The father of a 10-year-old northwest metro boy who has been missing for more than a week said Wednesday that he was not home when his son disappeared and is distressed that police consider him a suspect.
Interviewed in his Crystal apartment, Pierre Collins, 33, said he has done everything he can to help police find his son, Barway Collins.
“I’ve been working with the police just to bring my son home,” he said, frequently breaking into tears as he spoke. “I will do whatever they want just so Barway can come home. I have nothing to do with Barway’s missing.”
His wife, Yamah Collins, who is Barway’s stepmother, also said she and her husband do not know where the boy is and that Pierre “does not know who took his son.”
The two continued to plead for the boy’s safe return, asking “whoever has Barway to let him go.”
Barway Collins has been missing since the afternoon of March 18, when he was last seen being dropped off by his school van outside the Cedarwood Apartments in the 5400 block of Douglas Avenue N. On Tuesday, Crystal Police Chief Stephanie Revering said Pierre Collins failed a lie-detector test and that police don’t believe he’s being truthful about what he knows about Barway’s disappearance.
Pierre Collins has not been arrested or charged, and police have declined to say what role they believe he might have played.
Crystal police have released short surveillance videos related to the case, one showing Barway preparing to get out of his school van and casually telling a friend he sees his “dad” and “uncle,” and another of him approaching his apartment building’s door, then turning around and walking away.
Another photo released early on by police showed an unidentified man and woman who were in the building’s entryway around the same time. On Wednesday, police said they have identified the two and they are not related to the case.
Revering has said that police want to talk to the boy’s uncle, adding that they are not sure if he is a biological uncle or if “uncle” means close friend. Police say they believe the father and uncle were the last two people to see Barway, and that Pierre Collins refused to provide police with the uncle’s name.
But Collins and his wife said Wednesday they do not know who Barway was referring to as “my uncle” in the school van video.
Crystal police, who are investigating the case with the help of the FBI and the state Bureau of Criminal Apprehension, did not return repeated calls and e-mails for comment Wednesday. They have not said what they think might have happened to the boy.
The case, which was handled quietly in the beginning, with authorities saying then that they did not suspect foul play, has prompted an outpouring of concern and sympathy on social media. Many have questioned why an Amber Alert was not declared when Barway went missing, but authorities say the circumstances, like those surrounding those of most missing children, did not meet the criteria for such an alert.
Crystal police on Wednesday increased the reward for information leading to an arrest and prosecution in the case to $12,000.
Barway is a happy, polite boy who enjoys reading and math and often offers to help care for his younger siblings, his family said.
Conflicting portraits of dad
With help from Pierre Collins, Barway emigrated from his home country of Liberia to stay with his father in 2011, the family said Wednesday. The father said he wanted “to make him better” and for Barway to go to college someday.
Barway Collins’ birth mother, Mami Momo, who lives in Liberia, was in shock when she heard of his disappearance, and the family has been talking to her every day, Pierre Collins said.
But Jennifer Beaver, an ex-wife of Pierre Collins who now lives in Wisconsin, painted a less positive picture of Pierre in an order-for-protection petition filed in early 2013. The two were married for about 3½ years and divorced in 2013.
In the documents, she alleges that Pierre abused her and their children. Beaver accused him of hitting one of their sons, resulting in a “huge red welt of hand print on his face,” kissing their daughter “with his tongue inside her mouth,” and slamming the door on Beaver’s finger after forcing her to have sex with him. The documents show Pierre Collins denied the allegations, but agreed to supervised visitation of their four children (two of Jennifer’s whom he adopted, two his biological children).
Under the order of protection, which expired on March 14, he was not to visit his children’s schools.
Beaver could not be reached for comment Wednesday.
Meanwhile, the principal at the Brooklyn Center school where Barway is a fourth-grader said he is much missed.
Sheryl Ray, principal at Evergreen Park World Cultures Community School, which is part of the Anoka-Hennepin School District, said he is a well-known student who is polite and thoughtful toward others.
“The last time I saw him, he was holding the door open for others as they left at the end of the day,” Ray said. “He is missed and in our thoughts.”
Pastor Harding Smith of Brooklyn Center’s Spiritual Church of God, who has been in contact with the boy’s family, said Barway’s disappearance has caused much stress in the Liberian community.
“The community has become divided; people don’t know what to think,” Smith said. He sought to discount one theory — that Barway ran away from home. “If Barway had run away, we would have heard from him by now,” he said.
Mamadee Sesay, director of the Organization of Liberians in Minnesota, said Barway’s disappearance is the latest sorrow the Liberian immigrant community has had to deal with recently. During the height of the Ebola outbreak in West Africa, many feared for relatives overseas and had to deal with suspicions here about whether they had been in contact with the virus.
“As a community, we are going through a very rough time,” Sesay said.