When Fitness Becomes Dangerous: Three Women Who Went Missing While Exercising

When Fitness Becomes Dangerous: Three Women Who Went Missing While Exercising

It’s not uncommon for women to jog alone. Unfortunately, it’s also not uncommon for women to go missing while jogging or exercising.

Millions of women exercise daily while alone, and most come home safe. However, imagine your friend goes out for a jog or bicycle ride and is never seen again. Women who go missing while jogging are not an isolated event. It may be hard to comprehend, but sadly, stories like this are becoming more common in today’s society.  

According to the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s National Crime Information Center (NCIC), there are approximately 100,000 people missing in the United States right now. As of May 31, 2018, there were 19,183 women over the age of eighteen listed as missing in NCIC. Many of them go missing while jogging or exercising.

Stories like Molly Tibbets, who was abducted and murdered, make national news headlines, creating fear throughout the country. Women being attacked or kidnapped, or going missing while jogging is a nightmare we cannot run away from and one that continues to haunt families of the missing.

The Disappearance of Rachel Cooke

Our first woman who went missing while jogging is Rachel Cooke. Rachel Cooke, 19, was visiting her parents in Georgetown, Texas, during her winter break from college. No one knew that would be her last trip home. On January 10, 2002, at approximately 9:30 a.m., Rachel went out for her four-mile daily run and was last seen 200 yards from her family home. Somewhere in that short distance, the beautiful young college student with a smile that could light up the Texas plains—vanished.(Northlake subdivision in Georgetown, Texas, where Rachel Cooke vanished while taking a morning run.)

Northlake subdivision is a quiet place, about 45 minutes from Austin, where streets are named after Native American tribes and the only people there are residents and their visitors. The houses are set back on several acres of property with expansive drives. The serenity is rarely disturbed by strangers, making it a perfect storm of cirumcstances to go missing while jogging.

224 Navajo Trail was the Cooke family’s dream home, and they loved its spaciousness and tranquility. Robert and Janet Cooke raised Rachel and her little sister Joann there while Janet taught English at a nearby high school. Robert was a long-time software engineer for IBM and commuted daily to Austin. It was a place where people felt safe going outside alone and kidnapping did not happen—until Rachel.

The Cooke family’s idyllic life came to an end that fateful Thursday, but the day started like any other. Robert and Janet left early to work, and Joann went to her classes at the local high school. Rachel was enjoying her winter break as a freshman at Mesa Junior College San Diego, and her family let her sleep in.

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(Rachel Cooke was last seen at her parent’s home in Georgetown, Texas on January 10, 2002.)

When the family left that morning, Rachel was asleep on the living room sofa. Her mother kissed her goodbye.

Authorities believe Rachel got up and left the home at approximately 9:30 a.m. for her morning run. She went missing while jogging that morning.

When Robert got home at 5:00 p.m., Rachel was still not there and had no contact with anyone in the family the entire day. At first, Robert was not that concerned thinking Rachel was out with her friend Shannon, who she had plans with that evening. But, as time went by, Robert began to worry. He called Wildfire, a local restaurant, Rachel sometimes worked at while visiting. To the worried father’s relief, they told him Rachel had worked a shift that evening. However, morning came and there was still no sign of Rachel, so Robert called the restaurant again. To his horror, they told him, in fact, it was another Rachel that had worked the previous night shift.

Rachel was missing—and a sinking feeling overcame her father.

In the days following Rachel’s disappearance, the Williamson County Sheriff’s Office conducted a search with help from hundreds of volunteers. After the initial search efforts concluded, Robert and Janet continued to organize searches on weekends.

“We carried on for nine months, but at some point, we thought we’ve done our best,” Robert told the Guardian. “If they took her 12 miles, there is no reason why they wouldn’t take her 15 miles. We could search the entire state of Texas and still not find her.”

Robert Cooke passed away in November 2014, never knowing what happened to his daughter.

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(The FBI erected billboards of Rachel Cooke in the state of Texas offering a $100,000 reward for information.) 

In May 2019, the FBI erected billboards throughout Texas offering a $100,000 reward for any information about the whereabouts of Rachel.

As drivers passed Rachel’s smiling face along I-35, it read “Missing but not forgotten,” and placed there on Rachel’s 37th birthday. Janet Cook saw it as a Mother’s Day gift as well. Time has not lessened the mother’s hope of finding her daughter—and at least knowing what happened.

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(In 2020, the Williamson County Sheriff’s Office released two suspect composites in the disappearance of Rachel Cooke.)

