When a child or a loved one goes missing, immediately life changes as you know it, your entire world seems to fall apart. You feel isolated, confused and desperate and may feel you have nowhere to turn for help and support.
Life becomes an emotional roller coaster for those left behind, leaving you emotionally vulnerable. Feelings of sadness, loss, guilt and anger are normal but leave you feeling emotionally drained.
Longing for direction, most families who have experienced a child or loved one missing say they wished they had a handbook to tell them what to do, what to expect, and how to respond.
(Statement by Colleen Nick, mother of Morgan Nick, missing since June 9, 1995. Photo courtesy of OJJDP.)
The Office of Juvenile Justice & Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP) created a handbook “When Your Child is Missing: A Family Survival Guide” providing direction to parents of missing children. It is an invaluable resource for families. However, since it was created, there have been many advancements in methods to distribute fliers and raise public awareness of missing persons.
With a missing person, it is imperative to gain public attention. Experts agree, every time you share information with the public, it creates the potential to generate that one lead law enforcement needs to bring that person home safe.
Much of the time, creating public awareness is a cooperative effort between the families of the missing person, media, and law enforcement. However, getting each to work cohesively with the other is sometimes difficult and much of the burden of creating social awareness falls on the family.
Social Media’s Role in Finding Missing Persons
Government agencies and police are increasingly using social media to help find missing persons. In fact, New York City Police Department launched a social media campaign to include the public in ongoing investigations, to both find missing persons and catch criminals.
“If a person goes missing, commands make initial notifications on social media. Then, posters are made,” said Zachary Tumin, deputy commissioner for strategic initiatives and leader of the NYPD’s social media efforts. “As that information gets retweeted by police and the public, word spreads very quickly to be on the lookout for that missing person.”
(NYPD actively utilizes Facebook and Twitter to search for missing persons.)
NYPD’s Facebook page currently has “822,054 Likes” with no sign of slowing down.
Prior to social media, distribution of information was always limited by limited geographic outreach, with missing person pages commonly only posted within the community the person went missing.
With social media platforms, it changed the landscape of searching for missing persons. Facebook has 2.37 billion users in 2019, Twitter 126 million daily users, and Instagram over 800 million, making it the ideal place to generate leads for law enforcement.
Mystery and misery linger in a missing person case. Many think the number of missing persons has risen in missing person cases, but experts say it is thanks to social media, not an actual increase in cases. “Missing persons have always been there, of course, but due to social media, the cases are more widespread,” said Ray Wagner, Director of Relations for Crimestoppers.
(Missing in Arizona’s post on Facebook for Elizabeth Breck who vanished from Tucson, Arizona, on January 13, 2019.)
Nothing compares to sharing information using social media platforms. The information posted is immediately available throughout the country, and the world.
Combining Social Media with News Media
Working with local and national media is also a critical component of searching for a missing person as news stories also have the long-time been proven to generate leads.
Here are some guidelines to follow when working with news media when a person is missing:
It is important to always speak to the investigating law enforcement agency prior to doing a news interview so as not to compromise an investigation. It is common for law enforcement to request minimal information about an investigation be shared in a news interview to protect their case, especially if a nonfamily abduction is suspected.
Consider using a public relations firm. Sometimes costly, they do have expertise in constructing press releases and attracting media interest. Try obtaining services pro bono. It doesn’t hurt to ask.
Appoint a family spokesperson, someone capable of speaking publicly and comfortable being in the public eye.
Keeping the media interested requires pulling at “heart strings” so plan on doing interviews on birthdays, anniversary dates, and holidays.
Remember, just because they ask a question, doesn’t mean you have to answer it.
Utilization of Social Media Platforms
Working with law enforcement cannot be over-emphasized. While using social media platforms gives you instant ability to mass communicate, and can be a source of significant support, it can also be a place where you may be scrutinized or asked many questions. Aside from being time consuming, the public has a tendency to ask questions, and it is important for you to only stick with the facts of an investigation without leaking tidbits of information by identifying a perpetrator or details of the investigation.
Utilizing any social network platform can be emotionally taxing, but worth utilizing when a family member is missing, and life may hang in the balance.
There are several social media platforms that can help you widen your search, stay organized and reach various audiences.
Facebook helps raise social awareness, fundraise, organize events and keep your social network apprised of any new developments.
YouTube can help keep news coverage organized and a quick and effective way to post your media on other network platforms, involving people in your efforts.
