When Someone Goes Missing.......What to do next!
Every day someone goes through the pain and anguish of a missing loved one. As horrible as this situation can be, there is good news! According to statistics from the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System, or NamUs, most cases of missing persons are quickly resolved. In 2012, 99% of the missing were located only 2,079 of the 661,000 were still unresolved. Unfortunately, sometimes unidentifiable human remains are found. According to NamUs, as many as 40,000 unidentified human remains have been found in the United States alone. Although this is not the resolution that anyone wants, it still provides answers and some closure. So the chances that your case will be resolved are extremely good.
Here are some immediate steps to take-
- Get a good and recent picture of the subject.
- Gather a current list of contacts and friends.
- Get a recent cellphone bill for the missing person.
- Assign a family representative as a point of contact.
Get Your Mind Centered
As Human beings, we need hope to exist so it is important to keep up your hope! Next, get a notebook and pen to record everything you can. Keep your notepad with you at all times and write down everything that comes to memory. Build a timeline of events as this can be extremely helpful when getting the facts of your case in order.
Next, Determine if they are truly missing. Adults and teenagers go missing for many reasons. Some feel they are not getting the attention they deserved or may be angry at a spouse or parent. They have access to money, transportation, and other resources, and can travel on their own. Sometimes a suspected missing adult is discovered to be someone that intentionally broke off communications and walked out of their life, or off the grid. Not because of foul play.
Answer this question... Is the missing person’s lack of communication, a behavior that is new, or has it been done sporadically in the past? Have they threatened to leave in the past or harm themselves? When you determine NO to these questions, then you must start a process of eliminating possibilities and look for any sort of life event or communication that corroborates your suspicions and enhances your request for help from the police.
Check their last known locations, their home, job, hospitals, etc.
One of the first things you want to do when you suspect a loved one has gone missing is a wellness check at their home. NOTE: If you do not live in the area of the home, try asking a neighbor or friend in that area to go to the home and check for you. Or…contact the police in that area and ask them to perform “ A well-being check".
If the home shows any signs of forced entry or violence call the police immediately and do not enter the premise.
If that is not the situation proceed with CAUTION and enter the home: DO NOT touch anything or move items. That includes the door knobs. Use your thumb and index finger to open the door rather than grasp the whole knob and don’t touch the interior side of the door. The police might be able to get a fingerprint from that area.
Record in your notebook everything you touched and observed.
Here are some places to look;
Calendars or notes and any other item that might confirm where your missing loved one might be or what their intentions might have been.
Call their cell phone, office, home, etc., and see if they have an updated message or anything that might indicate where they went, when and if they were last seen and by whom, what were they wearing, and did they mention additional plans for that day or night. When you call, leave messages, send a text, then contact their family and close friends.
Call their Work and ask to speak to one or more of their coworkers or even their supervisor, manager, or owner. Ask the people you make contact with about the last time they saw or spoke to them if anything was said about going out of town, the person's demeanor, etc.
Record in your notes whom you spoke to, their telephone number, and the time and context of the calls in your notebook. Keep your timeline up to date!
Determine if their car or anything else is missing. Record it in your notebook.
Try to determine what they might have been wearing.
Call the hospitals and shelters in your area and ask if your loved one or anyone without identification fitting their description has checked in. You will have to do this regularly.
Calling the Police
A common misconception is that you have to wait 24 hours before you can report a person missing, the truth is--report them right away! You need to be prepared for the police and what they will and will not tell you. Remember to keep a log of all the activities including the dates, times, people, case numbers, etc.
When law enforcement responds, provide the missing person's name, date of birth, height, weight, and any other unique identifiers such as eyeglasses, braces, facial scars, medications, etc. Tell them when you noticed that the person was missing and if you know it, what clothing he or she was wearing. If the missing may have been suicidal or suffering any mental conditions Hiding these facts can slow down the search drastically!
Have a written list of the missing person’s friends and enemies with notes about each one. How long they have known each other, why they are enemies, contact info, etc.
Give the police a recent photo of the missing person. This photo should show them as they would appear in everyday life. This is no time for glamour shots.
Give the police descriptions of unique physical features. Bald spot, body art, Tattoo. Jewelry that they always wore. (Jewelry is important as it may be sold and many pawn shops keep records.)
If you suspect the person was abducted from their home or car INSIST ON FINGERPRINTING THE HOUSE or CAR. The police may tell you that there is no reason to fingerprint. They may try to tell you that since you and or others have been in the house that fingerprinting would be a waste of time. TELL THEM TO DO IT. Or immediately find and pay a private detective to do it for you. And try to keep others out of the area to be fingerprinted until it has been done.
Be Advised---if the missing person was considered a healthy teen or adult or unless there were signs of violence or foul play, the police will be hesitant to get involved. The information you gather could help convince the police that an investigation is needed.
Private Investigators - Some PI's really want to help and will be willing to do so for a portion of the reward money. Others will ask you for exclusive contracts and payments. Find a reputable firm. Ask the police for recommendations, check references, and check with the Better Business Bureau. Ask about their fees and be sure that you and the PI have a written understanding of the services to be provided and the associated cost.
Before you give written items, photos, etc. to the police, make copies for yourself. It is likely you will not get the items back for a long time and maybe never.
For missing adults, the police may try to pass it off as nothing wrong and may not want to investigate. If you do not agree with the police, you need others to support suspicions or have some “evidence” to persuade them.
Children, especially young children, and preteens, typically do not have the independence or means to disappear on their own and the police will be more willing to help. Teenagers who have habitually run away, you may find the police very unwilling to help. You will have to convince them why and how this missing situation is different from the others.
After the police decide that there is truly a missing person and/or if they suspect foul play, they will start looking for suspects. The first suspect will be you, family members, or other persons who knew the missing person closely. Statistically speaking 80% of cases that involve foul play are committed by a family member or someone close to the family. So be ready. A lie detector test and interrogation techniques can be very unsettling, but it is a very necessary part of the investigative process.
Ask the police what their plans are and how you can help.
Ask if they have other departments or agencies assisting.
Press them hard to get as many agencies to help as you can.
Be helpful but do not be a hindrance.
Ask for regular updates and be respectful. The Detectives do have a big caseload.
Do not tell the police how to do their job.
Real-life missing persons, crime cases, and the processes around them are far different from TV sleuths and CSI shows. The case will most likely not be resolved in 60 minutes.
Be clear with the police about what you know to be a fact versus what is an opinion or hunch.
If the missing person is a child request that your child's name and identifying information be immediately entered into the National Crime Information Center (NCIC) Missing Person File. After you have reported your child missing to law enforcement, call the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children, NCMEC on their toll-free telephone number:
1-800-THE-LOST (1-800-843-5678). Or you can use Live Hotline to talk to NCMEC.
Dos and Don’ts
This is a list of things that you could do, should do, want to do, can’t do, and should not do. The complicated part is figuring out which is which. Something that seems like a good idea might actually make finding your loved one more difficult. However, some of the things that you think someone else is doing or that you should not do may be the very thing that brings closure. Have faith that the professionals helping you know what they are doing and are trying to help. They have done this many times in the past and are trained. While their methods may not make sense to you, everyone is working hard toward the same end, finding your loved one. There is no magic formula. What works in one situation may not work in another and thus the do's and don’ts are meant to be guidance versus a hard and fast rule.
- Don’t clean – if there is a mess or things out of place, make a note of it and give those notes to the investigators. Cleaning could destroy fingerprints or other evidence.
- Don’t call a private investigator right away. There may come a time for them but often they can impede the investigation and they may also not have your interest at heart and feed you what you want to hear rather than the facts.
- Don’t make up things – If you are not sure about something preface your comment with “I am not 100% sure but I think …….”
- Don’t allow others to make up things. Many people will sincerely want to help. But if they are not sure about something it could lead the investigation in the wrong direction wasting Time, Effort, and Resources.
- Don’t get upset when you’re identified as a suspect. If you had nothing to do with the disappearance then you have nothing to fear.
- Don’t be quick to accuse others, even if the media or the authorities accuse them. Sometimes the authorities use false accusations and information as they try to flush out the truth.
- Don’t isolate yourself for your mental health and welfare, you need to stay involved.
- Don’t be a doormat! Sometimes investigators, especially for adult missing persons where no foul play is evident, will tell you there is nothing they can do. They may tell you that all they can do is wait for a few days. That is not true. Stay on them! If this is NOT the usual situation for the missing person, you need to convince the police of the serious nature of the incident.
YOU ARE THE MISSING PERSON'S ADVOCATE!
- Don’t interfere with the investigation. You and others calling the investigators every couple of hours will not help.
- Don't quit your job. Most employers are very understanding if you ask for some time off. Ask for a temporary reduction in your hours and responsibility if needed. Your employer needs you and you need them. It is amazing how fast bills accumulate and get behind when you are in distress.
