Although African Americans make up just 13 percent of the U.S. population, we account for 33 percent of the missing in the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s database. Cases involving African Americans also tend to receive less media coverage than missing Whites, with missing men of color getting even less attention.
NewsOne has partnered with the Black and Missing Foundation and TV One to focus on the crisis of missing African Americans.
To be a part of the solution, NewsOne will profile a missing person weekly and provide tips about how to keep your loved ones safe and what to do if someone goes missing, while TV One‘s newest show, “Find Our Missing,” hosted by award-winning actress S. Epatha Merkerson, tells these stories in visual form.
Oakland Police say a body discovered last week near Lagoon Valley Park during a search in Solano County is that of missing federal investigator Sandra Coke.
Coke was last seen by her 15-year-old daughter on Aug. 4th. The 50-year-old was reportedly following up on a tip about her stolen dog.
Oakland Police say Coke was the victim of a homicide, but they released no details about the cause of her death.
“The Coke family is devastated by the loss of our beloved Sandra,” her family said in a statement. “Those of us who were privileged to know Sandra will remember her as an unusually kind, generous, and big-hearted person. She passionately devoted her professional life to helping the poor and those who endured difficult childhoods.”
In her job as a federal investigator, Coke helped convicted felons appeal their cases, including some involving the death penalty. In at least one case, Coke saved a life, according to the San Francisco Chronicle. Her detailed interviews with the family of a man facing the death penalty helped to expose his troubled background, sparing his life.
“She was passionate about her work, devoted to her clients and colleagues, and performed her duties with fairness and integrity,” Alex Kozinski, chief judge of the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, told the Chronicle about Coke, who also called her “an admired and respected professional working in a highly challenging area of the law.”
Coke spent her career advocating for death row inmates, said family and friends. In her final job as an investigator working for the Office of the Federal Defender in the Eastern District of California in Sacramento, she helped overturn a wrongfully obtained murder conviction in 2001.
“It’s been real heartbreaking,” said Bryan Stevenson, director of the Equal Justice Initiative in Alabama, where Coke worked in the mid-1990s. “She was just a wonderful person and skilled and committed advocate. It’s a terrible, terrible loss.”
Coke was last seen with Randy Alana (pictured below, right), 56, a convicted violent sex offender with a long criminal history whom she dated 20 years ago. According to police, he had reached out to her for help. He has been named a person of interest in the case. The Chronicle writes:
A source close to the investigation said a surveillance camera had filmed Coke’s Mini Cooper crossing the Carquinez Bridge after she disappeared. Alana was filmed by another camera filling up Coke’s car at a gas station on Martin Luther King Jr. Way in North Oakland, the source said. The car was found abandoned Monday in West Oakland. Coke’s work phone was found on a street near the Oakland-Emeryville border Sunday, and her personal cell phone was found near an Interstate 80 overpass in Richmond.
That phone’s signal had been tracked through the North and East Bay, including in Vacaville, said Coke’s sister Tanya Coke-Kendall. Coke was seen with Alana after she left her North Oakland home at 8:30 p.m. Aug. 4, telling her 15-year-old daughter she was going to a drugstore and would be back in half an hour, police said. Alana has convictions for voluntary manslaughter, rape, and several other sex-assault crimes. He has been in violation of sex-offender registration requirements since June, records show.
Police declined to release any further information about any connection between Coke’s death and Alana.
In the mid-1990s, Coke worked in the Deep South helping the vulnerable juvenile inmate population in Alabama that was, at the time, eligible for the death penalty, according to the Mercury News. The 16 juvenile inmates on death row was the largest in the nation. Coke was able to interview family and friends to bring out the traumatic childhood experiences that influenced these juveniles’ behavior. It was evidence that was not often presented at trial. Coke had a “gentle way” of dealing with inmates and their families.
“She had a wonderful way of endearing people to her and persuading people to talk to her about difficult things,” Stevenson said.
Now Coke’s family is making plans to take care of her 15-year-old daughter who is left without her mother.
“All of us will miss Sandra’s beautiful, giving spirit,” the Coke family statement read. “Our family and Sandra’s daughter will need time and privacy to mourn our loss. We thank you for understanding our need for privacy at this time.”
A fund has been set up to help care for Coke’s daughter and to provide for her education. Visit The Sandra Coke Fund website for details on how to donate.