In his leather biker jacket, wearing a black do-rag, Johnny Vaughn, vice president of the Southeast Division of BURN, explained the organization’s mission to the council members at their meeting.
“We’re the foot soldiers,” Vaughn said. “We’re the ones that get out here and knock on doors and talk to people.”
The representatives were invited to the council meeting by Heflin Police Chief A. J. Benefield. The organization is working with the police department to locate 16-year-old Marta Ramirez Mendez, who disappeared Sept. 30.
“We’re utilizing them; they’re actually helping us,” Benefield told the council members.
The bikers are invited into places the police would need a search warrant to go, Benefield said.
BURN is a division of the national Center for Search Investigation, Vaughn said. The organizations were started about two years ago to fight the increasing instances of child trafficking in this country, Vaughn said. BURN has been in Alabama since April, he said.
BURN is made up of volunteers — private investigators, such as Vaughn, bounty hunters, law enforcement and volunteers who they train.
Many people are unfamiliar with the group, he said. For instance, the group wasn’t contacted about Mendez until Friday.
The teen has been missing since Sept. 30. Mendez was a student at Cleburne County High School. She lived with her sister, Alicia Mendez, and brother-in-law, Hector Chun, on U.S. 431 in the Hollis Crossroads area. The day she disappeared, her family heard a car outside their home about 4:20 a.m. and then realized Marta was gone. They initially thought she went to school, but when she didn’t come home that afternoon, they started searching for her. On Oct. 2, the family went to the high school for help and reported Mendez missing to the police.
BURN will work on the Mendez case for up to 90 days, Vaughn said.
In other business, the council members:
— Approved the annexation of five parcels of property on Tompkins Street. At the last council meeting, Heflin City Clerk Shane Smith said the city approached Matt Miles, owner of Buster Miles Auto Group, about annexing three parcels of his property on Tompkins Street behind his Ford store. Officials want to bring in the property because of development going on in the area and because the city already provides services to the properties, Smith said. Miles’ properties adjoined two other properties, so the city approached those property owners at the same time, he said.
— Appointed Tracy Williamson and Joe Hunt to the city’s Planning Commission.
The next meeting will be Jan. 14, beginning with the work session at 5:30 p.m.
Staff writer Laura Camper: 256-235-3545. On Twitter @LCamper_Star.