Don't miss a shocking interview with Monique Smith, the founder of the Known as Monique Foundation, Inc., and an advocate for missing children.
After enduring a terrible childhood of constant severe abuse, Monique Smith found out at the age of 32 that she didn’t exist. Her identity was false, and she had been stolen as a child! At this stage Monique was a mother of two, working as an administrator in a hospital. The shock of the news led her into a question frenzy: Who was she? How old was she? Where was her family? Where was she born? For the next 10 years, Monique spent her life trying to find answers to these questions. With very little success, she decided to dedicate her life instead to being an advocate for missing children. She has since released her book, I Am The Ancestor, where she shares her story with her children and the world. Today Monique Smith is our guest on Your Voices.
After reading your heartbreaking story, I really admire the things you’re doing for missing children and I would like to commend you on that.
To introduce you to our readers, I’d like to clear up a few details of your story. When did you find out that you were abducted by the woman who raised you?
I discovered that 20 years ago in 1996.
What makes you think that you’re from New York City?
I don’t know where I’m from. I’m a graduate of Women Entrepreneurs of Baltimore, and it required me to be licensed and bonded. But I’d never seen any of my documentation. I had experienced problems before when trying to get identification, so one day I wrote all of the municipalities and told them to let me see what they have on me. I had also acquired a social security number so I asked to see the application. They had to go through archives to retrieve medical records and the forms that this woman had to fill out to get me into school. The inconsistencies would blow your mind. One said I was born in 1965, one said 1966. One said I was born in May, the other in April, one said New York, one said Chicago.
And do you have any idea why this woman did what she did?
I’ve come to the conclusion that she could not conceive children. In today’s terms, I think she would be one of those women who pretend to be pregnant, meet another woman, exchange baby clothes and basically do bodily harm, as far as cutting a baby out of a woman’s womb. She was that evil. I got beaten every day of my life from the time I can remember. I was abused every day of my life.
That’s really awful, I should say. I can only imagine the pain you went through and how it’s like growing up in such an environment. I think you are a very strong woman.
Thank you. If you remember the Amanda Berry story, where she was locked up in the basement and molested for so many years, that’s the lifestyle I lived. It’s just that my freedom came because life happened and I kind of evolved out of it. I turned 18 and I got away from her. But then I went to Florida and became a prostitute, not even realizing that that had happened that quickly. Then I got caught into human trafficking. Later, I wanted to come back to normalcy, so I came back to Maryland and got grounded.
When your story went viral, I think someone could’ve identified you through your pictures. Did you receive any messages from people who may know you or your family?
So many scenarios are going on right now especially with ancestors.com, where you have people who are there to play games. I met some people who said they know somebody who knows somebody who knows somebody. There were other family members that came and said they knew someone. That is why the back of my book actually has some pictures that I had stolen from the lady at various ages. I don’t know why, but I just assumed the age of three, the age of seven. They help draw people’s memory if they could’ve remembered anything, but I’ve never had a true hit, just a few inquiries.
What do you think about circumstances now? Is it harder for a child to be missing today or are there any similarities of the stories of missing kids today with your story?
You could be missing, because people are abducting children everyday. It’s really sad but I’ve been working in this for so long. There are thousands of people campaigning across this country with signs, ‘Find my 4-year-old’, ‘Find my son’, ‘Find my daughter’. Someone could have stolen their child and has taken care of them so well, sent them to college, let them inherit things. So I try to tell everyone to never give up hope, never stop looking because all missing kids aren’t dead. Every 40 seconds, across this country, a child is reported missing. Statistics have also shown that within 2 hours of an abduction, often, kids are physically and mentally abused, raped, and murdered. So responding quickly is key. There’s a billion-dollar industry for child abduction and so we need to do more.
When your story came out, were there any people who were skeptical and didn’t want to believe that you were missing as a child.
Everyone. First of all, I struggled because at that time I was a mother of two, I was already a homeowner, and I was the assistant director at Johns Hopkins Hospital. So I wondered, “How do I tell these people I’ve given them false information when I didn’t know, and that was not my identity?” I was about to lose my job, my home, my kids, and I sat for a nanosecond, and I said, “You know what? Let them prove me wrong. That would aid me in my process.” So if I was to get wrongfully terminated or pointed fingers at and told I was lying, I’m fabricating my story, then they should prove me wrong. I did struggle with law enforcement. It was really a surprise to the The National Center for Missing & Exploited Children. It took over 10 years for me to present enough documentation to it [that I was missing]. Right now, I have a missing child number from The National Center for Missing & Exploited Children database.
Did they investigate the woman who raised you? Did they investigate how she was able to get you?
