Missing Person Reports
A police report is the most important step when a loved one goes missing.

1. Making a Police Report

Families know their family members best and when a loved one goes missing, it is recommended to make a police report sooner than later. Begin with contacting the police or sheriff’s department within the jurisdiction that missing person was last seen or known to be.

Reports involving missing children, police are required by federal law to take an immediate report and enter the child’s descriptive information into the FBI’s National Crime Information Center (NCIC).

However, one should understand is there is no federal law requiring local law enforcement to take an initial report a report of a missing adult 18-years-old and older, and they may ask you to wait 24-48 hours.

If you are told to wait 24-48 hours before making a report, remember this is an individual law enforcement’s policy, not a federal law. It may help to calmly ask for a supervisor and express your concern. Include any information that may include the individual may be endangered such as, the person has diminished mental capacity, is on medications, any domestic violence issues, etc.

In a world where it is preferable to be safe than sorry, it is in the best interest of the law enforcement to take an immediate report, especially if there are extenuating circumstances involved.

2. Importance of NCIC Entry

When a law enforcement agency accepts a missing person report, the next step is for officers or detectives to enter the data relative to the missing person into the NCIC.

Information that includes where the missing person was last seen, descriptive information such as scars and tattoos, medical conditions and other data is entered into NCIC making it available to law enforcement and medical examiners nationwide. This enables law enforcement outside the investigating agency’s jurisdiction to be notified of an existing missing person report, should they have contact with the individual, the person is found deceased or injured.

It is important you obtain confirmation of NCIC entry from your local law enforcement. If your loved one is not promptly found it will be needed in order to register the missing person with other reputable agencies that assist finding missing persons.

A NCIC number is not a confidential piece of information and helps outside agencies and nonprofit organizations easily confirm that the missing person you are registering with them is legitimate, allowing assisting agencies to help.

The NCIC number is different than a police Case Number (which you should also obtain from the investigator) and will look like this M-123456789. Make every effort to obtain this number. If for any reason your request is denied, make sure to relay that their refusal may hinder your effort to obtain additional assistance.

3. Working Cooperatively With Law Enforcement

Missing Person Investigation
When a loved one is missing, working cooperatively with law enforcement is vital.

When a loved one goes missing, emotions can run high. It is easy to experience anxiety when you feel not enough is being done to find your loved one. The fact is, most law enforcement does respond appropriately, efficiently and professionally to missing person reports, and it is very important for family members to work cooperatively and effectively with police for the best interest of the missing person.

It is recommended to try to remain calm when communicating with the investigator. This will be especially important if the missing person is not recovered right away. It is more likely you will receive much more information about the case and the efforts to find the missing person by always trying to be respectful.

It is also important to remember that there are aspects of an investigation that law enforcement can’t divulge under any circumstances, especially if foul play is involved in the disappearance.

Remember, we depend upon law enforcement to communicate to us so that we may best determine a plan of action.

If all of your efforts to work cooperatively are exhausted, it is recommended to request a supervisor and request a meeting so that issues can be resolved positively.

4. Gathering Personal Items

When a loved one vanishes, gathering that person’s possessions is not the first thing on most people’s minds. However, the first thing to note is to NEVER disturb a potential crime scene. One must proceed carefully.

After making the police report, it is necessary to speak to a detective and request guidance as to how to proceed with collecting items that may be necessary for DNA collection such as a hairbrush, toothbrush or other items. Other items may include the missing person’s cell phone, computer, and personal identification.

If the location the missing person was last seen, such as vehicle or residence, has been secured by law enforcement, ask if personal items have been retrieved by the law enforcement agency. If the location has not been restricted in any way, collect items and place in a clean plastic bag to later give to police should the missing person not be found immediately.


5. Registering with NAMUS and Other NPO’s

When a person is missing, the good news is there are organizations that can provide assistance with making fliers, obtaining press coverage, search assistance, and offering guidance and support.

When you register the missing person with a state or nonprofit organization, the NCIC number is needed to confirm the individual is legitimately reported missing.

Before calling to request assistance be prepared to provide photographs of the missing person. If a vehicle is also missing, try to obtain a photograph or have the year, make, model, and license plate number available. You will also be asked to provide a description of the individual such as height, weight, hair color, eye color, scars, marks, tattoos, piercings, any surgeries, clothing, and jewelry. If the individual has a disability such as Alzheimer’s, diabetes, heart condition, or other disabilities, provide that information as well.

