeswoman.

The office will pay close attention to see if staff members from DCFS or Chicago's Columbus-Maryville Center, where Amber last lived, violated policy about reporting runaways, she said.

"They will determine what, if any, appropriate action will be taken," Ihejirika said.

Meanwhile, Wisconsin police are expected today to announce the members of a task force that will investigate Amber's murder. Press conferences will be held at 11 a.m. at the Palatine village hall, 200 E. Wood St., and at 3 p.m. in Racine, Wis.

The task force will be comprised of local, state and federal police, according to a press release from the Racine County Sheriff's Department.

While the police group tries to find Amber's killer, the inspector general's investigation will focus on whether DCFS followed proper procedure in notifying police each time Amber ran away.

Amber ran away from Columbus-Maryville six times between Dec. 13 and Jan. 23, 1997 - the last time she was seen alive.

The state's child welfare agency has said that when a staff member called Chicago police to report Amber missing on Jan. 23, police said a new report wasn't necessary since Amber had run away two days prior. The DCFS case worker said that police indicated the previous report would be good for 30 days. So the case worker did not file another report on Amber until Feb. 28, 1997.

But the Chicago Police Department has no record of a DCFS attempt to file a report on Jan. 23, nor does the department have a 30-day policy on reporting runaways, according to Pat Camden, a police spokesman. Prior to Feb. 28, the police's last record of a report on Amber was Jan. 19, 1997.

Ihejirika said her agency's policy is clear: Whenever a ward of the state, on runaway status, does not return to their foster home facility within 24 hours, the case worker must contact the police "in every case, no exceptions."

Another snag in the Amber murder case involves the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, whose Web site photo of the girl was crucial in her identification last week.

Center officials say it took DCFS nearly nine months to complete paperwork to get Amber's picture on the Internet.

All the center needed to put the picture on the Internet was a signature from an authority in the child's case - whether it was the police, the state or one of her parents, who had relinquished custody of her in December 1996, said Ben Ermini, the center's director of case management.

"This is the kind of case that leaves all of us with many questions," Ihejirika said. "It starts from the father who put her out of the house, to the mother who didn't want her...

"The bottom line is we will be combing through this case with a fine-toothed comb."

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