In 2020, for Rachel’s 38th birthday, deputies met with Rachel’s mother Janet and released two new composite sketches of potential suspects in the case. 

Her mother had a remembrance ceremony at the campus of Georgetown High School where they planted a tree in memory of Rachel. Sheriff Robert Chody spoke at the ceremony to remind the public his investigators are still working the case.

Janet Cooke, who also spoke, said she is just “seeking closure” on the case. “At this point I just want Rachel and to be able to tell her sister it’s over,” she told the Statesman.  

If you have any information about the disappearance of Rachel Cooke, please call the Williamson County Sheriff’s Office at 512-943-5204 or email coldcasetips@wilco.com.

The Disappearance of Suzanne Morphew

Suzanne Morphew was another woman who very recently went missing while jogging or exercising, except she was on a bicycle. Suzanne Morphew, 49, went out biking alone on Mother’s Day and never returned to her central Colorado home. Just after 6 p.m. on May 10, 2020, a neighbor alerted the Chaffee County Communications Center that Suzanne had not returned from her bike ride.

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(Suzanne Morphew is missing from the small community in Maysville, Colorado, approximately 120 miles from Colorado Springs.)

An avid cyclist, Suzanne was biking near her home in Maysville, a small community in Chaffee County, approximately 120 miles southwest of Colorado Springs. Her disappearance has spurred nationwide press coverage and a Facebook page with over 16,315 followers.

There have been reports that Suzanne’s bicycle was found just west of County Road 225 and West U.S. Highway 50. However, the Sheriff’s Office has only publicly confirmed a “personal item” was found that they believe belonged to the missing biker.

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(Barry Morphew, Suzanne’s husband, made an emotional plea to the public offering a $200,000 reward for his wife’s safe return. Photo courtesy of Inside Edition)

Suzanne’s husband, Barry Morphew made a dramatic plea offering a $200,000 reward for the safe return of his wife. “No questions asked,” said Barry. “However much they want. I will do whatever it takes to get you back. I love you and I want you back so bad.” Barry, a volunteer firefighter is said to have been 150 miles away in Denver when Suzanne vanished. 

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(Suzanne Morphew has been missing from Maysville, Colorado, since May 10, 2020.)

Suzanne is a mother of two daughters and a cancer survivor. A former English teacher, Suzanne is described as “happy and active” who was always at the gym, hiking, or biking. She is loved in her community, and fliers dot the windows in the local businesses. Hundreds of volunteers have helped with the search efforts, organized by her nephew Trevor Noel, who has also become the family spokesperson.

“As time goes by, it gives us concern, but we are searching as if she is still alive and we think she could still be alive,” Sheriff John Spezze of the Chaffee County Sheriff’s Office told Inside Edition. In an earlier interview, the sheriff also said they are not ruling out foul play.

Initially, authorities had seized the Morphew home but confirmed on May 26, 2020, that the house has been released back to the family. Investigators have also searched a local home construction site in Salida, approximately 11 miles east of Maysville, spurring rumors that Suzanne Morphew had been located and the husband arrested. The sheriff’s office issued a press release in response to the speculation.

“In response to the widespread rumors, the Chaffee County Sheriff’s Office relays that Ms. Morphew has not been located and there have been no arrests in the investigation,” the release said.

Authorities say they have received over 400 tips and continue to encourage the public to call in with leads.

If you have any information about the disappearance of Suzanne Morphew, please contact the Chaffee County Sheriff’s Office at 719-312-7530.

The Disappearance of Amy Bechtel

Amy Wroe Bechtel, 24, vanished on July 24, 1997, while jogging in the Wind River Mountains approximately 15 miles south of Lander, Wyoming. 

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(Amy Wroe Bechtel vanished on July 24, 1997, while jogging in the Wind River Mountains in Wyoming.)

Amy Bechtel went missing while jogging in a little hamlet of middle America. Lander, Wyoming is located in Fremont County with a population of under 8,000 people. A popular tourist destination with guest ranches, it is located just below the Wind River Mountains where people go hiking, rock climbing, and backpacking. 

That Thursday morning of July 24, Amy told her husband, Steve Bechtel, that she was planning on running several errands in town after teaching a children’s weightlifting class at the Wind River Fitness Center. Steve planned to drive with his yellow lab, Jonz, to Dubois, 75 miles north, to meet his friend Sam Lightner, and scout some possible new climbing areas at Cartridge Creek. 