Below are links to resources:

Identifying Missing and Unidentified


Missing Person Resource

6. Hiring a PI

Hiring a licensed and capable private investigator (PI) or private detective can be an invaluable asset to the search for a missing person.

A private investigator can obtain information from the streets that can sometimes go undiscovered when a person goes missing. However, hiring a private detective or investigator who has experience and positive relationship with law enforcement is vital.

When considering hiring a PI firm, they should be ready and willing to provide you with references. Ask for them. This will help protect you and give you the confidence you are contracting with a reputable individual who has the experience needed investigating missing person cases.

You can conduct more due diligence by looking up BBB profile and information from the state licensing authority. In addition, a private eye that has criminal justice experience and education is beneficial. It pays to be diligent.

At times, when a person is reported missing, law enforcement may determine “foul play” involved in the disappearance. It then becomes necessary to work with a private investigator that will share information pertinent to the case directly with the investigating law enforcement agency.

A case can be easily compromised. Hiring a knowledgeable and competent private investigator a must.


7. Generating Leads

Ethan Gorden Missing
Ethan Gorden billboard located in Green Cove Springs, FL.

When a person goes missing, in short order a flier should be made and distributed, especially in the vicinity, the person was last seen. A billboard is also an effective way to raise awareness and generate public and media attention.

Using a photograph of the missing person that clearly shows the facial features is best. If you can include two that is even more helpful in identification efforts.

Along with a photograph, include full name, date of disappearance and vicinity last seen along with descriptive information such as height, weight, eye color, hair color, any scars, marks, tattoos, and surgeries.

Most importantly, include the investigating law enforcement agency’s number so calls go directly to authorities.

First, when there is an active investigation into the disappearance of a missing person, information should never be deviated or intercepted from going directly to the detectives. If someone is calling regarding a sighting of the missing person or important information about someone who may be involved in the disappearance and the information is relayed to authorities, there are too many chances that the case could be compromised and could very well mean life or death for the missing person.


8. Using Social Media to Find Missing Persons

Social Media has become a crucial tool in generating information and leads for unsolved crimes by reaching thousands of more individuals per day than a traditional flier.

It is recommended to set up a Facebook page to help share information, engage the public and raise awareness of the case. In addition to Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Google+, Pinterest, Minds.com, YouTube, and others can also be used.

It is best to create a page with the missing person’s name. For example, “FIND ANGELA HUDSON” or similar.

Finding Ethan Gorden on FB
Utilizing social media is one of the most effective tools to raise awareness.

Include information about the missing person, copies of fliers, additional photographs of the missing person, the name and number of the investigating law enforcement agency and other pertinent information.

This is a place where public assistance can be requested to “share” the information. Also, for friends and family to share their thoughts and feelings to help keep the public engaged.

Additionally, creating a website and using social media to share the information contained on the site is a very effective way to centralize the information, giving the public one place to obtain general and updated information about the case.


9. Working With Media

Jennifer Kesse still missing
Courtesy ABC News. Jennifer Kesse missing from Orlando, FL since January 24, 2006.

Solving cases is a cooperative effort on behalf of families of the missing person, law enforcement, the media and most importantly, the public. At times, all parties need to be reminded of the important role they play.

News media plays a crucial role in the search for missing persons. When a news story appears on your local news you are reaching thousands of people, national news millions. Unfortunately, the majority of missing person cases never make the nightly news.

As cited in MSNBC “Damsels in Distress – If You’re Missing, It Helps to Be White, Young and Female” by reporter M. Alex Johnson, there are many issues thought to contribute to the lack of media interest. These issues include demographics such as race, gender, and income. Stigmas such as mental illness and poor life choices – even the lack of glamour can be attributed to lack of media interest in missing person cases.

If the missing person qualifies for an AMBER Alert or Silver Alert, police should issue the alert immediately guaranteeing immediate assistance from media.

It is recommended to discuss the need for media engagement with the investigating police department as they can be very helpful in gaining media attention. They can also guide you as to what they feel is appropriate to discuss with the media and what should remain confidential. Thus again, maintaining the confidentiality of certain information and working cooperatively with the police is a benefit to locating the missing person or generating leads for their investigation. Request the police send out a press release notifying the media of the person’s disappearance.

