By Francisco Alvarado
By Trevor Bach
By Chris Joseph
By Michael E. Miller
By Allie Conti
By Keegan Hamilton and Francisco Alvarado
By Jake Rossen
By Allie Conti
Linda turned to New Times. "I can't believe she would hurt her brother and sister like this," she said.
Elrinda hadrun before. A telephone call from a boy this past April 18 sparked a family combustion. On school nights, Elrinda wasn't allowed to receive social calls. And she was permitted to talk only to boys whose parents the Joneses had met. After Linda had told the boy not to call the house anymore, Elrinda exploded and stormed out. Linda and Prince figured she would walk around the block. But Elrinda didn't come home. The following day, she didn't attend school.
On April 19, just after the family telephoned police around 8 p.m., the Joneses received a call. "Mommy, I'm hungry, and I want to come home," Linda recalled her daughter wailing. Elrinda was at the downtown county bus terminal.
But that time, Elrinda had left angry when she didn't get her way. "She's a very stubborn child," Linda said. And like most runaways, she didn't stay away long.
The Joneses said they became even more alarmed for Elrinda's safety when they examined a bill for Prince's county-issued cell phone. In July, Elrinda had racked up more than $200 in phone calls. When asked about it, she had lied to her parents. To frighten Elrinda, Prince and Linda took her on an hourlong tour of a boot camp for delinquents.
After Elrinda's August disappearance. Prince and Linda combed through the bill. They discovered that she had been using the cell phone to telephone people she met in Internet chatrooms, which she probably accessed on library computers. (She was not allowed to use the Internet at home.) Prince telephoned the numbers on the bill to ask about his daughter. No one he spoke to had any information about her whereabouts.
Elrinda left behind a lifetime when she ran. As a child, her nickname was "Pooh Bear," Linda said in mid-October. Pooh Bear stickers covered the door of her tiny bedroom. On the wall hung a plaque from Mrs. Hamilton's kindergarten class at Nova. "#1 Line Leader," it read. On another wall, her school pictures from kindergarten through ninth grade circled an oval where her high school graduation picture was to be placed. Report cards from first through ninth grade filled a desk drawer. A plastic bag over the door held two novels Elrinda was supposed to read over the summer to prepare for tenth grade: A Separate Peace by John Knowles and The Moon Is Down by John Steinbeck.
From a bookshelf, Linda pulled out two books she had given Elrinda to help her cope with the pressures of her teen years, both leavened with religious advice: Life Skills for Girls and God's Words of Life for Teens.
The Joneses steel their family with the teachings of their church, the Refuge Church of Our Lord Jesus Christ of the Apostolic Faith in Miami. They carefully monitor the television programs and movies their children are allowed to watch and the activities they are allowed to participate in. "The black community always carries a strain on it when it comes to raising children," Pastor Johnny Davis said. "It is sort of a protection type of thing." That protectiveness defines Elrinda's parents, he said. "Linda and Prince have those old-fashioned values about life, about girls and boys, and just about people in general," Davis said. "Linda's father is a bishop in the church, and her husband is a deacon. They have been in the church for most all of their lives."
Next to the closet where Elrinda's much-decorated Girl Scout vest hung, the "Jones Family Rules" were typed on a white sheet of paper and posted on the wall. Among the edicts: no phone calls after 9 p.m. Calls about homework on school nights: 15 minutes, longer with parental permission. Calls on weekends other than homework: 30 minutes. Two outings a month with friends. Curfew: 9 p.m. on weeknights, 10 p.m. on weekends. Chores: clean bedroom, make bed, wash own laundry, sweep kitchen floor, wash dishes.
Allowance: $3.50 a week.
"'I can't survive on that,'" Linda said, imitating Elrinda's complaint.
"Get a job, then," Linda said she told her daughter. "That's all your father and I can afford."
As she hit the middle of her teenage years, Elrinda bucked for more freedom, Linda said. The mother responded by telling her daughter to show respect for the rules. Instead of complying, Elrinda defied her parents and suffered further restrictions.
One day when Linda picked Elrinda up from school, she found her daughter behind one of the portable classrooms at Nova High talking to a boy. Linda said she sprang up onto the steps. "What are you two doing back here isolated from everyone else?"
A couple of days later, Prince found her in the same area. When Elrinda responded in a way he felt was disrespectful, Prince became so angry, he slapped her, knocking off her glasses. He recalled that Elrinda spotted a campus police officer nearby and shouted, "Just try that again in front of the police."
Around the same time last year, Linda wandered out into the family living room one morning around 2 a.m. and found Elrinda talking on the telephone. "Who are you talking to at this hour?" Linda shouted. Elrinda threw down the phone and grinned. "I'm not talking on the phone," she said.