After teaching class, Amy stopped at the Camera Connection, a photo store near her home in Lander, and then stopped by Gallery 331, where she spoke to the business owner about submitting her photographs into a competition. Amy was an amateur photographer, an avid runner, and a marathon hopeful who loved the outdoors and pristine beauty of Wyoming. 

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(A quaint mountain town, Lander is located in Central Wyoming just south of the Wind River Indian Reservation.)

Steve and Amy lived on Lucky Lane, a hipster community where many rock climbers live, drawn by some of the most difficult mountain walls in the United States. Lander is a quirky town with funky shops and art galleries, old school watering holes, and small home-town restaurants. Steve and Amy both worked part-time at Wild Iris Mountain Sports, a local outdoor equipment store.

The couple had just closed on a new house and were busy planning a move. Amy was also organizing a 10k hill climb scheduled for September 7. She planned that the runners would climb a series of mountain switchbacks not far from town, then jump into the Frye Lake and finish with a picnic. On the day she vanished, Amy’s “to do” list included a run and lifting, recycling, get photo mounted, get more boxes, mow the lawn, and get flyers.

John Strom, the owner of Camera Connection remembers Amy wearing a yellow shirt, black shorts, and running shoes that day. He said she seemed busy and cheerful when she left at about 2:30 p.m.

After completing several of her afternoon chores and leaving the camera shop—Amy’s life becomes that of speculation.

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(Steve and Amy Bechtel with their dog Jonz.)

Steve returned from his day out with his friend at about 4:30 p.m. and found the house empty. He had returned earlier than planned and was not concerned but at about 10 p.m. he called her parents to see if Amy had driven to their house on the spur of the moment. She had not.

By 11 p.m. Steve had called the Fremont County Sheriff’s Office who sent two deputies to the house. They alerted the following shift who began to organize a search and rescue team to head out at daybreak. Steve and his neighbor Todd Skinner went to look for Amy’s car on Loop Road, a 30-mile road through the Shoshone National Forest. 

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(Amy Bechtel’s car was found alongside the road in Burnt Gulch, about 45 minutes from town.)

At approximately 1:00 a.m., Steve received a call that Amy’s white Toyota Tercel station wagon was found alongside the road at Burnt Gulch, about 45 minutes from town in the mountains, so he headed there immediately. Her car unlocked, the keys under her “to do” list on the front passenger seat, along with her sunglasses.

Steve and a small group began searching the woods with flashlights, calling Amy’s name. By the time the official search party arrived, a dozen people were searching for Amy and the site had not been preserved for evidence. Thinking Amy was just lost, no one could have imagined the site might be a crime scene,

For years, evidence remained elusive, and over the last two decades, law enforcement has only developed theories about what happened to her. They believe Amy left the camera shop and then went to scout the location for the 10k.

In recent years, national television and media interest in the case has waned and generated little leads that have been useful to authorities. A $25,000 reward went untouched and was eventually converted into two college scholarship funds in Amy’s name.

Fremont County Sheriff Sgt. Roger Rizor has been the lead investigator and told the Billings Gazette in 2007, that Amy’s case was cold, but it is still an open case. “I believe it was a homicide, and I believe that’s what happened on the day she disappeared.”

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(Jo Anne Wroe wanders in the meadows of her log home above Red Lodge to feel close to her missing daughter Amy Wroe Bechtel. Photo courtesy of the Billings Gazette.)

As years passed, Jo Anne stopped marking the anniversaries of Amy’s disappearance with yellow ribbons. She does not have a grave to visit so she loves to meander near the mountain creek among the aspen trees and wildflowers to feel close to her missing daughter. 

Amy’s disappearance has deeply affected every facet of Jo Anne’s life and that of her three other children. 

“A part of me is realistic, and I’m aware that she is probably not alive,” she said. “I have learned to live with the fact that Amy is gone. But I have not accepted it, and I will not until I know what happened.”

If you have any information about the disappearance of Amy Wroe Bechtel, please call the Fremont County Sheriff’s Office at 307-332-5611.

Kym served as CEO of the National Center for Missing Adults from 1994 to 2010 and advocating for missing persons and their families for over 25 years.

Kym has worked with national media to raise awareness and featured on Anderson Cooper Live, Greta Van Susteren, Montel Williams, the John Walsh Show, CNN, BBC, FOX, L. A. Times, People Magazine, Ladies Home Journal.

Into the Breeze: The Disappearance of Tiffany Daniels

Into the Breeze: The Disappearance of Tiffany Daniels

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(Tiffany Daniels disappeared August 12, 2013 from Pensacola, Florida.)