While it may be difficult to get local media attention, it can happen. Take note of what makes the missing person’s circumstance unique or creates the ability for others to identify with the missing person as if they were a member of their own family. Is the missing person a mother or a father with children waiting for their parent’s return? Is a vehicle missing or found abandoned? Were the missing person’s personal belongings left behind? Does the person have a disability such as Alzheimer’s? It also helps to share what it is like to have a loved one missing on Christmas or a birthday. These are things that can be discussed with media when making a plea for the public’s help.

Even though there is no law restricting you from asking the media for help, always do it with great care and mindful that in some circumstances it may be necessary to protect details of the case.


10. Effective Physical Searches

At times a physical search of an area where the missing person vanished can be helpful. Under ideal circumstances, the investigating law enforcement agency would determine the area needed to be searched.

Ground Search
Ground and canine searches are an effective method used to find missing persons.

At times a physical search of an area where the missing person vanished can be helpful. Under ideal circumstances, the investigating law enforcement agency would determine the area needed to be searched.

Prior to any private search, consult with the detectives on the case and request assistance. Law enforcement can coordinate the many resources needed to conduct an effective search. Engaging law enforcement early is important in search efforts so they can apply evidence preservation should items related to the investigation be found.

There are various kinds of searches the police may determine necessary such as a crime scene search of the areas the missing individual was last seen, a grid search, canvassing a neighborhood house to house, a roadblock search, even a canine search.

If you decide to use volunteers it is highly recommended that you enlist the help of a professional organization or Search and Rescue operation. From volunteer screening to preserving potential evidence it is best to work with a professional.


11. DNA Collection

If you are the family member of a missing person, it may become necessary to provide your DNA to the investigating law enforcement agency.

CODIS Missing Person
A cheek swab collects DNA from a family member of missing person to enter into CODIS.

Having DNA collected plays a vital role in identification efforts of missing persons. If law enforcement does not request a DNA collection within 30 days of your loved one’s disappearance, it is recommended you request one.

When DNA is collected from a family member of a missing person, it is usually processed at University of North Texas Center for Human Identification and then uploaded to the FBI Combined Index System (CODIS). DNA from the family member is then cross-referenced with the DNA of unidentified persons for a match.

The DNA collection process is very simple, consisting of a light swab of the inside of the cheek.

With advances in technology, ensuring they are used early on improves the chances of earlier identification.


12. Protecting Yourself From Exploitation

When someone goes missing and especially if it becomes a high-profile case in the media, people come out of the woodwork to help. This can be both a curse and a blessing. The fact is, without the support of family, friends, neighbors, media, and volunteers, living through the trauma of having someone you love missing seems almost impossible.

Best advice, keep a notebook. Make sure you have Caller ID and log the full name and number for everyone you speak to.

Receiving calls from individual’s genuinely wanting to help is to be expected and to be grateful for. Receiving calls from total strangers, people wanting to volunteer or interject themselves into an investigation warrants concern.

It is not uncommon for a suspect to get involved in the effort to find the missing person, attend a vigil. Keeping a notebook is an easy way to keep track of every conversation and can be a great asset to investigators.

It is also common for the families of missing persons to be contacted by psychics, private detectives, bloggers, etc.

While the majority may be well-intended, it is advised to be cautious. This can protect you emotionally and financially. When a loved one is missing, making sure you protect yourself is equally as important as searching for your loved one.

While there isn’t a Handbook that can fully advise us through the most difficult times of our lives, there are resources that can help. Most importantly, hold on to hope!

A great in-depth resource is the Office of Juvenile Justice & Delinquency Prevention’s “When Your Child Is Missing: A Family Survival Guide” published by the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children.

Kym L. Pasqualini is a veteran in the field of victim advocacy and has worked in the field of missing persons for over 20 years. Kym L. Pasqualini is the founder of Nation’s Missing Children Organization in 1994 and National Center for Missing Adults in 2000, serving as CEO until 2010. Kym has spent nearly 25 years working with government, law enforcement, advocates, private investigators, and national media, to include expert appearances on CNN, MSNBC, FOX, John Walsh, Lifetime, Montel, and Anderson Cooper.

This article has been sponsored by Lauth Investigations International, headquartered in Indianapolis, IN. Lauth Investigations has been investigating missing person cases throughout the United States for two decades.