CHESAPEAKE, Va. (WAVY) – It’s been an agonizing three weeks for the Patterson family as they search for their missing daughter.

‘You’ll always be our girl’: Family searches for missing 16-year-old

Destiny Ayala-Patterson, 16, was reported missing by her parents on March 28. Her family said she left Indian River High School in a car with a man around 3:10 p.m. Chesapeake Police confirmed they tracked that man down, but didn’t find the teenager with him.

“We’re worried sick about our daughter,” Destiny’s mother, Cristina Figueroa-Patterson, said Monday during a press conference.

“Just know that we love you, and we’re ready for you to be home,” her father, Joseph Patterson, said.

Chesapeake police are searching for Destiny Ayala-Patterson. She was last seen leaving Indian River High School on March 28.

The Pattersons have joined a growing number of families searching for their missing children in Virginia.

Destiny is one of 435 kids who were reported missing in Virginia as of April 1, according to data provided by the Virginia Department of Emergency Management.

Mark Eggeman, a search and rescue operations officer at VDEM, said that number represents a 30% increase in missing kids reported during the same time period five years ago.

“It’s kind of eye opening once you begin to see the numbers,” he said.

Chesapeake police do not believe Destiny is endangered at this time, but are actively pursuing every lead to find her. Eggeman said 95% of missing kids in Virginia are just like Destiny. They are classified as “juvenile reports.” That means authorities believe they likely ran away, and that they aren’t endangered and weren’t abducted.

“Just because they left of their own accord and just because they were enticed by a stranger online does not mean that it’s OK,” Eggeman said. “The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children estimates that one in five runaways will become victims of sex trafficking.”

10 On Your Side spoke with Eggeman about the issue of missing children in 2022. He has been tracking missing children data since 2016. He says the names of the missing change, but the demographic trends remain largely the same.

“Missing girls tend to outnumber missing boys,” he said. “It tends to be more of the older teenagers is the larger amounts of the numbers, and this area in Hampton Roads is the leading demographic for the most reported missing children in the state.”

The latest data shows 110 children were reported missing from Hampton Roads as of April 1. Data shows that minority children are reported missing much more often than their White peers – 65% of kids recently reported missing from the region were Black and 19% were Hispanic. Across Virginia, 85% of kids reported missing were Black or brown.

“While Destiny is my daughter, Destiny could be anybody’s daughter right now,” Joseph Patterson said.

Eggeman said most missing kids come home within a week or two. Those who are missing for more than 30 days are at risk of becoming “long-term missing” or cold cases.

“We don’t know what happens to them,” Eggeman said. “We have kids who have been missing for well over five years at this point, and we’re not sure what happens,” Eggeman said.

According to Chesapeake Public Schools, Destiny was last seen wearing a green and tan blouse, jeans and a heart-shaped ring on her right hand. She is a Hispanic female, 5-foot-7, 150 pounds and has brown hair and brown eyes.

Anyone with information about Destiny’s whereabouts should contact the Chesapeake Police Department or the Crime Line at 1-888-LOCK-U-UP.