Boro mom raises awareness of missing persons

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Arnita Fowler has told the story of her son’s disappearance so often in the past two years that the southeast Queens woman said she has gotten used to the wide-eyed stares and quiet expressions of sympathy it inspires in listeners.

It is a complicated story: In October 1995, Fowler’s son La Mont Dottin, 21, left his Hollis home to mail a package and never returned. Fowler spent four years searching for him until 1999, when the New York Police Department told her Dottin’s body was found shortly after his disappearance and had been buried in Potter’s Field without the family’s knowledge.

Last week, Fowler was at a table in the Jamaica Market, repeating the story to anyone who would listen. Though a state bill was introduced in February 2001 to reform missing persons reporting in New York, it has stalled and Fowler has started a petition drive in support of the legislation.

“I don’t need pity, I need support,” she said last week after telling more than a dozen passersby about her son’s fate. “They start judging you — my point is even though you’re hurt you can still be mentally stable.”

Fowler, who has been out of the public eye since launching the La Mont Dottin Foundation in 2000 — a group seeking to assist families of missing persons and to reform how the NYPD handles those cases — said last week she was ready to renew her battle for change.

“If you’re over 18 or under 65, they won’t look for you,” Fowler said as she explained the purpose of “La Mont Dottin’s Law.” “This bill is to remove the age restrictions.”

The bill was introduced in the state Senate by Sen. Malcolm Smith (D-St. Albans) and in the Assembly by Assemblyman William Scarborough (D-St. Albans). In a telephone interview this week, Scarborough said he plans to make “La Mont Dottin’s Law” a top priority.

“I didn’t sense any opposition” to the bill in 2001, Scarborough said. “It was simply legislative bureaucracy. I intend to do a full court press on this — it’s an issue that needs to be dealt with.”

Fowler, who had her son’s body exhumed from Potter’s Field and reburied in Long Island’s Calverton National Cemetery in September 1999, has several plans to raise awareness on the issue of missing persons. The St. Albans resident and Army veteran said she is organizing a marathon in May to call attention to the issue and has contacted Queens Borough President Helen Marshall about designating one week in May as “Missing Persons Week.”

“This is not just about me,” she said. “I want to make other people aware of it. They [the NYPD] can do this a better way.”

The NYPD’s guidelines define a missing person as someone: under the age of 18 or older than 65 reported missing from a city residence; with mental or physical impairments; who was a victim of drowning; who was suicidal; or who is gone under unaccountable circumstances or who has involuntarily disappeared.

A spokesman for the NYPD said people between the ages of 18 and 65 without mental or physical impairments are not considered “missing.”

If it passes the state Legislature and is signed by Gov. George Pataki, “La Mont Dottin’s Law” would require several provisions, including:

• a “prompt and uniform” standard for searching for missing persons;

• the removal of the “presumption that persons between the ages of 19 and 64 are not missing;”

• the creation of a clearinghouse of information for missing persons investigations where government agencies could exchange information and access a consistently updated, statewide data base; and

• increased training for law enforcement personnel investigating missing persons.

“This is not just about me,” Fowler said. “This is not a party issue, this is not a race issue — it’s not even a cost issue.”

Fowler said the World Trade Center disaster, during which thousands of families first thought their loved ones were missing in the immediate hours after the Twin Towers’ collapse, struck home for her.

“I know what it’s like to not know where your loved one is,” she said. “I can relate to those who have not been able to find the remains of their loved ones. I can just feel their agony.”

As more people approached Fowler’s table in the Jamaica Market asking about her petition, Fowler said she knew one thing.

“I can’t afford to sit back,” she said.

For more information, go online to

Reach reporter Kathianne Boniello by e-mail at or call 229-0300, Ext. 146.

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