GEOFF BENNETT: Last year, more than 270,000 women and girls went missing across the country.
Studies have shown that, when women of color go missing, they're far less likely to receive media attention.
And, as Laura Barron-Lopez reports, along with producers Karina Cuevas and Mike Fritz, the case of a missing immigrant woman in Boston is raising new concerns about how fast police respond.
LAURA BARRON-LOPEZ: It's been nearly four months since anyone has seen 41-year-old Reina Carolina Morales Rojas.
Security cameras captured this footage of Reina leaving her apartment in East Boston on November 26.
She was picked up by a car service and later dropped off five miles away in Somerville, Massachusetts.
ALICIA MORALES ROJAS, Sister of Reina Carolina Morales Rojas (through translator): She's an excellent mother and a great sister.
We are very close as sisters.
LAURA BARRON-LOPEZ: Reina's sister, Alicia Morales, lives in Santa Ana, El Salvador.
Reina crossed into the U.S. as an undocumented immigrant last May, but she and Alicia spoke to each other daily.
So when Reina's phone started going straight to voice-mail, Alicia became worried.
Did it seem odd to you that she wasn't answering her phone initially?
ALICIA MORALES ROJAS (through translator): I just felt something was wrong, because she never turned her phone off, not even to charge it.
She always told me she kept it on in case there was an emergency with her kids or someone in the family.
LAURA BARRON-LOPEZ: Last year, Reina's family says she quit her job as a local policewoman in El Salvador and came to the U.S. alone.
To one day bring her two children, now 15 and 13, to live with her.
ALICIA MORALES ROJAS (through translator): She left for the United States for a better future for her kids And I have been saying that, instead of finding the American dream, what she found was hell, because only God knows what she must be suffering.
LAURA BARRON-LOPEZ: When Alicia didn't hear from her sister, she immediately reached out to Reina's landlord, Francisco Magana (ph).
And this is Reina's apartment?
FRANCISCO MAGANA, Landlord: Yes.
LAURA BARRON-LOPEZ: He recently showed us where Reina had been living at the time of her disappearance.
Magana filed a missing person's report with the Boston Police Department on November 28, two days after Reina was last seen.
But more than six weeks would pass before the Boston Police Department issued a public notice about Reina's disappearance.
JULIA MEJIA, Boston City Council: I have never heard of a case like this before.
To be missing November 26 and not hear about it until January 12, that's a long time to go.
LAURA BARRON-LOPEZ: Julia Mejia is the first Latina elected to the Boston City Council.
She recently introduced a resolution calling on police to treat all missing person's equally.
JULIA MEJIA: In this case, Ms. Morales Rojas is not only a woman of color, but also an immigrant, which further makes her susceptible to dismissive treatment.
This is not just a case with Reina.
We are seeing this across the country, the lack of urgency around missing cases with women of color.
LAURA BARRON-LOPEZ: Reina is one of more than 250,000 women and girls who go missing in this country every year.
But exactly how many of these women are Latina is largely unknown.
That's because local and national law enforcement often don't gather data on missing Latinos, like they do for white and Black people.
DANIELLE SLAKOFF, Sacramento State University: As a criminologist, I can't say, oh, there are this percentage of missing people that are Latino, because the data actually isn't there to say that.
LAURA BARRON-LOPEZ: Danielle Slakoff is a criminologist at Sacramento State University.
DANIELLE SLAKOFF: So many of our major criminal justice databases actually lump white and Latino people together.
So this is a community that often is not viewed on its own accord, and it's often lumped in with this other category.
LAURA BARRON-LOPEZ: When a person goes missing, local law enforcement will enter any details they have into the National Crime Information Center, or NCIC, a database overseen by the FBI.
But within the NCIC, Hispanic is only listed as an ethnicity, not a specific race, making it optional for police to include.
Last year, of the more than 271,000 total entries under missing females, 21,759 women were categorized as Hispanic.
But in the overall database, the optional ethnicity field was filled out in less than 20 percent of cases.
