(NewsNation) —Alexis Patterson was 7 years old when she walked to school with her stepfather in Milwaukee. She never made it home.
That was 20 years ago, on May 3, 2002. Her mother has not given up searching for her. In fact, she believes she may have found the girl in 2016, but says police are covering it up.
“She was an amazing little girl. She was my sun, my shining star,” Alexis’ mother Ayanna Patterson said. “She still is my shining star.”
Patterson’s disappearance at the time was overshadowed by another missing persons case, one that gripped the nation and dominated headlines — the Utah kidnapping of 14-year-old Elizabeth Smart.
Smart’s photo was plastered everywhere within hours. The FBI got involved and a $250,000 reward was offered.
Alexis did not receive the same treatment.
Things moved much slower surrounding her disappearance. The FBI did not get involved until three days after Patterson vanished. One week later, a $10,000 reward was offered.
Smart was found alive nine months after her abduction. Patterson is still missing.
Teachers noted the little girl for her smile and ambition. Her mother says she “loved school on every level.”
It was at school that Alexis went missing.
Her stepfather says he walked her one block to school the morning she went missing and watched her walk up to the playground before he returned home. Her teachers say she never made it inside.
Two weeks before Alexis disappeared, her mother says, the school sent a letter home saying there was a man who had been trying to abduct a child.
Weeks and months of searching for Alexis ensued to no avail.
Ayanna says at the time all she wanted was her baby and still to this day, that’s all she wants.
In 2016, working off a tip she received from a journalist, Ayanna believed a young woman living in the Midwest was Alexis. Ayanna said she collected her DNA and it was a match.
“I am her mother. I am telling you, this is my baby,” Ayanna said. “She has eight of the same identifying marks and she had four other marks I didn’t even say nothing about.”
Ayanna said the Milwaukee Police Department never did their own DNA testing. The Milwaukee Police Department says it did and the DNA was not a match.
“This is being done purposely,” Ayanna said. “They’re going out of their way not to connect me and my daughter’s DNA because there are higher people involved, people higher up. So when it comes to little bitty Alexis, little Black … girl, she don’t matter, she does not matter. She never did.”
In a statement to NewsNation, the MPD said: “Milwaukee Police are dedicated to continuing to work on the missing person’s case of Alexis Patterson. Throughout the case, detectives have thoroughly investigated each lead and continue to request the public’s assistance.”
James Burnett, a former reporter for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel who covered Patterson’s disappearance, said a police source told him at the time that Ayanna and the stepfather, LaRon Bourgeois, both took polygraph tests about Alexis’ disappearance.
Ayanna passed. Bourgeois did not. Police said he failed questioning or whether he had knowledge of the girl’s whereabouts.
“When I heard it, figuratively my jaw dropped,” Burnett said. “I had to pick my jaw up and ask my source to repeat it and tell me again and tell me again and tell me again.”
Polygraph tests, however, are not permissible evidence in Wisconsin courts. The results could not be used against Bourgeois.
Burnett reported Bourgeois’ polygraph results in the paper and later included Bourgeois’ other criminal history, which included a bank robbery, in another story.
Ayanna felt the attention on her then-husband took focus away from finding Alexis.
“I don’t make anything of that because I took a lie detector test, too, but there’s no telling what they asked him,” Ayanna said. “I mean, I don’t know. I don’t trust LaRon, either. I don’t trust nobody.”
Ayanna and Bourgeois divorced in 2005. He died of an overdose in 2021.