Having a loved one or a friend go missing can be one of the most chilling experiences that anyone can go through. Fear, panic and confusion are the most immediate emotions that the average person would feel upon realizing that someone dear to him or her is nowhere to be found and cannot be reached with telecommunications.
Unfortunately, these same emotions can make the problem worse. Clarity of thought, sound judgment and deliberate action have been proven to greatly increase the chances of finding a missing person safely and immediately.
If you ever find yourself in a situation where a loved one goes missing, take the following steps:
Confirm that your loved one is missing
The first step is to determine that they are truly missing. Most adults and older kids can intentionally disappear as they have access to transportation, money, or otherwise have the ability to be independent. However, if any disappearance is uncharacteristic and there is any suspicion that the disappearance was not voluntary, then proceed to try and reestablish contact or confirm that the person is missing. Ensure that you have a pen and paper or any other method to record as much information as you can.
- Call all known phone numbers (cell phone, home, and office) and check their social media accounts. They may have left messages or indications of their whereabouts in their online or their contacts in social media may have additional information.
- Check with their friends, co-workers, and relatives. Ask when was the last time they saw your loved one, what they were wearing when last seen, and if they mentioned any plans for the day.
- Check their home or room. If there are any signs of forced entry or violence, call the police immediately and do not enter. If everything looks normal, be careful with what you touch and as much as possible do not disturb anything – record whatever you touch. When opening doors, use your thumb and forefinger to open the door, do not grab the doorknob. Look for notes or calendars. Do not clean up or try to sort out your loved one’s home or room.
- Check if their car or preferred mode of travel (bike, skateboard, etc) is missing.
- Take note of any objects that may also be missing.
- Call hospitals and shelters. Ask if your loved one or someone fitting their description has been checked in.
Once you have confirmed that your loved one has gone missing, time is of the essence especially if abduction is suspected or there are any concerns about the person’s safety. Loved ones that are especially vulnerable are children, elderly, or person with physical or mental disability.
Contact the Police
There is no mandatory 24 hour waiting period in order to file a missing persons report – this is a myth and a dangerous one. The police may even consider it as a sign of abuse or negligence in the family if reporting is delayed. As soon as you have determined that your loved one is missing and are concerned about their safety, contact the police.
When dealing with the police, provide them with as much information as you can.
- Physical description and at least three recent photographs. What they were wearing, when, where, and with whom they were last seen.
- The information you recorded to determine that your loved one is missing.
- Known aliases.
- Names and contact details of the missing person’s friends and coworkers.
- Social media accounts.
- Medical information.
- Any other information that the police may require.
Always ask for the badge number of the police officer taking your report and for a copy of the report or it provisional case number.
After contacting the police, if the missing person is a child you can contact the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children . Their 24-hour hotline is 800-THE-LOST (800-843-5678). They are financed by Congress to help in finding lost children.
Register with NAMus
Your local law enforcement will update your information into the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System (NamUs). You can register your case information if you have the police report number. NamUs is a national repository for missing persons and can give guidance and advice on how to ensure that there are no gaps in information.
Reach out to the public, social media, and news agencies
Do not keep the disappearance a secret. The more people on the lookout and searching, the faster it can be resolved. Distribute fliers, put up posters, appeal for information using social media, and request local and national media for coverage. When dealing with the media, law enforcers recommends getting an intermediary. The intermediary can field questions and filter information that you may be too distressed to handle.
However, there is one important caveat: Do not tell all. Always ask your law enforcement or Private investigator for advice before releasing any information or correcting misreported facts. Unreported facts can help police or your private investigator in determining the veracity of information. It is a sad fact that there are some people who hinder investigations maliciously or in a mistaken belief that they are helping.
Hiring a Private investigator
If the case remains unsolved or the police advise you that they do not have the resources to make your case a priority, it may be time to consider hiring a private investigator. Take care that the private investigator is credible and ethical. In most states, private investigators are required to have licenses. We have previously posted on things to look for in a private investigator.
If you are considering hiring a private investigator, it is always a good idea to discuss this with the police officers handling your case and get their blessing. They may even have recommendations on reliable private investigators.
Unfortunately, there are a lot of cases where so called “private investigators” contact the families of missing persons and offer their services but are unskilled, unprofessional, negligent, and sometimes hinder the genuine efforts of law enforcement. When screening for the right agency to help your cause, dedicate some time to researching their track records before committing to anyone.
Asking for help
Having a loved one go missing is a nightmare. Your ties with family and friends will be tested. You will be subjected to scrutiny and stress. It is important that you maintain your relationships with family and friends so that they can support you. Visit your doctor if you find that you are unable to eat or sleep. If needed, get counseling.
There are non-profit organizations that can help you in this time of need to organize the search and gather information. They can give emotional support, advice, and help raise awareness. You do not have to go through this difficulty alone.