I have yet to do that. I was able to file a police report in 2013. But as with many jurisdictions I’ve met with, “Well, your paperwork says Chicago, your paperwork says New York. It’s not our responsibility. It’s not our jurisdiction.” I have all of my letters and responses from all of these entities. I have had to build enough to even press charges against this woman. She’s now 73, and she said she will go to her grave before she says it. Of course, there’s no statute of limitations on child abduction, rape and abuse. They will build a penitentiary for this woman.
Tell our readers about the time when you were abducted. Were you free, or were you living as a captive with this woman.
I was abducted and I was captive, because she wrongfully had me, but I was free. The problem was that I couldn’t go anywhere. Everyday of my life, even when I was at the assumed age of 18, graduated from high school, I went to work, came back home, she would cash my check and she would give me bus fare, just so I could continue going back and forth to work. And that was a regular routine. There was no social life. I have a tooth in my head that’s cracked right now, and scars on my face because of this woman. I was sexually abused and molested and raped from four up until I got away from that family. Her brothers knew what she did, and I had not known at the time that if one had sex with me in one room, and I go downstairs to another room, they never knew what each person was doing. They said she would kill me if they told her, so under the age of 18 I always thought that at any moment, anyone would kill me. I know that there are kids right now that are going through this, and this is why I work. So while I’m looking for me, I look for them.
Please tell us about the workshops that you have for children in schools.
It’s called They Care. It’s a day care provider for the mother, father and child. I show them safety tips, the traditional: Don’t get in anyone’s car, having secret code names, even telling the parents to ask the day carers when was the last time they had a background check. It opens up the line of communication for everyone, it puts the day carer in a better position because it shows them that the parents are really mindful of what’s going on and they want the wellbeing of the child. There’s peace of mind for the parents because they know that this workshop is taking place and the techniques that I teach also help the child. When I get to colleges and universities, it’s a whole other game. The workshops are more ID me. If you’re on campus and you hang out with your friend, you’re the last person to see them. So if that person goes to the bathroom, a van rolls up and a while later your friend is gone, when the authorities approach you, you have to have your mind to say, “Black pants, blue shirt, yellow earrings, she didn’t have on makeup and her hair was cornrow.” In the Stand Campaign, which is the last one and one of my favorites, these are young adults in high school that have taken a stand against human trafficking and abduction of children. What we do is, we give them a sheet, where they actually go out and raise money and become advocates. They share the message about it happening in their communities, it being taught in their schools and that people need to be on the lookout. They bring that money back and it goes to The National Center for Missing & Exploited Children, The Known as Monique Foundation, Angels of Addictions, any organization of their choice. Because then it builds them to maybe want to form other processes or charities later.
Do you remember anything at all about your childhood with your real family?
Because I was taken at the age of one or two, no.
Tell us about the work you do as an advocate for missing children.
In 2012, I worked on the Phylicia Barnes case. Nationally, she’s known as the first African American child to go missing and they did an amber alert on her. They found her body in Virginia, and we all lobbied, we campaigned, and now the state of Maryland has an official law for missing children, so I’m very proud about my involvement with that. Right now in the state of Maryland, if an amber alert goes off, the police call for volunteers. So I’m going to launch a citizens’ first responders’ unit. I’ve already purchased water bottles, hand sanitizers, gloves, flashlights. All the training that I’ve just finished on doing CPR, the community outreach, is to pull the teams together at the citizens’ level, so we can mobilize and we can actually canvas any areas that the FBI or the state or local police department will allow us to engage with them as citizens. I think that once I do this, it can be modelled across the entire state of Maryland, because there is none from a citizens’ level here. I’ve got the OK with the police department, so I’m excited.
Please tell us about your book, I Am The Ancestor.
It just hit me one day when I realized I can’t prove my kids are my kids. Without a birth certificate, I can’t get a death certificate, so my insurance policies mean nothing, my properties mean nothing, everything that I’ve ever worked for is of no value. No one’s ever going to tell my story, so the book is called I Am The Ancestor. My kids don’t know anybody but me, and I’m excited about that because if I am their ancestor, I want to be the mum that they need me to be, to be able to take this energy and build on our legacy. Yeah, we’re not the Rockefellers, we’re not the Kennedys, the Obama’s, but we’re just as powerful. If I died, there’s no one telling my story, that’s why I tell people they should forever tell my story. I almost didn’t tell my kids. I found out what had happened in 1996, my book did not come out until 2011. And I didn’t want my daughter to wake up one day and say, “Hey, let’s go to ancestors.com and build a family tree.” And then they’ll be like who’s Monique Smith? So I told my kids to save them, to save other kids at the same time. The purchase price of the book is 1966. That’s the year that I think I was born. I put a date on every book, and the goal is that for every book that I ever sign, I will put a date on it up until the date that I’m found.
What are your final words to our readers?
Never stop searching for your loved ones. Never give up hope, and look up. Look up to the missing person flyers, look up to the amber alerts. Look up for hope. Look up and identify something that could help with the recovery effort of a missing child or an abducted individual. And just have hope.