Tiffany Daniels, 25, mysteriously vanished on August 12, 2013, from Pensacola, Florida. She was last seen leaving Pensacola State College where she worked as a theater technician.

Pensacola is the westernmost city on the Florida Panhandle in Escambia County. From the pristine beaches and Bay area attractions to day trips and nightlife, Pensacola is a popular tourist destination. 

On August 11, Tiffany started her day with a goodbye breakfast with her boyfriend, who had just been accepted into the robotics program at the University of Texas in Austin. Though he encouraged her to come with him, she objected. She said she wanted to continue the relationship and was making plans to visit him in Austin, but she expressed she wasn’t ready to leave Pensacola yet.

After the breakfast, her roommate Gary Nichols recalls Tiffany was a little depressed, but it was mitigated with enthusiasm for a later visit to Austin, a place her friends thought she would easily adjust to if she did decide to move there. 

Gary Nichols, 54, was the father of one of Tiffany’s friends who was separating from his wife and wanted to live closer to his job. Tiffany had placed an ad on Craigslist looking for a roommate and Nichols thought it would help both and he agreed to rent the room. Though Tiffany’s parents were not particularly happy with her sharing her place with a man twice her age, they were happy she was with someone safe. They both shared similar interests such as bicycling and eating healthy and got along great according to Gary. 

The theater department had Tiffany scheduled to start working on set for an upcoming musical comedy called Spamalot. That evening Tiffany and Gary decided to watch Monty Python and the Holy Grail, a film on which the musical she was working on was based. They both went to their bedrooms after the movie because they were both scheduled to work early the following morning. 

Between 3:00 – 5:00 a.m., Gary heard the front door open and close several times and peeked out but did not see Tiffany. Assuming Tiffany had just gone to work early, Gary went back to sleep.  

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(Tiffany Daniels took off work for several days prior to her disappearing on August 12, 2013.) 

The Disappearance

On August 12, Tiffany went to work at the beginning of her shift and began painting the sets. Later, she asked her supervisor if she could leave work early and take off a couple of days following not citing a reason just saying she had a couple things to do. The supervisor approved the time off and she clocked out at 4:43 p.m. as she left the theater. 

She returned home briefly after she left work. Her roommate was home but was distracted on the phone with his out-of-state girlfriend, and says he did not see her come in. 

That night, Gary became concerned and tried to call Tiffany when she had not returned by 10:00 p.m. Again, he tried to call her the following morning when she had not returned. That evening, he returned the house and found the electricity had been shut off. He assumed Tiffany had forgotten to pay the bill so he called his daughter Noel and asked her if she would contact Tiffany’s mother Cindy Daniels. 

Cindy and Noel began to contact every friend of Tiffany’s they could think of. None had seen her. By the end of the week, when Tiffany had not yet shown back up, they decided to call the police.

First, Cindy went to Escambia County Sheriff’s Office where they referred her to the Pensacola Police Department inside the jurisdiction of where Tiffany lives. Detective Daniel Harnett met Cindy at Tiffany’s home and searched it. He found no signs of foul play. Her family thought maybe she went camping but the police found her tent inside her room.

Hartnett investigated both Tiffany’s boyfriend and Gary Daniels and found they were not deceptive. 

“As law enforcement, we are going to investigate missing person cases as if they are a crime, said Detective Harnett. “The way we work this case it’s as if it’s a worst-case and we hope for the best.” 

Theories regarding Tiffany’s disappearance include foul play to accidental drowning. However, based on an anonymous tip and several possible sightings, the family believes she may have been a victim of human trafficking and may still be alive.

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(Tiffany Daniel’s was driving a Toyota 4 Runner (similar), that was found on August 20, 2013 at Park West in Pensacola.)

Car Is Found Abandoned

The case had been on the local news and family and friends distributed and posted fliers throughout Pensacola.

On August 20, a biker, who was a friend of the Daniels family, recognized Tiffany’s silver Toyota 4 Runner during her morning ride. It was parked at Park West in Pensacola Beach, near Fort Pickens, which is at the western end of Santa Rosa Island. 

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(Fort Pickens in Pensacola Florida where Tiffany Daniels vehicle was found abandoned.)

Tiffany had often hiked the sweeping dunes of Gulf Islands National Seashore, even though her mother warned her not to go hiking alone. 

Inside her vehicle, police found her bicycle, purse, cell phone, wallet, clothing, paintings, a jar of peanut butter and a jug of water. 

Police impounded the vehicle and towed it to the police garage for further examination and found two fingerprints, one on the door handle and the other on the steering wheel. These prints could not be matched to Tiffany.

A resident at a nearby condo said the vehicle had not been parked there until two days earlier, meaning it had parked there on August 18, six days after Tiffany’s disappearance. This lead could not be confirmed but two other residents told investigators they had seen a man getting out of the car earlier in the day on August 20.

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(Detectives investigating Tiffany Daniels disappearance review surveillance footage of Bob Sikes Bridge in Pensacola, Florida.) 

To try to determine a timeline of when the car was driven there, Detective Harnett examined security footage from the toll booths at the Bob Sikes Bridge, the only road connecting Pensacola and the island. The footage showed Tiffany’s car passed through at 7:51 p.m. on August 12, the evening she vanished. However, it could not be determined if she was the one driving the vehicle. 

Police also found sand on the bicycle tires, suggesting Tiffany may have gone for a bike ride that evening as the Perseid Meteor Shower was happening at the time. 

Hoping someone saw something, family and friends canvassed the area and surrounding residential complexes, but law enforcement received no new leads. KlaasKids,  a volunteer organization organized a search party and conducted a search of much of the island with canines finding some clothing and jewelry, but none was determined to be Tiffany’s. 

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(One of the most solid sightings came in from a waitress in Metairie, Louisiana.) 

Sightings

Rodney and Cindy Daniels, Tiffany’s parents, set up a Facebook Page “Help Find Tiffany” that has over 21,000 Likes. The site has generated numerous leads over the years and has been a source of constant support for her parents. 

One such sighting occurred in 2014, leading Tiffany’s family to Louisiana and down the winding road of human trafficking.  

A woman who worked at a restaurant as a waitress in Metairie, Louisiana, just outside of New Orleans, reported she had seen a woman that matched Tiffany’s description come inside the restaurant. She entered with two women who were possibly Latina, one older than the other. Each was nicely dressed. The waitress told investigators, the younger women had both acted oddly and would not look her in the eye, while the older woman did all the talking. Despite the warm weather, both young women had been wearing long-sleeved shirts, with the cuffs of the shirts pulled over their hands. When the waitress told the women that the Caucasian woman looked very similar to the missing woman that had been on the news, the older Latino asked for “to go” bags and the three left. 

When investigators talked to the waitress, she was adamant that the Caucasian woman looked just like Tiffany. Sadly, the surveillance from that day had been recorded over so the sighting could not be confirmed.

For two reasons, Tiffany’s family believe it was her that day. First, Tiffany would always put her sleeves over her hands when she was cold. Second, the waitress said she asked whether one of the soups on the menu used chicken or fish broth. Cindy recalled a time she was at a restaurant with Tiffany and she asked the same question, as Tiffany was pescatarian and avoided chicken products. 

This sighting prompted Tiffany’s parents to begin researching the horrors of human trafficking. They found traffickers prefer women in their late teens and fear Tiffany’s very trusting nature would have allowed her to fall for whatever ploy traffickers would have used to lure her. In addition, Interstate 10 which is a major trafficking corridor runs from Pensacola through Louisiana. 

Though Detective Harnett has found no evidence to substantiate this theory, he is not entirely ruling it out either. 

Another promising lead came in during 2018 and steered Rodney and Cindy into the world of the homeless. A mother and daughter in California contacted them and claimed they had watched an episode of Investigation Discovery and saw a woman who looked like Cindy living within a homeless community in California. 

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(Tiffany Daniels has tattoos of a seed growth progression from seedling to bloom on both her feet.) 

“I was in the area and assisted them with some of the searching and the person that they found was not Tiffany because she didn’t have the tattoos on her feet,” said Rodney. “However, it led me to have a firsthand look at homeless people and how they attempt to survive, and it really grabbed us by the heart. It absolutely did.” 

Though the family has not yet received the lead they need to find Tiffany, the Daniels did disclose that another witness had come forward regarding the day Tiffany vanished. They said they saw a man in his thirties wearing red shorts and no shirt opening the tailgate of Tiffany’s truck. A witness sighting that corroborated the other two witnesses that came forward early in the case. The man said he remembered this incident because the car had been parked facing oncoming traffic, in an area that was strictly reserved for wildlife. 

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(Friends of Tiffany Daniels describe her a bubbly and always making people laugh.)

Early Life

Tiffany was born March 11, 1988, in Dallas, Texas. Early in her life, her parents Cindy and Rodney moved to Pensacola where Tiffany would grow up, along with her two sisters.

Tiffany went to high school and took many extracurricular classes and would receive multiple scholarship offers. Tiffany attended both Pensacola State College and the University of West Florida. 

Tiffany became an exceptional artist and a skilled painter. She loved to dance and often held dance parties at her home. According to friends of Tiffany’s friends, she is fun-loving and free-spirited and would light up a room when she walked in.

Always wanting to adventure, Tiffany was drawn to picturesque places and people who shared her love for art. 

“Everybody loved Tiffany. Tiffany is a light and that the best way I can describe her,” Said her sister Candice. “When you are around her you just feel light, everything gets brighter, more colorful, more beautiful.” 

When she was not working Tiffany could be found biking, surfing, hiking or camping. Tiffany’s father described his daughter as a “butterfly girl” saying, “She would be talking or doing something and if a butterfly would come by, she would take off and follow it.”

Tiffany’s spontaneous nature would often lead to long bike rides or hiking just to get away from the hustle and bustle of everyday life. Often a loner, Tiffany loved to commune with nature, it was her way. 

Tiffany is an adventurous young woman who seemed to be achieving her dreams, but there was a dark side. Tiffany had financial troubles. 

In July 2013, her parents took notice. In the previous months, friends and roommates that Tiffany had found on Craigslist were moving in and out. Some had taken advantage of Tiffany’s kind nature and had not paid their shares of living expenses. “Most of the time she was too nice,” Cindy said. “Most of time she did want to ask for the rent, utilities when they were due. So, we found out she was paying for things upfront and later trying to collect money from the roommates later.” When she went missing, Tiffany was approximately two months behind on her utility bill.

Tiffany would often find herself broke which led to Gary, who was financially stable, moving in.

But things had changed before Tiffany’s disappearance; she was not her bubbly self and she had drifted away from friends. Police wondered if she might have left on her own or committed suicide because life had just become too much. However, her friends and family said suicide was not even a possibility that Tiffany would consider. 

Tiffany’s cell phone had been out of minutes for days prior to her disappearance, making her activities hard for police to track. 

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Cindy and Rodney Daniels continue their search for their missing daughter Tiffany Daniels.)

Moving Forward 

Police continue to search for Tiffany, and while the Daniels also continue to search for their daughter, they have also found themselves consumed with wanting to help others. When asked what’s next? “We do continue to work as advocates for families,” said Rodney. “When a search is going on, we stay with the family while the teams are out searching.” 

With a lifelong career in fire and emergency services, Rodney now speaks to law enforcement nationwide, educating them on the signs of human trafficking. 

As so many families of missing loved ones find themselves, they become experts in the field of missing persons. The Daniels have found that working with other families of missing children and adults gives them the strength to continue searching for their own child. To not only bring her home but to ward off the feeling of desperation and accompanying depression that can be all-consuming.

Tiffany’s parents face the ambiguity with courage and determination and have dedicated their lives to bring their Tiffany home no matter what the ending. “Every family with a missing person’s case needs closure because you fall into that gray area and you don’t know which is worse,” said Cindy. 

It is Cindy and Rodney’s hope that keeps them going while daily they wait for some word. “Until someone brings me a body or a piece of her body, I’m never going to give up that she’s alive and that she will come and show up at our door,” said Rodney. 

Anyone with information about the disappearance of Tiffany Daniels, please call the Pensacola Police Department at 850-435-1900. 

Summary: Tiffany Daniels, a free-spirited young woman, vanished from a beach in Pensacola, Florida. Tips would lead her parents into the underbelly of human trafficking. What happened to Tiffany Daniels?

Coronavirus: Citizen journalists disappearing following criticism of Chinese government

Coronavirus: Citizen journalists disappearing following criticism of Chinese government

Chen Qiushi is a Wuhan-based lawyer who has been regularly covering the coronavirus outbreak in China, regularly criticizing the governemtn for their handling of the pandemic. He is now missing.

The coronavirus has reportedly killed more than 1000 Chinese residents since the outbreak of a new coronavirus, restricting travel and forcing the quarantines. The Chinese government is under immense pressure to solve the crisis, and scientists are racing to find a way to contain the unnamed virus before it has global repercussions. In another disturbing, yet not altogether surprising, turn of events, persons who have been critical of the government’s handling of the virus outbreak are starting to disappear.

Many Chinese residents have taken to social media to document how the virus is effecting their communities and how those communities are effected by the government. Chen Qiushi is one of those citizens, a lawyer who has been at the epicenter of the outbreak in Wuhan. He started posting about the virus on January 25 after the Chinese government locked the city down in order to contain the virus. Chen Qiushi’s remarks regarding the government and its handling of the outbreak have been—in a word—critical, citing lack of medical supplies, crowded hospitals, and accusing the Chinese government of incompetence and suppressing freedom of speech in discourse regarding the pandemic.

Chen Qiushi’s latest update was last Thursday, February 6, and no one has heard from him since. In a recent tweet, Chen’s friend Xu Xiaodong, stated that Chen has been “taken away to quarantine by force.” He went on to say that Chen has not had access to his personal cell phone. This is interesting, because Chen’s Twitter account still appears to be active despite his disappearance.  In a statement released by the Human Rights Watch, they stated that friends and family have applied for an audience to speak with Chen, but their queries have not been returned.

Another Chinese “citizen journalist” has also gone missing, just days after the disappearance of Chen Qiushi. Fang Bin, a Wuhan-based businessman, has also been documenting the devastation in his community via social media. He had reportedly dared the Chinese government to come seize him for his comments regarding their handling of the virus on the same day that he posted a 12-second video of a paper that read “resist all citizens, hand the power of the government back to the people.” Authorities used the fire brigade to break down his door and arrest him. 

In China, government focus appears to be split between containing the spread of the virus, and controlling the narrative surrounding the containment. Yaqui Wang, a Cinhese researcher for Human Rights Watch, commented on the government’s repeated pattern of censoring or controlling narratives that concern disasters or pandemics, “authorities are as equally, if not more, concerned with silencing criticism as with containing the spread of the coronavirus.”

American watchdog organizations and lawmakers have called for the Chinese government to account for Chen Qiushi’s and Fang Bin’s whereabouts. Steven Butler, the program coordinator for the Committee to Protect Journalists stated, “Authorities in Wuhan must disclose whether they are holding journalist Chen Qiushi. If they are, then he should be released immediately. China does not seem to have learned the clear lesson that bottling up the truth about a spreading illness will only make matters worse.”  

Alex Holden’s body identified in American River

Alex Holden’s body identified in American River

Alex Holden’s body was identified as the one found in American River. Alex was reported missing on New Year’s Day, 2020.

Police have announced that they suspect “no foul play” in the death of a California man who was reported missing over a month ago. Alex Holden, 25, was reported missing on New Year’s Day after he was last seen the night before. The Sacramento Police Department solicited the public’s help in finding answers surrounding his disappearance, which was described as “uncharacteristic” by his family.

Alex is the son of two Missouri Judges. Alex’s father, Judge Calvin Holden, told the Springfield News-Leader, “He has no history of disappearing. It’s very unusual. You know he missed work this morning, which is extremely unusual. He’s very conscientious about his work.” Judge Holden eventually went on to address the lingering question of whether or not his son would take his own life, to which he gave a categorical denial, “It’s not him. He would never do that. He was one of the happiest people you’d ever know.”

Friends and family were struck with confusion because Alex had shared the location of his mobile device with several individuals with whom he was close, but his phone went dead sometime earlier in the evening, so no one was able to ascertain his last known location. He had been in an argument that evening, and had set off on a walk to another location to sleep. He had walked the route before, and was familiar with the area. His girlfriend, Kennedi Perri, indicated that Alex had been drinking before his disappearance.

On Sunday, January 26, 2020, after almost a month since he was reported missing, a body found in the America River was identified as Alex Holden. In a tweet regarding the tragic news, the Sacramento Police Department said, “This is never the outcome we want from any missing person case. Our hope is that this may provide some closure for the family.”

The family has announced plans for a memorial and visitation ceremony in Springfield on Friday, February 7, 2020 so that friends and family can grieve this terrible loss.

Roman Lopez: Missing boy’s death being investigated as “suspicious”

Roman Lopez: Missing boy’s death being investigated as “suspicious”

Roman Lopez was last seen at his family home on Coloma Street in January of 2020. His body was subsequently found nearby later that same day.

Law enforcement is remaining tight-lipped on the subject of a case that has mystified the town of Placerville, California. Eleven-year-old Roman Anthony Lopez was last seen at the family home on Coloma Street, January 11, 2020. Later that same day, the boy’s body was reportedly discovered. In a Facebook post, the Placerville Police Department said that the body was found. They also reported at a press conference that they discovered the body following a search of the area, and were investigating his death as “suspicious.” Little else was disclosed, however, leaving the community with devastating news, but no answers.  