Twitter can reach very large audiences to include politicians, celebrities and news stations.
Instagram can help with sharing photographs and “behind the scenes” images, while connecting with a younger audience that is very socially aware and involved.
Blogger or any blogging platform, can help by giving you a place to vent your everyday frustrations and emotions while sharing progress with readers.
Setting up Storage
When a love one is missing you can find yourself being asked over and over again for the same information and photographs of your loved one.
It is advisable to use a cloud content storage like Dropbox or Google Documents where you can create different folders or files such as press releases, letters, and high-quality photographs that media and other organizations can use to help raise public awareness. Also, utilizing “content storage” saves time and frustration when trying to email high resolution images.
Dropbox is free and offers up to 2GB of storage and Google Documents is free and offers 15GB of storage (to include emails and attachments).
Appoint a trusted Administrator(s) to help you with the page.
Set up a “Page” in Facebook and choose a name consistent with the purpose such as “FIND BRYCE LASPISA” or “MISSING SARAH GALLOWAY.” Choose something and use both first and last name of the missing person.
Use high-quality photographs when possible and use a picture of the missing person as a profile picture.
Include a brief description of the missing person to include where they were last seen, along with law enforcement’s contact number or hotline.
Communicate clearly and succinctly in all posts.
Post at times the most people are going to see your posts, not in the middle of the night. According to a Buffer study, the best times of post on Facebook is between 1-3 p.m. during the week and on Saturdays, with Thursdays and Fridays having the most engagement.
Post consistently and frequently with “Calls to Action” such as asking people to share your post (and ask their friends to share), or ask they use a photo of the missing person flier as their profile picture for a week.
Always try to stay positive. The tone of your post matters.
Provides updates when possible and post any media interviews or links to television shows that may have profiled the missing person.
Don’t feel obligated to respond to any comment or message.
With social media, comes the potential for negative comments, messages or posts from users. Never feel the need to respond to negative correspondence or comments, just delete or hide negative comments as soon as you can.
Lastly, you can also pay for advertising on Facebook.
Advertising on Facebook
Everyone’s Facebook account comes with the ability to run ads. With Facebook Advertising, you can target specific locations the missing person may be most likely to be in, to include entire cities to just parts of a city. You can also target specific age groups and should be done as quickly as possible if you are able to afford it.
Choose your objective. These four categories can help you in the search for a missing loved one.
Promote your page
Boost your posts
Increase your reach
Raise attendance at your events
Define your audience.
Location. Start with country and state.
Age. Choose an age range. It is advisable to keep this broad to reach people of all ages (18-65+).
Language. Choose English if in the United States.
Define your budget.
Daily: a daily budget is the maximum amount your will spend per day during the timespan of your ad.
Lifetime: a longer-term budget you will spend during the lifetime of the ad.
Create new ad.
Choose your ad format (above).
You get 90 characters of text to concisely share your message.
Use only high-quality images or video.
Use a name like “Have You Seen This Missing Person” or similar.
Recommended image size: 1200 x 628 pixels
Image ratio: 1.91:1
To maximize ad delivery, use an image that contains little or no overlaid text.
Format: .MOV or .MP4 files
Resolution: at least 720p
File size: 2.3 GB max.
Recommended aspect ratio: widescreen (16:9)
Facebook: 60 minutes max.
Most importantly, when using Facebook or any social media platform, check your messages and comments frequently so if someone contacts you with information you can forward it to law enforcement immediately.
Twitter is a great social media platform to reach masses of people. There are more than 500 million Tweets per day on Twitter.
Set up a new account.
Like Facebook, choose a name consistent with the purpose.
Use a photograph of the missing person as a profile picture.
Tweet links to news coverage, interviews, and articles.
Use hash tags such as #Missing #State #Missing Person’s Name
Tweet to local and national media.
Tweet to celebrities, both local and national.
Keep your tweets brief.
Respond when someone tweets to you.
Follow similar pages.
Like Facebook and all social media platforms, it matters when you post on Twitter.
According to American Marketing Association, the best time to post on Twitter is Wednesdays and Fridays at 9 a.m., with most consistent engagement occurring Mon-Friday 8 a.m. – 4 p.m. Other studies have shown Mon-Friday between 12-3 p.m. is the best time. Saturday is the worst day to post and has least engagement.
While building followers and social media presence takes time, there are strategies and techniques you can use to increase your engagement and get more clicks.
Twitter engagement is when someone engages with the content that you post such as favoriting your tweet, retweeting your tweet, responding to your tweet or mentioning you in a separate tweet.
It is also important that you engage with other users’ content with likes, comments and retweets. When you engage with another user’s content, they will be more likely to pay attention to what you are posting too. This works across all social media platforms.
In addition, leverage other feeds and encourage your followers on Facebook and other platforms to follow you on Twitter and visa versa.
Using social network platforms to find missing persons is still relatively new and is no doubt a learning process. One only needs to look at the numbers in order to gauge the success.
It is advisable to follow other families who have missing persons, advocacy agencies, and shows like In Pursuit with John Walsh or Vanished to gain ideas for successful posts and make valuable connections.
Again, try not to be discouraged as you try to grow your social networks and don’t let running the various platforms consume you. Again, it is recommended you share these tasks with other family members or friends that can assist you. Don’t be afraid to ask for help.
As said before, using social media is a learning experience, but rest assured you will get better as you go along. Remember HOPE is the most important thing to hold onto.
Dalton Jack was at his construction job in Dubuque, Montana on the night of July 18th, 2018. He was working almost 100 miles away from his home in Brooklyn, Iowa. There, he had a sweetheart who was missing him—anxiously waiting for him to return so they could soon travel to the Dominican Republic to watch Jack’s older brother get married. Her name is Mollie, and Jack is just one of many who love and adore her for being “the sweetest, kindest, most caring person.” Now Jack, along with family and friends, police, and even the FBI, are conducting a furious search to find Mollie Tibbetts in the days following her mysterious disappearance from a rural Iowa farming community.
Later that evening of July 18th, around 10 PM, Jack opened a SnapChat message from Mollie. She was at his house, watching his dogs for him while he worked. “It was just a selfie with a caption, and I don’t remember what the caption said,” he said. “It looked like she was inside.” The next afternoon, Jack got a call from Mollie’s coworker, saying that Mollie did not call into work that day and never showed up to work her shift. That’s when Jack noticed that Mollie had not opened any of the messages he’d sent her since he received her snap the night before. Jack began contacting her family and close friends to see if anyone had heard from her. No one had. They called the local hospital, but Mollie wasn’t there either, prompting Jack to make a lengthy drive back to Brooklyn.
Misinformation in the media has reported that Mollie was snatched while on a regular evening jog. Jack told authorities that it was unclear what time Mollie’s last snap chat was sent, but it was a few hours before Jack actually opened it—around the time Mollie would have regularly gone out for a jog, as the weather was starting to cool off. “I read somewhere that she was running in a cornfield. That’s obviously not true,” said Mollie’s aunt, Kim Calderwood. “The run happened and then she was at the house as far as we know. I don’t think she would’ve run in the dark,” Calderwood said.
The investigation into Mollie’s disappearance has left local law enforcement mystified. Brooklyn, Iowa is a close, friendly farming community, where no one is a stranger to their neighbors. Poweshiek County Sheriff Thomas Kriegel cannot remember anyone in the community ever being missing for this long in the past, but the geography of Brooklyn is making the search difficult. “We’re surrounded by farm ground — corn and soy beans. Right now, the corn is probably eight, nine feet tall. The only way you can search it is basically walk down every other row,” he said. “It’s difficult. Even the planes flying over have a difficulty looking down in the corn rows.” The police at this time have named no suspects, having cleared Dalton Jack after validating his alibi in Dubuque. They have not yet ruled out abduction. They hope to utilize the data from Mollie’s cell phone and her fitness tracker to answer some questions about what happened that night. According to the New York Post, “Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation spokesman Mitch Mortvedt said Wednesday that investigators believe they’ve ‘put together a pretty solid timeline’ of what 20-year-old Mollie Tibbetts was doing before she was last seen jogging in her hometown of Brooklyn, Iowa.” The article goes on to say investigators only wish they could comb the information faster in the interest of finding Mollie.
In just a week, the search party has ballooned from dozens to hundreds, with the FBI recently joining the effort. In the first days of her disappearance, friends and family tweeted to celebrities with Iowan roots who might use their fame to spread Mollie’s face and name across the country, in the hopes that someone has seen her. Celebrities who participated in this effort, including Adam Devine, Brandon Routh, American Idol winner Maddie Poppe, Kurt Warner, and comedian Tom Arnold.