- Do not make major or life-altering decisions while you’re still in distress.
- Don't fill the void left by the missing loved one with poor or destructive behavior. Gambling, drinking, drugs, etc can quickly become a way to ease the pain but they are not a lasting or healthy alternative to healing the correct way over time.
- Don't write checks for the missing person's account without getting advice from a lawyer and/or an accountant.
- Don’t go it alone. Find a close friend to lean on, get counseling, and see your minister.
- Do not lose hope. Keep hoping for the truth.
- Do tell as many others as possible. The more people that know about your missing loved one the better. Never underestimate the power of prayer.
- Do buy lots of tissues. Tears and emotions will hit you in waves. It’s OK. Let it out.
- Do let the authorities know about any health issues or concerns the missing person may have. The health matters may help you convince the authorities to get involved as well as help lead to finding them.
- Do be aware that sometimes the authorities use false accusations and information as they try to flush out the truth
- Do be aware that the authorities, in order to find your missing loved one, may not tell you everything they know or suspect.
- Do keep journals. I recommend that you keep two. One to write about the steps that have been taken and other information directly related to the efforts around finding your missing loved one. The second should be about how you are dealing with it. What you are feeling. Record when you cry and what triggered your tears.
- Do stay busy. Not just with the activities around the missing person, but stay busy with some of your normal routines.
- Do make and distribute posters and flyers. Have the authorities help you with the layout of the material or contact the PRSAR FAST team.
- Do get some legal and financial advice if the missing loved one is an adult and the investigation begins going into weeks. You need good advice about how to handle things. Expenses will add up very quickly.
- Do patiently hope. Not knowing what happened can eat at your mind like a tumor. Keep hoping for the truth.
- Do grieve - whether it has been a day, week, or month you have experienced a loss. Grieving is a vital part of healing and keeping your life together.
- Do Search the web for help. There are some good sites with tips and advice ranging from your well-being to assistance with locating a missing person. Caution: There are those that would prey on your vulnerability. Be cautious!!
- Do ask others for their opinions about websites, PI’s, and other offers of help that ask you for your personal information, banking info, money, etc.
- Do look at photos that contain the missing person's possessions in the background. Are the items still there?
- Do look again and again for what items may really be missing. Ask other relatives to help determine what might be missing.
- Do look at records and recent receipts for items purchased and are those items still there?
- Do get legal advice before signing any contracts OR posting notices with rewards. If you explain the situation you should be able to find a lawyer who will help you Pro Bono or at a discounted rate.
- Do stay connected to friends and family.
- Do seek professional help if you feel depressed.
- Do get as much help and support as you can with the investigation and with your well-being.
- Do get advice from a lawyer and/or accountant before paying any of the missing person's bills or depositing their checks
- Do get advice from a lawyer and/or accountant on how to handle all expenses related to the search for and reward for the missing person
- Do get advice from a lawyer and/or accountant about how to handle the affairs of the missing person while they are missing. Mortgage, rent, car payments, and income, all will need a plan for handling them within 30 days of the person's disappearance.
Next Big Step - Getting help!
At some point you will feel like the police and others don’t care and that they are not doing enough. Many Law Enforcement agencies do not have a missing person unit. Instead, your missing person's case will go to the Homicide or Major Crimes division and when the leads run out, the case will lose the Detective's attention and priority. It is the system and the system is not perfect.
You will need to get the word out! The more people that know about your case the better. Try to get the local media to run a story about your missing loved one. Use Email and Websites. Create a dedicated Facebook Page for them and the search effort. Make posters and flyers. Sometimes a local printer or copy shop will give you a discount. Do not be afraid to ask for discounts. You will be surprised how fast you can rack up a lot of bills!
Volunteers! Try to get help from friends, family, etc. There are also organizations that might be able to help you. Ask the police about them or look on the internet by doing an internet search for Missing Persons Support Groups. Again get someone you know to help you with finding volunteers and help.
Private Investigators aka PI - Do not be surprised if one or several private investigators contact you. Some really want to help and will be willing to do so for a portion of the reward money or no pay at all. Others will ask you for exclusive contracts and payments. There are very reputable firms, but others that may be less ethical.
Nut jobs - BEWARE, well-meaning people, some con artists, Psychics, and others that are just confused will offer advice, false information, etc.
