TAMPA — On clear mornings, if there’s time before she picks up her boys from school, Jhamila Shine pulls on her bathing suit and rubber rain boots and wades into the murky swamps of Copeland Park.
She searches the marshy wetlands for black sneakers with red trim or a cracked iPhone long out of service. She claws through mounds of freshly turned earth and inspects tarp-covered bundles of belongings hidden away by the homeless.
For 10 weeks, Jhamila has searched for her firstborn son, Micheal Shine III.
There have been no Amber Alerts or police-led search parties since the 17-year-old disappeared on his way to West University Charter High School on Wednesday, Aug. 15. He isn’t listed as missing by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement; nor does an alert for him appear on websites for the Tampa Police Department or Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office.
He hasn’t run away before, his mom said. But state law saves urgent measures such as Amber Alerts for younger children or those clearly endangered, relegating Micheal to the category "runaway."
Micheal, almost an adult, left home on his own, as teens sometimes do.
As of Thursday, Tampa police had 14 active runaway cases pending within city limits, spokesman Steve Hegarty said.
The agency defines a runaway as a juvenile who intentionally leaves home without consent "in order to be free of control or restraint."
"Even if he did run away, and I know he didn’t, my son is still missing," Jhamila Shine said, "we’re still looking for him and he still needs to be found."
She needs to see his face, she said, and ask him if he’s okay.
"I still don’t know that you’re eating properly, if you’re sleeping in a safe place, if you’re warm, if you have clean clothes, if somebody hurt you. If I don’t know all of these things and you’re my son, you’re in danger to me. You’re missing."
Tampa police have tried.
Shine has been in contact with several detectives. She said they have followed up on her leads. One personally searched railroad tracks behind Blake High School, she said.
"His case is being worked day and night and on the weekend, too," she told Facebook followers on Aug. 26.
Investigators subpoenaed surveillance footage from the HART bus Micheal usually took to school and obtained records that showed his social media accounts have been inactive since June 30, his mother said. Police have questioned his friends, classmates and employees at APDC Cleaning Services, a company that hired Micheal to work at Raymond James Stadium for Taylor Swift’s concert the night before he disappeared.
But the case remains open.
"Tampa police detectives are working closely with Micheal Shine’s family and we continue to follow leads," police spokesman Hegarty said.
"We have conducted dozens of interviews with family members and friends. At this time, Micheal is still missing, but we have seen no evidence that would suggest he is endangered."
Anyone with information should call police at (813) 231-6130.
No one knows what happened to Micheal. He never showed up at the neighbor’s house, where he told his parents he was going to play video games before taking the bus to school, and he never showed up for classes at West University Charter High School, where he was set for an early graduation in December.
He wasn’t expected at school until 12:30 p.m. that day, his mom said. He left their West Tampa home on Chestnut Street at about 9 a.m. wearing a black T-shirt, black jeans and black sneakers with red trim. He didn’t have a backpack or take a bike, Jhamila said, and he carried only a wallet and an out-of-service iPhone.
"Every now and then I’ll ask my second oldest son, Jeremiah, ‘Tell me the truth, have you been talking to Micheal,’ and his eyes will just well up with tears and he’ll say, ‘Mom, Dad, I really don’t know where he is,’" Jhamila said.
She can’t picture her son intentionally staying hidden. It would require too much effort.
"He wouldn’t leave us worrying like this," she said, "and even if he was angry he wouldn’t leave without telling his brothers goodbye."
Micheal’s parents had been impressed by their son’s maturity in recent months, they said. He wasn’t perfect. He was finishing up probation for a misdemeanor marijuana arrest in April. But he was making good grades. And even with his phone out of service, he usually found ways to call, text or even send his mother an Instagram message if he was running up against his curfew.
He had been working to save money to enroll in the paramedic program at Hillsborough Community College. He also considered enlisting in the military.
Now, his probation officer is among those who have reached out to help the family.
Movie and game nights have been replaced by family searches for Micheal, by HART bus, bicycle or foot.
Jhamila estimates the family has distributed 2,500 fliers throughout Tampa, but so far, the posters have led only to prank phone calls from people trying to get money.
She’s gathered search parties of strangers, pastors, psychics and private investigators to retrace her steps along the railroad tracks, through the shrimp docks, and into wetlands. The park is about a seven-minute walk from Micheal’s charter school.
They’ve searched an abandoned public housing complex, North Boulevard Homes.
The father, Micheal Shine II, has struggled over conversations with the youngest son, 5-year-old Max.
"He told his friends at school about a month back, ‘My big brother Bubby’ — that’s what he calls him — ‘is lost, and mommy and daddy had to put up signs to find his way back home,’" the father said.
Neither parent has returned to work since Micheal vanished, they said. Their car and furniture were repossessed. Friends and church members have helped pay water and electric bills. Donations and the family’s savings have paid for fliers, banners, yard signs and T-shirts. Clear Channel Outdoors has broadcast the Shine’s appeal on digital billboards throughout Tampa free of charge, the mother said.
And though she fears what she may find, and though she has yet to find anything at all, Jhamila still wakes up at 5 a.m., takes her other three boys to school and then trudges through swamps looking for answers.
"If he came home right now, just walked in the door, I would give him the biggest hug and kiss," she said Friday. "I wouldn’t question him about anything. If he wanted to tell us what happened that’s up to him, but I wouldn’t ask him no questions.
"As long as you’re home, you’re safe and the constant migraine could finally be over. The constant hurt could go away."
Contact Anastasia Dawson at [email protected] or (813) 226-3377. Follow @adawsonwrites.