Images: Instagram/shereewhitfield / Instagram/shereewhitfield

In April 2020 a star of The Real Housewives of Atlanta revealed some distressing news via social media. Her mother had apparently been missing for weeks. Of course, when a missing persons case gets to that point, families can start to lose hope. People shared their thoughts and prayers, and eventually the woman in question posted an update on her mom.

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The Real Housewives of Atlanta hosts on Bravo and is a look at the everyday lives of various women who live in the eponymous Georgian city. It began with five housewives: DeShawn Snow, Lisa Wu, NeNe Leakes, Kim Zolciak and Shereé Whitfield. Over the years it’s had some controversial departures, but the show is still very much a success.

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And it was Shereé Whitfield whose mother went missing. Although the star wasn’t actually still appearing on The Real Housewives of Atlanta anymore at that point, she still appealed to her nearly one million Instagram followers for help. On April 9, 2020, she made a post with her mother’s picture on it and explained what had happened.

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Whitfield wrote, “Please keep my mom and my family in your prayers! We all know that prayers can move mountains! I was hesitant to post my concerns for my mother’s safe return because, although I have been in close contact with the police for the past two weeks, I’m also pretty private when it comes to my family.”

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The reality star went on, “Also, in the past, my mom has taken personal vacations without letting the family know and we respect that side of her. However, this is the longest she has gone without reaching out to anyone from the family or her friends. Right now, we are leaning on God and staying positive and prayerful for her safe return home.”

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The worried daughter then appealed to her fans for help, writing, “Family is everything! I ask that everyone pray for my mother’s safe return home.” Whitfield added that if anyone had any information, they should call the Sandy Springs police department or email the detective on the case, and she provided their contact information.

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Many people – including those who knew the TV star personally from The Real Housewives of Atlanta – commented on the post. Cynthia Bailey wrote, “[Whitfield], I pray that she returns home safely. My heart goes out to you and your family. Devastated by this news.” And Kenya Moore said, “[Whitfield], we are here for you and your family. Please keep her safe and bring her home.”

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Whitfield and Moore had actually feuded a lot over the course of the show. As recently as 2016 they were bickering via Twitter. Indeed, Whitfield even made a jab at Moore’s own mother while appearing on Watch What Happens Live in 2017. But now that all appeared to have been resolved.

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Whitfield, for her part, was an ideal reality star right from the beginning. She was a socialite, a businesswoman, an author and a mother of three. She also had a clear life goal in mind. On the official Bravo website for the show, her bio stated, “[Whitfield is] eager to move forward from the painful past of her first marriage, [and her] newfound mission is to help and encourage other women heal as well.”

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But Whitfield didn’t seem to exactly enjoy her time on the show. And in 2012 she declared her intention to leave. She told Wetpaint.com, “After four solid seasons of helping Bravo build the show into its most successful Housewives franchise, I have decided to leave. The direction the show is going in is no longer a fit for my lifestyle. I’m tired of the fighting and the cattiness.”

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The co-star of the program pointedly went on, “I want to be part of something that empowers and inspires women to not only be healthy, but to treat themselves with respect. I wish the rest of the women the best of luck. I’m thrilled to say I’m now a free agent and am already fielding offers.”

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However, Whitfield did actually return to the show as a “friend” in season eight, which premiered in November 2015. That month, Whitfield also did a revealing interview with The Grio in which she discussed her family, how she tackled parenthood, and the story of her own mother.

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When Whitfield was asked, “Why did you leave the show in 2012?” she answered, “At the time, I was going through this huge child support battle with my kids’ dad. I felt like my [children] were growing up before my eyes and I wasn’t there. It was a lot of stress, drama, and a lot on me. When I was doing this show, it was my real life.”

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Whitfield went on, “A lot of the shows now are scripted; it was like real s**t… When I did pull away, it was like a weight lifted off of my shoulders. I didn’t want to leave the house for a couple of years.” She added, “Being on the show, it was a lot of drama, and the extra drama was my personal life. After the cameras [went] down, I still had to deal with this stuff.”

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The interviewer asked Whitfield, “An inspiring part of your story is that you had a child at 15 years old. What was the biggest lesson that you learned from that experience?” She answered, “It was absolutely tough. I had a great support system with my mom and my brother. It was that one time, and I just sort of got caught up.”

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Whitfield went on, “My mom actually had a daughter when she was young – 16 or 17. She was put up for adoption a long time ago in Ohio. [In that state], they had a ban on finding out who your adoptive parents were until this year. So, this year, my mom’s daughter applied… so I actually just met her for the very first time, and she’s 51 or 52. We’re trying to work that dynamic.”

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Whitfield was a regular character again on the show again by season nine. And during this time, she spoke to her co-stars and audience about the alleged domestic violence that she had suffered in the past. While married to her ex-husband Bob Whitfield, she claimed that there was verbal and emotional abuse but there were also “physical altercations.”

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In April 2017 Whitfield told The Daily Dish website, “It was tough to even talk about [my relationship problems] or even have those conversations with [Whitfield] or any of the girls – and in front of millions of people. This is something that I just kind of covered up and for a long time.” The star added that she found it “therapeutic” talking about the issues that she faced.

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Of her children, Whitfield said, “I didn’t know how that was going to turn out because I never had that conversation with my kids about things that happened in the marriage.” She added, “I didn’t want them to see it and so that scene comes on and [my daughter Kaliegh] comes over and gives me a hug. She’s like, ‘Oh my gosh, mom I’m so sorry.’”

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In November 2017 Whitfield then spoke to Bravo again about how her life was going. She said, “Last year, I was forced to confront the abuse and all of the feelings that I’d suppressed for so many years after my marriage with my ex ended. The abuse that I had worked so hard to keep a secret in the hopes of protecting my family was exposed, and I couldn’t hide from it anymore.”