Back in Boston, questions still remain why it took the police so long to publicly alert Reina's disappearance.
VICTOR EVANS, Deputy Superintendent, Boston Police Department: It's a misstep that happened.
And we as a police department own it, and it shouldn't have happened.
LAURA BARRON-LOPEZ: Victor Evans is a deputy superintendent of the Boston Police Department.
It taking six weeks is not standard protocol, is it, for an alert to go out for a missing person?
VICTOR EVANS: No, it's not.
I mean, the public alert was sent out six weeks later.
But prior to that, a lot of investigative work went into it.
We have canvassed the areas for public and private video.
We have utilized her photo through several law enforcement agencies, not only in Massachusetts, but around the country.
We have utilized the access of drones that we have, along with canines, to locate Ms. Rojas.
LAURA BARRON-LOPEZ: But Reina's disappearance remains a mystery.
MAN: Police detectives are looking for 41-year-old Reina Morales Rojas.
LAURA BARRON-LOPEZ: And her case highlights another major issue, how the media covers missing person's cases.
Studies have shown that media outlets often take their cues from police.
MARCELA GARCIA, Columnist, The Boston Globe: We hear from law enforcement, and then we cover it, right?
LAURA BARRON-LOPEZ: Marcela Garcia is a columnist for The Boston Globe and one of the first journalists to cover Reina's story.
She believes the case has largely been ignored by media outlets because of what's known as missing white woman syndrome, a term famously coined by the "NewsHour"'s Gwen Ifill.
WOMAN: Tonight, the mystery deepens in the desperate search for 39-year-old Ana Walshe.
LAURA BARRON-LOPEZ: It refers to the disproportionate coverage missing and endangered white women often receive.
MARCELA GARCIA: When white women go missing, there's just all this attention and resources and outpouring of support, and everybody wants to know what happened and let's find her.
I said, how is this possible that a woman can go missing for a month-and-a-half, and we don't pay the same attention, we don't give the same resources to find her?
LAURA BARRON-LOPEZ: "The Columbia Journalism Review" recently examined thousands of news articles about missing people to create a tool called Are You Pressworthy?
where people can enter their own information to calculate how much coverage they would receive if they went missing.
A 41-year-old Latina in Massachusetts, like Reina, that would get about eight stories, but a missing white woman in her early 20s would be covered in more than 120 stories.
Criminologists call the phenomenon the ideal victim stereotype.
DANIELLE SLAKOFF: The ideal victim is somebody who is viewed as blameless and as needing our protection, our societal protection.
And women and girls of color are not portrayed in that way.
Oftentimes, they are portrayed as risk-taking at the time that the disappearance or the crime occurred, whereas white women and girls are often portrayed as being innocent and blameless.
LAURA BARRON-LOPEZ: Alicia Morales says she continues to search for answers from police.
ALICIA MORALES ROJAS (through translator): I do believe that, because she is Latina, because she is undocumented, because she is an immigrant, they never cared about her.
And I even told them that.
LAURA BARRON-LOPEZ: The Boston Police Department say they have no updates in Reina's case, which remains an active investigation.
And they rejected accusations that missing undocumented people are treated differently.
VICTOR EVANS: We're here to help anyone, regardless of their status.
We want to know where she is.
We want to know what happened to her.
And if something tremendously bad has happened to her, we want to bring the person responsible for it to -- up for justice.
LAURA BARRON-LOPEZ: In El Salvador, Reina's children are holding out hope that they will one day see their mom again.
We have shielded their faces to protect their identities.
BOY (through translator): We love her and miss her and we know that one day she will be back with us here in El Salvador.
GIRL (through translator): I have faith that she will be found, that one day they're going to call her and tell us that they found her.
That would be the most beautiful thing to happen in my life.
LAURA BARRON-LOPEZ: It's a family now clinging to their faith, as they wait for answers.
For the "PBS NewsHour," I'm Laura Barron-Lopez in Boston.