Search the web for help. There are some good sites with tips and advice ranging from your well-being to assistance with locating a missing person. Caution: There are those that would prey on your vulnerability. BE CAUTIOUS!!
Sometimes reward money is needed. You may be able to have a fundraiser. If you do have a fundraiser, you will need to have a separate account set aside for the money raised and the tracking of money into and out of the account. Ask your local bank, attorney, accountant, etc. for their advice.
Money will be an issue. You will have extra expenses like food, maybe a hotel, phone, printing for flyers, gas, etc. Keep track of your expenses closely and ask a tax professional or accountant for help in knowing what expenses might be deductible.
Some organizations like your church, your friends, etc. might be able to help with donations of various types. If you’re in need…it never hurts to ask.
Bills coming in that the missing person would be responsible to pay such as the mortgage, rent, utilities, credit card, etc. Contact an Attorney to get legal advice on the best way to address this.
Be prepared for the Stress and the Emotions!
Marriages, friendships, faith, and trust, will all be tested.
You need to find a counselor, minister, or best friend to help you.
Simple little things can trigger a range of emotions in you and others.
Anger will flare up as your feelings of hopelessness set in.
Songs, comments, and pictures may spark tears and or uncontrollable crying.
Your job performance and or school work may suffer. Let your boss and teachers know what’s going on
Try not to take on new assignments or big life changes for at least six (6) months.
Money will be an issue. You will have extra expenses like food, maybe a hotel, phone, printing for flyers, gas, etc. Keep track of your expenses!
Private Searches do four basic things.
1) Searches provide you with a sense of action and possible hope.
2) Searches help find the missing person(s)
3) Searches help find helpful clues
4) Even if a search does not turn up a new clue or find the missing, the press coverage helps others to be informed and may get others involved or at least aware of the situation. This increases the chances of finding your loved one.
You do not have to organize searches by yourself. Let the authorities help you figure out where and when to search as well as how to conduct the search. Respect property rights and have some crime scene awareness!
Ask the authorities how you can get volunteers to help with the search.
Ask Professional Volunteer Search and Rescue teams to assist if you have a certain area that needs to be searched.
Don’t give up! Hope for the best, prepare for the worst.
Links to look for help!
The FBI Missing Persons Division
The Doe Network
The Doe Network is a 100% volunteer organization devoted to assisting investigating agencies in bringing closure to national and international cold cases concerning Missing & Unidentified Persons. It is our mission to give the nameless back their names and return the missing to their families.
NAMUS - The National Institute of Justice's National Missing and Unidentified Persons System
The National Institute of Justice's National Missing and Unidentified Persons System (NamUs) is a national centralized repository and resource center for missing persons and unidentified decedent records.
The CUE Center for Missing Persons
24 Hour Line (910) 232-1687
Community United Effort also known as (CUE) Center for Missing Persons, is a 501c3 tax-exempt non-profit organization, founded in Wilmington, North Carolina, serving missing persons nationwide. Since 1994, our center has provided advocacy for missing children and adults, free professionally trained search personnel, and victim support service.
A Child Is Missing (ACIM)
A non-profit organization founded in 1997, was created because no community-based program existed for locating missing children, the disabled, and the elderly (often with Alzheimer's) during the crucial first hours of the disappearance.
Missing Persons Support Page
The Missing Person Support Center (MPSC) is a national non-profit organization, their goal is to educate the families, public, and law enforcement through training and awareness, as well as methods of prevention. Our volunteers are trained advocates and will work in their States to initiate programs and public events to further the goals and objectives of the organization.
Office: (281) 309-9500
Texas EquuSearch is a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization governed by a volunteer Board of Directors with financial support from personal and private donations. Texas EquuSearch never charges a family or law enforcement entity for their services
National Center For Missing Kids and Exploited Children
As the nation's nonprofit clearinghouse and comprehensive reporting center for all issues related to the prevention of and recovery from child victimization, NCMEC leads the fight against abduction, abuse, and exploitation - because every child deserves a safe childhood.
The DNA Doe Project
The DNA Doe Project is a non-profit initiative that uses investigative genetic genealogy to identify John and Jane Doe unidentified remains. In five short years, we have become a go-to organization for law enforcement agencies and medical examiners across North America, helping them solve their most intractable cases. Our cutting-edge techniques have led us to amazing success, even with cases where the DNA was highly degraded or of low quantity.
This organization will strive to ensure the full power of Forensic DNA will always be Attainable, Affordable, Timely, Transparent and of the Highest Possible Quality