Last Thursday vulnerable teenager Alice Gross, 14, was last seen in my hometown – and hers – of Hanwell, West London. She has not been seen since and her family are worried sick.
Over the past week I’ve seen the power of social media first hand to unite a community and bring people together in ways I never imagined.
Hanwell is a fairly small place, I’ve lived here for five years but never really felt it had a community feel – I assumed that was part and parcel of living in London.
If you follow me on Twitter @AllthingsIC, you’ll have spotted the majority of my tweets since last week have been dominated by news of Alice’s disappearance as I’m trying to play a small part in spreading the news about her and appealing for people to keep their eyes peeled.
Alice was last seen by her family at 1pm on Thursday, 28 August, when she left her home address in Hanwell. She told her family she would be home that evening, but did not return.
Today the Police confirmed Alice, who is 5ft 2ins, slim build, with shoulder-length light brown hair, wearing a green cardigan, dark blue jeans, possibly wearing tartan glasses, carrying a dark rucksack and possibly wearing dark blue Vans shoes, was last seen on Thursday 28 August.
She was captured on CCTV at 2.23pm walking alone on the Grand Union Canal tow path near the Holiday Inn at Brentford Lock, TW8 8GA, heading in the direction of the River Thames.
According to the BBC’s Home Affairs Correspondent Tom Symonds, she was spotted just over an hour later heading back towards Hanwell:
Police say newer sighting now at same point along the tow path at 1545hrs last Thurs heading in the direction of Hanwell. #FindAlice
— Tom Symonds (@tomsymonds) September 3, 2014
Enquiries continue to establish if there are any further sightings of Alice after this point. Police are especially concerned as Alice has not been in good health recently. Officers continue to conduct extensive enquiries, including searches and house-to-house enquiries.
I’ve heard helicopters overhead every day and the last thing I do at night and first thing in the morning is check online to see if the news we’re all waiting for, that she’s back home safe and sound, or has been found safely somewhere, has happened. I’m still praying that will be the case.
On Monday, 1 September Alice’s family made an emotional appeal for her to return home, which was screened by the major TV channels here and has been picked up by the national media.
It’s excellent to see the word spreading, in the hope it means we will hear the news she’s walked through her front door and is home safe.
Local people were feeling frustrated that the news wasn’t spreading about her disappearance, so I collated a Pinterest board to highlight that there’s been coverage across all major newspapers and TV channels. Follow Rachel Miller’s board Find missing teenager Alice Gross #FindAlice on Pinterest.
My local community has been out in force trying to help the search, not physically (as we were advised to await any instruction from Police), but offering practical help. Posters have been created and printed around our whole neighbourhood and beyond. My household has been joining the campaign to print and display them wherever we can.
Driving through Hanwell last night I lost count of the number of posters I saw, with everyone trying to do their bit to help find Alice. My neighbourhood is covered in them and they are in every shop window and I’m spotting more of them in cars, which is brilliant.
The hashtag #FindAlice has been created and used across social media and posters, and has reportedly trended on Twitter in London a couple of times. Celebrities have been targeted and asked to retweet the appeal for information, and have kindly responded to help raise awareness to their numerous followers.
There’s an awful new roundabout locals hate, and as of last night it has an enormous banner attached to the railings next to it, (pictured) which will hopefully catch people’s attention and lead to information that helps bring her home.
Hanwell Rugby Club has also played its part by creating a photograph of their team shirts spelling out the hashtag last night, to help give a fresh angle and raise even more awareness.
Her sister, Nina Gross, set up a Facebook group, Find Alice Gross, (pictured) over the weekend. There are various closed Facebook groups locally (e.g. Hanwell Friends, Northfields Friends), which I’m a member of, and the family created a dedicated group to help communicate the latest news in one place rather than update multiple groups, which was smart.
It has been used extensively by my community to share information about posters – from how to print them, to best places to put them, I created a map of where they can be picked up from, and we’re even using a pin-dropping app to share information with each other about where we’ve put the posters up in the area and beyond. To date it has 8500 members, as people join to share their support, ask how they can help and share on the latest information from Alice’s family and links to press coverage.
I looked at Alice’s Twitter account and Instagram account over the weekend (they’re not locked) to see if there was anything I could spot using my social media knowledge, that could help. I discovered a selfie taken in July of her wearing a green cardigan.
I asked her sister if it’s the same one as the Police description, and she confirmed it is. So as a community we’ve been trying to share that photograph to help people visualise what she’s wearing (pictured).
Teenagers on Tumblr have been reblogging the original poster appeal numerous times – it was more than 20,000 last time I checked.
As someone who is interested in social media and communication, it has made me realise how teenagers are using technology in ways I hadn’t realised, which has surprised me, and despite a couple of false stories, which have been rectified, the consistency of the appeal and messages has been effective at spreading the word.
Uniting a community
I never realised how close knit my neighbourhood actually is. It is all anyone is talking about, there’s a sense of determined positivity, coupled with an overwhelming desire to “do something” to help.
Today the investigation continues to be treated as a missing person’s inquiry but due to the high risk nature of this investigation and the concerns for Alice’s welfare, the Homicide and Major Crime Command (HMCC) are now leading on the investigation, but continue to be supported by officers from Ealing.
Police say there is no information at this stage to suggest that anything untoward may have happened to Alice, but detectives retain an open mind and consideration has been given to the fact that she may have become a victim of crime. This is only one line of enquiry but detectives stress that with the HMCC now providing additional resources and expertise to locate Alice they hope to return her home safe and well.
Detective Chief Inspector Andy Chalmers from the Homicide and Major Crime Command (HMCC) said: “As a matter of course the investigation has now been taken over by the Homicide and Major Crime Command but we continue to liaise closely with our borough colleagues to find Alice. It is not unusual in circumstances such as this for the HMCC to provide additional expertise and a fresh perspective to support and progress the investigation.”
Anyone who has seen Alice or has information that may assist the investigation should call the Incident Room on +44(0)20 8358 0100 or Ealing Missing Persons Unit on 020 8246 1018 or 101. Alternatively call the charity Missing People on 116000.
I’m continuing to pray and remain hopeful we will hear good news very soon.
Post author: Rachel Miller.