What do I do when a person goes missing?
What to do:
- Do not panic. They may have simply forgotten their phone, got caught up in some activity or plain forgot to check in.
- Contact friends and family to ask if they have any knowledge of the missing person's whereabouts.
- Keep your phone within reach, make sure your ringer is on and the phone stays fully charged, in case they try to reach you.
- Once you have sufficient reason to believe they are in fact missing, contact your local law enforcement agency to make a missing persons report.
- Depending on the policy of the police department, you may be asked to wait a sufficient amount of time (24 - 72 hours) before they will take your report. This should NOT apply to missing juveniles, missing elderly persons or persons suspected to be a victim of foul play.
- Keep in mind, it is NOT illegal for an adult to voluntarily go missing. The police have certain rules and regulations to protect privacy in case this is the situation. Don't get frustrated by the police sticking to their guidelines; remember they are in place for a reason.
- If the missing person is vulnerable (i.e., under 18 years of age, over 65 years of age, suffering from physical or mental illness, depressed/suicidal or the disappearance is completely out of character) report the disappearance to police immediately if your suspicions are aroused. It's never too soon in these instances and time may be of the essence. This could also include someone on life-saving medication who has not taken their medicine with them. You can contact police and the local media to ask for help in publicizing their story. REMEMBER ... it's never too soon.
- Police will need details like the missing person's photo, date of birth, address, physical description, clothing last seen wearing and other details of the life of your missing person. Make it a routine to take at least one head and shoulders photograph of
your loved ones each year. Please be complete with the information you provide to law enforcement; it's always better to have too much information, than not enough.
- Keep in mind, police may request your assistance in getting bank records, social media account information and cell phone records for your missing person as well.
- Down the line, police may ask for additional information like dental records and DNA samples. Keep in mind there is a possibility your loved one could be found deceased, and outside of your local jurisdiction. You would never want your loved one to be kept in a morgue or buried as an unidentified person. These records are kept on file in case such an event occurs.
- Family reference DNA samples can also be taken. This is a non-invasive swab taken from the inside of the cheek of a potential donor. The DNA is entered into the CODIS DNA databank and can be cross-referenced with unidentified human remains samples that are also entered.
- Ask police to keep in touch and if they don't, phone them. Keep in mind they have other pressing cases, but don't let them forget about yours. If they don't ask about DNA and dental records and your missing person has been gone for over 30 day, offer them up.
- If your missing person does not fit the foul play/endangered missing situation, the Internet provides options for you to search for your loved one. If your missing person is deemed voluntary by your local police department, you can still conduct searches on your own. The web site NamUs, www.namus.gov, provides a platform for a nationwide posting of your missing person's photo, physical description and circumstances. Keep in mind you still have to involve law enforcement to have your missing person's case profiled on the NamUs site, but they will include voluntary missing cases.
- Canine search teams and pedestrian searches may also be an option to search for your loved one. First, let your local police department decide if they want to do this. If they choose not to, and you are of the opinion your missing person is not missing voluntarily, there are several non-profit agencies that can assist with setting up searches.
What NOT to do:
- Do not panic.
- Do not wait, especially if your missing person is vulnerable; notify police as soon as you think something is wrong.
- Do not delay in searching; time can be of the essence.
- Do not keep their disappearance a secret. The more people you tell, the more people you have looking on your behalf and the speedier the results might be.
- Do not tidy up their bedroom or car until the police have seen it, whether it's messy or not. Do not dust before fingerprints have been taken.
- Do not alter social media accounts, cell phone messages, text messages, etc. These may be important indicators of your missing person's motive or lack there of when they went missing.
- Don't be put off if you don't get an immediate response from law enforcement...you know your loved one and their behaviors...follow your intuition.
- To avoid being the victim of a hoax, do not put your own telephone number or address on missing posters or advertisements. Instead use a police department contact number. People may prey upon you and can be cruel. Do not get caught up in any hoaxes and contact law enforcement if you believe you have been the victim of one.
- Do not give up, keep appealing and searching. Remember that people want to help. Try to keep your loved one's name and photo in the public eye. Your missing person is important.