Juan Carlos Hernández went to work one afternoon and never came home.
He was one of 3,781 people reported missing last year in Los Angeles. Many were found or reappeared when they were ready. Others, suffering from mental illness or addiction, slipped away from family and joined the growing ranks of homeless people living on city streets.
And some of the cases began with a missing persons report but ended with a murder charge.
Hernández’s mother knew in her gut something wasn’t right when her son didn’t return from his job at a marijuana dispensary. She did the only things she could: She called the police and she started looking. She taped her son’s face on thousands of bus stops and light posts. The search would take her to homeless encampments on skid row, to the steps of City Hall in protest, to remote corners of Southern California and to the dark underbelly of the city’s marijuana industry.
The not knowing propelled her.
As she did every morning before leaving for work, Yajaira Hernández peeked into her son’s bedroom around 5:30 on Sept. 23. His bed was empty and still made up. Also gone, she realized with mounting alarm, was her gray Honda Civic, which her son had driven the previous day to his job at a marijuana dispensary in South Los Angeles.
It wasn’t like her son, a 21-year-old student at El Camino College who hoped to transfer to USC to study engineering, to stay out all night and not tell her. And he knew she needed her car to get to work.
His phone was off. Her gut told her something was wrong.
An officer at the Los Angeles Police Department’s Southwest station took a missing persons report over the phone, but seemed dismissive of her worries: