Missing 

Mayor, council, city fail to help with Tabitha Tuders reward money

Mayor, council, city fail to help with Tabitha Tuders reward money

Just what kind of job have Metro Government and the people of Nashville done in helping to solve the Tabitha Tuders case? Neither the Metro Council nor Mayor Bill Purcell can figure out how—or even if—they want to contribute to the reward leading to her safe return, which now stands at a paltry $10,000, all from private donations.

“The mayor talked to the police chief, who did not think that that additional reward money is necessary,” says Deputy Mayor Bill Phillips.

Other cities find a way to generate more reward funds. For instance, when Heaven Lashae Ross, from Northport, Ala., turned up missing last month, over $50,000 poured into the reward total. And nearly $300,000 was raised for anyone with information leading to the return of Elizabeth Smart.

On April 29, Tabitha Tuders, a sweet 13-year-old girl with sandy blond hair and blue eyes, disappeared from her East Nashville neighborhood without a trace. In one of its last acts before the August elections, the Metro Council unanimously approved a resolution requesting that Metro Government contribute $10,000 to the reward total, which would effectively double the current amount. When the legislation arrived on the mayor’s desk, Purcell did not take out his pen and sign it. Instead, he shuffled it to his legal director, Karl Dean, for an opinion. Dean replied that the mayor does not have the authority to pay the reward. Instead, the council has to submit an ordinance—not a resolution—authorizing the payment.

The mayor, however, has no plans to ask the new council to submit new legislation for the reward fund. For its part, the family has been trying to figure out the fate of the resolution for weeks. Purcell’s office has not called Tabitha’s family to explain why the mayor did not sign the reward money resolution.

“It was unanimously approved by the Metro Council and then we haven’t heard another word about it,” says Johnny White, a spokesperson for the family who has been aiding in the search. “We’d call and ask questions and nobody seems to know what’s going on.”

Replied Phillips, “That’s the first we heard that the family called Metro.” As far as why the Tuders family has not been communicated with, Phillips says, “The police department is in constant contact with the family.”

Meanwhile, many members of the Metro Council assumed that once they approved the resolution, the reward total would be increased. “There was nothing in our deliberations that gave us the indication that the mayor’s office had a problem with it,” says now former at-large Council member Leo Waters. “We felt like this was in the public’s good and once it was approved Metro government would add to the reward.”

The miscommunication over the reward ordinance is symptomatic of Metro’s efforts to crack the case. After Tabitha turned up missing, the Metro Police Department held on to the theory that she might have run away, which effectively dampened public concern over her plight. Police officials might have had evidence that suggested she left home voluntarily, but her family and friends insisted from the first night that she would never have done that.

A recent straight-A student, Tabitha hardly fit the profile of a runaway. After two months, acting Police Chief Deborah Faulkner switched gears, announcing that the investigation would focus on the likelihood of foul play.

Even then the police department struggled to make up for lost time as it belatedly launched an exhaustive search. As it did so, officials seemed to cast doubt on the family. Again and again, they told reporters how the police department did not know she was missing until 10 or so hours after she was last seen. In fact, the father woke his daughter up on the morning in question, but then he left before his daughter did for his job as a short haul trucker. Earlier that morning, Tabitha’s mother had already departed for Tom Joy Elementary School, where she works as a cook in the school cafeteria. Neither parent had any reason to suspect that their youngest daughter never made it to school that morning until she did not come home on the bus later that afternoon.

On the plus side, police detectives have worked exhaustively to try to crack the case, scouring local housing projects, interviewing pimps and sex offenders, and making sure that fresh eyes continually examine old evidence. They’ve also tracked a flurry of leads, some of which have placed her in a Memphis prostitution ring, another at a Red Roof Inn in Williamson County. None of them have proved fruitful—some of them have been little more than urban legends—but the department has carefully checked out each one.

When Tabitha first turned up missing, various child search agencies were startled at how few volunteers gave money to the reward fund or turned up to look for the missing girl. Few members of the city’s business and donor classes, who can whip out a five-figure check over dinner to their favorite charity or political fundraiser, have contributed any significant dollars to the reward total. Contrast that to how Northport Alabama, on the outskirts of Tuscaloosa, bound together to help search for their missing girl.

According to the Birmingham Post Herald, more than 100 businesses gave all sorts of helpful items to the family, including ice and tents that nearly surround the girl’s home. In addition, a local businessman, Stan Pate, is offering a $50,000 reward for the missing girl’s return, which is more than five times the reward money offered for Tabitha.

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