Knoxville News Sentinel
July 6, 2021
Birthday presents were waiting for Desheena Kyle on June 25, but her family members say they never got the chance to give them to her.
After not hearing a word from the 27-year-old Knoxville woman on her big day, they knew something was wrong. Upon paying her a visit to her apartment in northwest Knoxville, they discovered her car hadn’t moved in a week and that she was nowhere to be found.
Now, the only gift they are wishing for is her safe return home.
On Monday evening, dozens of people came together for a prayer vigil at Victor Ashe Park to remember the daughter, niece, cousin and friend they love — and to draw attention to her disappearance.
She was reported missing June 28 from her Wilson Road apartment. A $10,000 reward is being offered for information on her whereabouts.
Police say they’re committed to finding Kyle or reaching a resolution in her case.
“Based on the available evidence and the circumstances of her disappearance as investigators understand them, there is very strong reason to believe that Desheena is in danger and has likely been harmed. Due to the ongoing nature of that investigation, we cannot elaborate beyond that,” Knoxville Police Department Spokesman Scott Erland said.
While Kyle was possibly seen around June 23, her last verified sighting was June 18.
On Kyle’s 27th birthday, the family got help with a welfare check after neighbors raised concerns, Rita Faye Turner, Kyle’s aunt, told Knox News. What was incredibly worrisome was that her dog was left behind.
“That was her baby. Her dog was like her child,” Turner told Knox News. “She would have never left her dog alone like that.”
Kyle, a graduate of Central High School and an aspiring fashion designer, had many hopes and dreams. She had just moved into her new apartment and in the months before her disappearance, she visited other cities and met with designers for inspiration to open a boutique in Knoxville.
“I had been helping her get her apartment together and there were two pieces of my kitchen decor that she wanted that matched what she already had. I was hesitant, but she looked at me with her puppy eyes and that little whimper with her top lip, and I gave in.” said Turner.
That was the effect Kyle had on people. Turner said she was sweet and made you want to give her everything.
“She just worked so hard for whatever she had accomplished in life.”
Knoxville Police Department put out a public alert on July 2 stating that investigators have strong reasons to believe Kyle could be in danger.
“This investigation stems from some of the domestic incidents we were made aware of. We can say that we believe there may be foul play, but we just don’t know to what degree,” Turner said.
Larger issues at play
Kyle’s disappearance is part of what advocates say is a bigger problem: Black women go missing and their cases don’t get the attention that others receive.
Those statistics were a part of Monday night’s vigil. Community members and friends feel like it’s up to them to protect their neighbors when police don’t do as much as they hope.
“Out of all the people who go missing each year, around 60 percent of those people are Black. We only make up 13 percent of the population, Black women make up 7 percent, but yet and still, we are the largest population disappearing. Somebody knows something. We don’t just go missing. Somebody heard something. Somebody saw something,” said Aabidah Ruhi, a lieutenant with POP Tenn, a group of community members dedicated to outreach, support and taking action in protecting the Black community through security and patrolling efforts.
She told the crowd that no matter how small a tip might be, Black women need all the help they can get in these situations.
“Those little details, that sound you heard that night, the car you saw that drive by, might be the information that leads to finding her,” Ruhi said.
A lack of urgency from police — even as the department’s budget grows — continues to be a focal point of Black Knoxvillians who await answers in crimes in which they and their loved ones are victims.
“KPD got $60 million to fight violence, but yet in 2021, violence is all we’ve heard. Where is this money going? Give it to the community because we know what we need,” she urged.
Statistics on missing Black women are alarming
When missing people are young, white and female, their cases get attention. But the statistics of who goes missing tell a different story.
In 2020 alone, there were 321,859 cases tracked by the National Crime Information Center where the race of the reported missing was white. In the same year, 182,548 of the missing were Black despite being roughly 13% of the national population.
Natalie Wilson, co-founder of the nonprofit Black and Missing Foundation, told Knox News that media coverage puts pressure on investigators, which is vital in the recovery efforts of missing Black and brown people. They are also highlighting Kyle’s case on their website and social channels.
“Media, law enforcement and community all play a part in speeding up the recovery of a missing person and it also puts pressure on law enforcement to add more resources to the case,” she said.
“Traditionally we know there is a distrust between the Black community and law enforcement, so those anonymous tip lines are vital and it gives a way for the community to come forward without compromising the tipster’s identity.”
Wilson said that many times Black men, women and children are classified as runaways, as impoverished or as being involved in criminal activity, all of which are stereotypes that damage search efforts.
“We tell the family not to give up. We know when something is out of the norm for our loved ones and we have to advocate for them. Get your community to rally around you and demand service and justice in this case,” Wilson said.
Information on the search
Erland, the Knoxville police spokesman, said two special crimes investigators are assigned to the disappearance and all the department’s resources are being used.
“We have also sent out two separate requests for information to the public and are continuing to actively seek any tips or leads through every available avenue. Further, the lieutenant who oversees the Special Crimes Unit has been actively and personally involved in the case to ensure that it is progressing and the Command Staff is kept informed of any developments,” he said.
Community groups involved in support efforts
POP Tenn, Knoxville’s Black Mamas Bailout, C2C Bikers and Bikers Against Abuse International are assisting the Kyle and Turner families.
Fahd Walli, commander of POP Tenn, an acronym for Protect our People, demanded urgency.
“We need to our police department to put the pedal to the metal. We need this investigation to be a little bigger. It has been too long since Desheena went missing,” he said.
Walli also stressed the importance of creating a safe space where of victims of domestic violence can come forward to report abuse.
“Nobody should feel comfortable putting their hands on a woman. There is no way this sister should have had to call the police, and nobody was talking about this. If you love someone, you protect them by any means necessary,” he said.
As purple balloons representing the color of royalty were released into the sky in Kyle’s honor, her younger brother said he isn’t losing hope.
“We did everything together. All I can do is ask God to look after my sister. I know soon she is gonna see all of this online. We ain’t lost nobody,” Trey Robinson III said.
About Desheena Kyle
Desheena is approximately 5 feet, 3 inches tall, weighs 130 pounds with black hair and brown eyes.
If anyone sees Desheena, they are urged to call 911 immediately. Anyone with information on her whereabouts is asked to contact East Tennessee Valley Crime Stoppers at 800-222-8477, easttnvalleycrimestoppers.org or the P3 Tips mobile app. Tipsters will remain anonymous and are eligible to receive a cash reward.
Photo credit: Knox News