(PHOTO CAPTION: Pastor Harding Smith, who has been representing Barway Collins' family addrissing the press)
Leaders of the Liberian immigrant community said Tuesday that at a news conference held Monday to try to clear the air about the disappearance of 10-year-old Barway Collins eased some of the confusion that has swept through the tight-knit immigrant community.
The Rev. Harding Smith of Spiritual Church of God held Monday’s news conference in an effort to address suspicion directed at Pierre Collins, the boy’s father, and to try to redirect attention toward finding the fourth-grader from Crystal.
“I’m not defending Mr. Collins, … just getting the spotlight on Barway,” Smith said Tuesday. “So many rumors are out there, … people didn’t want anything to do with the family.”
At the news conference, at which Pierre Collins was present but did not speak, Smith addressed the rumors, including one that Collins took out a life insurance policy on his son shortly before Barway disappeared. Smith said Collins did, in fact, take out policies on four of his children for $30,000 each — three years ago. Smith said the policies were part of Collins’ job benefits at the time.
Asked if Collins is currently employed, Smith said, “There would be a firestorm from the community” if Collins were to work while his family is in crisis.
Smith also sought to address Pierre’s history with an ex-wife who lives in Wisconsin who sought an order for protection against him, saying that order has expired and that Collins says he wasn’t abusive.
And he assured those gathered that Barway was not spirited back to his biological mother, who lives in Liberia, where Barway was born.
Seyon Nyanwleh, community leader and executive director of the A-Mon-Nue Sports and Social Association, said the allegations about Pierre Collins have distracted the community, and that Smith’s statements did ease some minds.
“Since then, people expressed their willingness to search and revived hope,” Nyanwleh said. “[We want to] keep the focus on little Barway, because if we lose track of that, it diminishes the importance of him.”
Abdullah Kiatamba, executive director of African Immigrant Services, said when news broke that Pierre Collins was a suspect in his son’s disappearance, Barway himself faded from the headlines. “Every story about the dad is reducing the level of support Barway Collins deserves,” he said.
Kiatamba, whose son attended school with Barway in Brooklyn Center, said, “It is highly unlikely and unusual for a child to be missing in our community for so long.”
Barway was last seen on March 18 jumping out of his school van outside his home in the Cedarwood Apartments at 5450 Douglas Dr. N. in Crystal. In the days that followed, Crystal Police Chief Stephanie Revering identified Pierre Collins as a suspect in the case. Collins, who has repeatedly denied having anything to do with Barway’s disappearance, has not been arrested or charged.
Smith said he, too, would investigate Collins if he were in Revering’s position, adding that he believes authorities are doing everything they can to find Barway.
The pastor said Collins and his family asked him to address the media on their behalf.
The situation “has taken a toll on the family as well as the Liberian community,” Smith said. “The Liberian community is a loving and strong community. We will find the strength to carry on.”
He said the community is organizing its own weekend search for Barway. Searches so far have focused on North Mississippi Regional Park, east of Crystal.
Crystal police have offered a $12,000 award for information leading to an arrest and successful prosecution in the case. READ MORE OF THIS STORY