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Bloggers Gain Attention for Missing Woman

ED GORDON, host:

Police in Philadelphia are continuing to look for clues in the disappearance of La'Toyia Figueroa. The pregnant African-American woman vanished 11 days ago, but her case has only started to generate national coverage in recent days after bloggers applied pressure on cable news outlets to tell the story. NPR's Allison Keyes reports.

ALLISON KEYES reporting:

On his Web site, allspinzone.com, Richard Blair usually concentrates on progressive politics, but the headline now is a posting about a reward for 24-year-old La'Toyia Figueroa. Blair says it bothered him that this pregnant woman wasn't getting the same level of media coverage as high-profile cases like Laci Peterson's and Natalee Holloway's.

Mr. RICHARD BLAIR (Blogger, Allspinzone.com): I just got to the point where I was saying, `Why is this story not being reported when there are other missing-person stories that seem to take the national spotlight? What's different?'

KEYES: So Blair posted a sarcastic letter to a CNN host, urging the network to cover the story. It included a list of important details. Number one, La'Toyia's not white. Number two, she does not have blonde hair. He asked other bloggers to pick up the story. They did; then CNN and other national media outlets began reporting the Figueroa case.

Mr. BLAIR: We've got this beautiful young woman missing who's five months pregnant and nobody was paying attention to it. And all of a sudden, one blog out on the Internet picks this story up and makes a big deal of it, puts the equivalent of an Internet Amber Alert out to some of his fellow bloggers out there, and all of sudden we were able to get some synergy behind it and turn it into a big story.

Councilman JUAN RAMOS (Democrat, Philadelphia City Council): The bloggers, you know, they--you can never underestimate the bloggers.

KEYES: Philadelphia City Councilman Juan Ramos is the missing woman's cousin. He acknowledges the attention bloggers have given her case, but he says a press conference Wednesday morning announcing a $10,000 reward made a huge difference in media coverage, especially at the national level.

Councilman RAMOS: I wanted to get the word out there because you never know in these cases if the person has been taken out of state or she's gone out of state or has been dumped out of state.

KEYES: La'Toyia Figueroa is 5'2" tall and weighs 130 pounds. She's light-skinned with a dazzling smile. She was last seen July 18th after leaving a doctor's appointment with her boyfriend. He's the father of her unborn child. Figueroa, a waitress, didn't pick up her seven-year-old daughter from day care that day, and she hasn't been seen since. Police say she hasn't used her cell phone or credit cards. Philadelphia Police Corporal Jim Pauley acknowledges that her boyfriend and others who know Figueroa have been questioned. He says no one is being called a suspect in this case. Figueroa's father, Melvin, says he is suspicious of her boyfriend.

Mr. MELVIN FIGUEROA (La'Toyia Figueroa's Father): This guy, he keep on changing his story. I have a suspicion that it's a foul; it's a foul (unintelligible) 'cause to be honest with you, my daughter never did nothing like this in her life.

KEYES: He says La'Toyia always let her family know where she was. Although they remain hopeful, he says they're also trying to prepare for the worst.

Mr. FIGUEROA: Yeah, so we're just hoping and praying. That's all I can do from there.

KEYES: Melvin Figueroa says his family's been posting fliers in the West Philadelphia neighborhood where his daughter lives. Yesterday, he watched a as a line of police officers searched a large park for clues. Cadaver dogs and a helicopter assisted. Figueroa misses his daughter.

Mr. FIGUEROA: She's an outgoing person. She has a beautiful heart. She loves to work. And she just work for her and her daughter because she likes to look nice. You know, she likes to dress nice; she like her daughter to dress nice, looks very ...(unintelligible). She's a hardworking girl.

KEYES: The Philadelphia Citizens Crime Commission and allspinzone.com are taking donations for the reward fund. Philadelphia police are asking anyone with information to call the department's Southwest Detective Division.

Allison Keyes, NPR News.

GORDON: This is NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Allison Keyes is an award-winning journalist with almost 20 years of experience in print, radio, and television. She has been reporting for NPR's national desk since October 2005. Her reports can be heard on Morning Edition, All Things Considered, and Weekend Edition Sunday.
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