In the meantime, her family agonizes over their missing daughter, but they have not given up hope that Mollie will soon return to them, safe and unharmed. “We know that Mollie knows how much we love her and how important she is to her entire family,” a cousin told PEOPLE. “We want her to know that we will never stop looking for her.”
This is a developing story…
Carie McMichael is the Communications and Media Specialist for Lauth Investigations International, writing about investigative topics such as missing persons and corporate investigations. For more information on missing persons topics, please visit our website.
According to the National Crime Information Center (NCIC) at the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), there are 86,927 active missing persons cases as of April 30, 2018. These cases include juvenile disappearances, endangered missing, involuntary or “non-family” abductions, those with disabilities, catastrophe victims and those entered into NCIC as “other.”
When a person we love goes missing, a time of great emotional turmoil and intense ambiguity follows. Dr. Pauline Boss said decades ago, having a loved one go missing is one of the most traumatic of human experiences.
Not only are families trying to manage the trauma of “not knowing” where their loved one is, they must quickly learn to maneuver the legal system. When do you report a loved one missing? What happens when police get involved? What can you do to help find a missing person? These are just a few of the questions a family of a missing person is facing.
Unfortunately, there is no handbook to fully educate someone as to what do to and how to emotionally handle the initial shock or help maintain the energy needed to find a loved one who has mysteriously vanished. However, there are many things you can do to help find a missing loved one and help reduce stress for family members.
There are various contributors to cause a person to go missing. A family member may suffer from Alzheimer’s or mental illness, they may be a victim of domestic violence, live a “high risk” lifestyle, even be a victim of a vehicular accident. There are also disappearances that cannot be immediately explained.
The key to increasing the chances of finding a missing person safe is acting fast and initiating a search effort as soon as possible. From making the initial missing person report and engaging the public to hiring a private investigator, there is much to expedite finding a missing loved one.
1. Contact Authorities
Making a police report is the first and most vital step in initiating a search for a missing person. Filing a police report ensures local law enforcement is alerted to the disappearance and can assess the situation to determine if the person may be in danger and if an investigation needs to be conducted.
When a child goes missing, law enforcement is required by federal mandate to take the report immediately and enter the child’s information into the National Crime Information Center at the FBI. However, when an adult goes missing, law enforcement is not required to take an immediate report or enter the person into NCIC and may cite a 24-48 hour waiting period as policy. There is no federal mandate requiring law enforcement to wait to take a report. It helps to be calm while insisting they take a report.
Though many law enforcement agencies will take an immediate report, it is recommended to inform officers of anything to classify the person as endangered such as needing medications for a medical condition, suffering from mental illness, being a danger to themselves or others, a domestic violence situation, any threats the person may have received, a situation where it is out of normal behavior to vanish for any length of time. For example, if a mother regularly picks up her child at daycare and fails to arrive to pick their child up, this would be considered out of the behavioral norm.
Be prepared to provide authorities with the missing person’s descriptive information, a current photograph, a list of places the person frequents, list of friends and family, description of the missing person’s vehicle, a list of possessions missing or left behind, etc.
Once a report has been filed, be sure to keep a copy. Also request the NCIC number (this reflects the person has been entered into the national FBI database and available nationwide to all law enforcement, medical examiners, and Coroners).
Regardless of the circumstance of the disappearance, making a police report is beneficial.
2. Keep a Log
Keeping a log with the full names and contact information of all people you talk to is important in maintaining good communication with everyone involved in the search for the missing person and staying organized.
It is easy to feel overwhelmed when making numerous phone calls, sending emails, etc. Keeping a log is a simple but important way to stay organized and maintain effectiveness, in addition to reducing stress.
3. Contact Family, Friends and Coworkers
Many times, a simple lack of communication can occur, and a missing person can be found by contacting family, friends, and coworkers.
Even after making a missing person report to police, be sure to reach out to others to find out if they have seen the individual or told where the person may be going. Life can become busy and simple miscommunication can contribute to a person being out of touch for extended periods of time. Cover all your bases by calling or texting friends to find out if they have heard from the missing person.
4. Social Networks
Social networks like Facebook can be integral to the search for a missing person from the moment the person is missing to an ongoing search if necessary.
Look at the missing person’s social media pages for their last posts, any information about their plans and even state of mind. Look to see if they received any harassing or strange communications from others.