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The reality star went on, “Eventually, I want to get to a point in my life where my past isn’t weighing me down, where that dark cloud isn’t hanging over me. Because I’m making some major changes moving forward and am going through a lot, I really just want to start this next chapter of my life with a clean slate, be in a much better place, and be happy and free.”

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Meanwhile, Whitfield continued working on her relationships with family members. In December 2017 the star did an episode in which she threw her mother a birthday party. At the time, she told Bravo TV, “My mom is my hero; she always worked so hard to provide for me and our family. It felt good to be able to do this for her and make this milestone birthday so special for her.”

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But Whitfield wouldn’t remain on the show for long that time around, and by season ten she had left again. Rumor had it that she’d been fired, though the businesswoman firmly denied this. In July 2018 she said on an Instagram Story, “Currently living my best life. [I] was not interested in entertaining the lowball offer that was sent.”

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A development in Whitfield’s personal life had also changed things, it seemed. She had begun seeing a man called Tyrone Gilliams, who was serving ten years in prison for wire fraud. A source told Us Weekly in 2018, “Bravo can’t film inside or even outside the jail. This is causing a problem with her storyline.”

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Later on in 2018 Whitfield spoke to Us Weekly about her new relationship. She said, “I mean he would love to marry me right now, but I am not marrying someone who is in prison. I am keeping my options open.” She went on, “I meet people all the time and the crazy thing is, no one has been able to hold my attention or grab it.”

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Whitfield continued, “No one has been able to get in my mind and my head. [Gilliams] is still around, but I say at the same time, I love him and I have said it before, if he comes home and I am still available and everything is great, what he is doing and what he says he is going to do, then absolutely I can see a future.”

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But come 2020 Whitfield must have been worrying about whether her mom would be in that future. Indeed, by April 10 she still hadn’t been found. On that day Whitfield posted an update on Instagram, which began, “I truly appreciate the outpouring of love, support and prayers for my mother’s safe return home.”

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Whitfield’s update went on, “I know this no doubt will move mountains and bring her home. My family and I are grateful for each and every post, repost, notification, text, and phone call. Most importantly, I can’t say this enough, I thank you for continued prayers. We are continuing to keep the faith and staying positive at this time.”

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As indicated by her social media accounts alone, Whitfield very much believes in prayer and Christianity. At the beginning of March, just a few weeks before her mother went missing, she said, “Stop trying to force things to happen. Everything will come together at the perfect time, trust God.”

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Many people, including Whitfield’s reality TV co-stars and fellow celebs, commented on the update with messages of support. For her part, Cynthia Bailey wrote, “Here for you” alongside heart and praying emojis. While singer Keri Hilson dropped in to say, “Prayers. I can’t imagine what you all are going through right now. [I’m] praying for her safe return.”

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The Sandy Springs Police Department released information about people wanting to help should be looking for. Their statement read, “Thelma Ferguson was last seen by her family on March 23, 2020, after leaving her Sandy Springs home. Ms. Ferguson was last seen wearing gray pants, black shirt and driving a gray 2009 Honda Accord… Ms. Ferguson has ties to the states of Ohio and California.”

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Thankfully, the next update Whitford shared was a positive one. In fact, it was the best news of all: her mother had been found. She wrote, “Thank you for all the prayers, they worked! My mom has been found safe and healthy. She is with family now. I couldn’t have gotten through this without your support! God is good!”

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There was another outpouring of emotion on Whitford’s Instagram after that, but this time it was of gratitude and relief. The Real Housewives of Atlanta’s official Instagram posted alongside a heart emoji, “So happy to hear this!” But in the comment section some people wondered where Ferguson had gone in the first place.

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Details as to where Whitfield’s mother was all that time remained sketchy. According to the Atlanta Journal Constitution and police spokesman Sergeant Salvador Ortega, she was found in Ohio. The Buckeye State was actually the place Ferguson’s daughter was put up for adoption, according to Whitfield’s earlier interview.

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Everything was okay, but Whitfield had been right to worry. Once a person has been missing for more than 72 hours it becomes a lot harder to find them, and Whitfield’s mother had been gone for weeks. And after only a couple of days have passed in a missing persons case, evidence inevitably starts to disappear.

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Former FBI Special Agent in Charge Steve Gomez explained to ABC News that one of the most important things is locating those who saw the missing person. He said in October 2018, “That’s why it’s just so important to try and move the investigation along and to get the public’s help.”

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Gomez went on in his interview, “There’s a certain point after about a week or two where you have to think, the potential that the missing person is dead. And now it’s a matter of trying to find their body and bring closure to the family and to determine if you now have a homicide investigation, or suicide, or some kind of accidental death.”

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According to criminologists, social media is now a very important tool with missing persons cases. It means the message to be on the lookout can be spread more easily, increasing the likelihood that the individual will be found. Unfortunately, though, according to statistics race also plays a part in which people are found alive. Statista notes that white Americans enjoy more media coverage, even though it found that almost 50 percent of people who disappeared in 2019 were ethnic minorities.

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In 2019 the Montgomery Advertiser noted, “Although black women make up less than 7 percent of the U.S. population, they represent about 10 percent of all missing persons cases throughout the country. Estimates by the Black and Missing Foundation put the total number of disappeared black women and girls at 64,000.”

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All things considered, Whitfield is very lucky that she has her mother back. The reality TV star hasn’t shared any more information about the circumstances of Ferguson’s disappearance. Even though she detailed a lot of her life on The Real Housewives of Atlanta, this it seems she wants to keep private. And that might be for the best.

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