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Vermont family asks for public’s help to find missing mother

Published: Oct. 4, 2021 at 9:49 PM EDT
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WEATHERSFIELD, Vt. (WCAX) - Gabby Petito’s case has raised a lot of questions regarding how missing persons cases are handled. When it comes to time and resources, how does law enforcement in Vermont decide where to put their attention?

The Vermont State Police said it depends on which agency is handling it. If it’s state police, they will work until they’re out of leads. However, most cases go through local departments.

“We will continue anytime we get a lead that comes in,” Weathersfield Police Chief William Daniels said. “We will continue to investigate that.”

Daniels is leading the investigation into missing Weathersfield woman Tonia Bushway. Police say Bushway went missing in early July.

“We were initially told she may have been in rehabilitation,” Daniels told us. “We then confirmed she was not. Then we entered her into the system for a stop and hold, check welfare.”

Williams said they reached out to the Vermont State Police in August for guidance. More recently for a K-9 unit. Additionally, they’re monitoring Bushway’s phone and social media.

Bushway’s daughter, Toshia Emery, doesn’t think the efforts are enough.

Emery said her mother has a substance use disorder and had several people living in her home at the time of her disappearance.

“The police did not put an official missing person post online for people to see and be aware of until July 23rd,” Emery said. “People were not immediately questioned and not seized and searched.”

From Jan. 1 to Sept. 1 of this year, 256 people were reported missing in Vermont. Only 50 of those cases were handled by state police. Vt. State Police Capt. Jeremy Hill said they usually let local departments manage their own cases.

“I think it would really depend on the department, the resources available to them, and what their chief feels their capabilities are,” Hill said when asked at what point state police get involved in missing persons cases.

I asked Hill if cases ever got more resources because of their popularity, such as Petito’s case. He said not necessarily.

“If media coverage resulted in a lot of tips from the public, then yeah, that would be a situation where we would have to put more resources into it,” Hill said.

Emery said she will keep reminding people of her mother’s case in hopes of finding her.

“I feel sorry for everybody who is going through this with family members of their own,” said Emery. “You never think it’s going to be you or it’s never going to be you until it does. It’s a truly heart-wrenching thing to go through.”

Daniels said Bushway is already in the state database for missing people. They’re working on adding her to NamUs, which is the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System.

If anyone has information, they’re asked to contact the Weathersfield Police Department or Westminster barracks of the state police.

Daniels said people can give information anonymously.

Weathersfield Police Department: 802-722-4600

Vermont State Police-Westminster: 802-674-2185

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