Contact Facebook friends and ask if they have heard from or seen the missing person. It is important to provide any pertinent information you receive from others to the investigating law enforcement agency.
Also, Facebook and Instagram are the perfect places to obtain current photographs of the missing person to be provided to law enforcement and to make fliers.
5. Contact Jails, Homeless Shelters, Hospitals and Morgues
It is important to remain cognizant of law enforcement’s limitations when searching for a missing person, especially adults as they have a right to go missing if they so choose.
As difficult as it can be, it is necessary to contact hospitals and morgues to see if the individual is injured in the hospital or unidentified in a morgue. This can be a very difficult task and you may want to ask a friend or family member to help make the calls.
6. Register the Missing Person with Organizations Offering Resources
If you are searching for a missing child, call the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children (NCMEC) as soon as possible. NCMEC specializes in providing services for families and children who are missing. NCMEC can be reached at 1-800-THE-LOST (800-843-5678).
For families searching for someone with mental illness, the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) provides resources for families. Their website also offers many resources.
Contact the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System (NAMUS) at www.findthemissing.org or www.namus.org. NAMUS is a powerful resource where information about missing persons is entered by family members of missing persons, the criminal justice community, law enforcement, and medical examiners and is publicly accessible.
7. Make a One-Page Flyer
Make a one-page flyer of the missing person. The flyer should contain the following:
Preferably two current photographs of the missing person
Height, Weight, Age
Photo of vehicle and license plate
Place last seen
Phone number of investigating law enforcement
*NOTE: It is recommended you never place your own phone number or contact information on a missing person flyer. First, it is very important calls are handled by a professional so as not to compromise an investigation. Second, many times families will receive cruel, harassing, and misleading calls from the public and it is very important to protect yourself and your family by buffering these calls.
Engage the public by asking community store owners to hang signs in their place of businesses. Place one at your local post office and anywhere you can legally hang a public notice.
8. Create a Website and Social Media Page
Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest and other social network sites can be instrumental when searching for a missing loved one, especially if they are not found immediately. With any missing person case, it is important to maintain awareness and keep the public engaged in the search.
Create a site with an engaging name like “Find Jane Doe” or “Missing Jane Smith”. This will help bring your page up in Google and related search results.
Post recent pictures and include specific descriptive information to include the clothing they were last wearing, jewelry, glasses, tattoos, scars, etc.
Upload a PDF version of the flier so others can share and download to post in their communities.
If your loved one has a mental illness, you may want to simply say the person is “endangered” due to a medical condition or vulnerable and needs medications.
Add links to any news stories.
Upload a video and make a personal public appeal.
Make sure to provide the investigating law enforcement agency’s number and encourage people to call them directly with information and leads.
9. Alert your Local Newspapers and Media
Getting local media to assist can sometimes be difficult. News stations are not likely to cover a missing person story unless it comes from law enforcement. It is much easier if law enforcement puts out a press release indicating a person is in danger. Speak to the detectives and ask if they will issue a press release.
10. Hiring a Private Investigator
When is it time to hire a private investigator? There is no easy answer, but it is encouraged to consult with one early on, especially if the person has not returned home within a few days.
Because there is only so much law enforcement can do, at times finding the missing person requires additional assistance, both professional and specialized.
A missing person private investigator has access to databases and systems the general public does not, making finding a missing person a much easier task. An experienced private detective with experience working with law enforcement can be an asset to a missing person investigation, and can ease the burden off families, allowing family and friends to concentrate on other efforts, like social networking and keeping the public engaged.
Experienced private investigators can access information, interview witnesses and community members in order to generate new leads for an investigation, sharing information with the investigating law enforcement agency to ensure all rocks are being overturned.
Because their missing person private investigation services are being paid for, a private investigator will ensure locating the missing person has their full attention.
It is also advisable to look for a missing person private investigator who has experience working with media, so they may comment on the case without compromising law enforcement’s investigation.
About Kym L. Pasqualini
Kym Pasqualini is founder and served as CEO for the Nation’s Missing Children Organization and National Center for Missing Adults from 1994-2010. Kym has worked with media world-wide and quoted in publications such as People Magazine, Cosmopolitan, Glamour. Kym has appeared in local and national media to include CNN, FOX, BBC, Montel Williams and the John Walsh Show. Kym continues to work with families of the missing and law enforcement nationwide.