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Dakota James Family Pushing For Reforms In Missing Persons Reporting

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PITTSBURGH (KDKA) -- When Dakota James disappeared, his parents were stunned when they went to Pittsburgh Police for help.

"Their reaction was he's 23 years old and has the right to do whatever he wants to and disappear and not talk to you if he doesn't want to," Pam James remembers.

dakota-james-poster
(Photo Credit: Julie Grant/KDKA)

To a mother, that is a harsh viewpoint. To the police, it's a reality of their business. Many young adults go unresponsive to their families for days and are not in any trouble or danger. That is why there is a waiting period before a missing person report can be filed. James wants to see that changed.

"Why do we have to wait 24-48 hours? We know our children," she said. "If we know something is wrong they should take it at that."

The James family has formed the Dakota James Foundation Building Bridges to try to bring about changes that Pam believes could have made a difference in Dakota's disappearance.

"No one was asking anybody questions and they simply could have been looking," says Pam James.

She says days went by including a weekend before they could file the missing person report with the police.

Dakota James
Photo Credit: KDKA

"So it was myself and my large family and my husband's coworkers that came in and we were doing the investigating they should have been doing."

Again, Pittsburgh Police were following policy and once the report was filed the police went to work. But James believes the time lapse was crucial especially when it came to accessing cameras in the area the night Dakota disappeared, "By the time they went back to where we needed them some had already been taped over."

In other places, there are no cameras at all. District Attorney Stephen Zappala says Pam James has a point.

"The problem is the final minutes of that young man's life there are questions," Zappala says, "and it would have been nice to have cameras on Duquesne River Blvd."

So cameras are part of the Dakota James Foundation focus. They also want to educate young adults about being safe when enjoying Pittsburgh's nightlife.

"Our kids need to be smarter, don't walk alone," Pam James said. "My son was being considerate, he put a friend in an Uber car, and then he was going to walk home. Don't let your kids do that."

In addition to making progress on the cameras, Pam says they've successfully now gotten a missing persons advocate.

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(Photo Credit: Tim Lawson/KDKA)

"This one person will be there for communication between the family and the police department and that's a great thing because they weren't communicating with us," she said. "So at least the next person that goes missing they will have someone standing behind them giving them a voice."

Pam James may not have the answers she needs to ease the pain of her own loss, but she is determined through the foundation that bears her son's name to make changes to lessen the pain for the next family thrust into dealing with the unthinkable.

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