The radio silence from law enforcement officials has led the public and the press asking questions, but maybe none so fervently as Roman’s biological mother, Rochelle “Shelly” Lopez. Lopez is a military veteran, who unfortunately developed an addiction to pills following an injury she sustained while deployed in Iraq. Because of these circumstances, it was his biological father, Jordan Piper, who was awarded primary custody of Roman. According to Lopez, Piper had relocated several times over the past few years, and had made it difficult for Lopez to see her son.

One of the most tragic aspects of the case so far is that Lopez learned of her son’s death through an online news article. Lopez told KOVR, “Why didn’t anybody let me know? Why didn’t they even know I existed? People in that town didn’t even know that I was his mother. There are so many things that are wrong with this situation and don’t add up and don’t make sense.”

There were seven other children in the home where Roman was last seen. Those children were reportedly moved into protective custody following the onset of the investigation. A spokesperson for the family told Oxygen.com, “The Rochelle Lopez family has full confidence in the law enforcement agencies investigating Roman’s death and know there will be resolve and closure.” The family has offered no other comment as the family prepared to travel to California in order to mourn the loss of Roman Lopez.

On January 16, the Placerville Police Department issued a statement, “We realize that the press and public are looking for answers and mourning the loss of Roman. The police department has also been affected, and has been working tirelessly to complete the investigation. The complexity of the case will require time and patience.” They went on to say that a pathology report regarding the boy’s cause of death will not be available for about a month.

Investigating authorities have encouraged anyone with information regarding Roman Lopez’s death to call Detective Luke Gadow at (530) 642-5210, ext. 116.

Guide to Social Awareness for Missing Persons

Guide to Social Awareness for Missing Persons

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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. 

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(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.”

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(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. 

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(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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. Appoint a family spokesperson, someone capable of speaking publicly and comfortable being in the public eye.
  4. Keeping the media interested requires pulling at “heart strings” so plan on doing interviews on birthdays, anniversary dates, and holidays.
  5. 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.

Available Platforms

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). 

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Using Facebook

  1. Appoint a trusted Administrator(s) to help you with the page. 
  2. 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. 
  3. Use high-quality photographs when possible and use a picture of the missing person as a profile picture. 
  4. Include a brief description of the missing person to include where they were last seen, along with law enforcement’s contact number or hotline. 
  5. Communicate clearly and succinctly in all posts. 
  6. 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. 
  7. 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. 
  8. Always try to stay positive. The tone of your post matters. 
  9. Provides updates when possible and post any media interviews or links to television shows that may have profiled the missing person.
  10. 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. 

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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.

Here is a website  that can help. A great article “How to Use Facebook As in the Search for a Missing Person” is also an excellent resource.

If not using a service to help in this endeavor, try to become familiar with Facebook’s advertising program as soon as possible. 

Create a Facebook Ads account. You can visit Facebook’s “Get Help For Your Facebook Ads” or visit Buffer’s “Best Time to Post on Facebook: A Complete Guide” for more information. 

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  • Choose your objective. These four categories can help you in the search for a missing loved one.  
  1. Promote your page
  2. Boost your posts
  3. Increase your reach
  4. Raise attendance at your events
  • Define your audience. 
  1. Location. Start with country and state.
  2. Age. Choose an age range. It is advisable to keep this broad to reach people of all ages (18-65+). 
  3. Language. Choose English if in the United States. 
  • Define your budget. 
  1. Daily: a daily budget is the maximum amount your will spend per day during the timespan of your ad. 
  2. Lifetime: a longer-term budget you will spend during the lifetime of the ad. 
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  • Create new ad
  1. Choose your ad format (above).
  2. Add content.
  3. You get 90 characters of text to concisely share your message.  
  4. Use only high-quality images or video. 
  5. Use a name like “Have You Seen This Missing Person” or similar. 
  • Image specs: 
  • 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.
  • Video specs: 
  • 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

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.

  1. Like Facebook, choose a name consistent with the purpose.
  2. Use a photograph of the missing person as a profile picture. 
  3. Tweet links to news coverage, interviews, and articles. 
  4. Use hash tags such as #Missing #State #Missing Person’s Name 
  5. Tweet to local and national media.
  6. Tweet to celebrities, both local and national.
  7. Keep your tweets brief. 
  8. Respond when someone tweets to you.
  9. 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.

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Learning Experience

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.  

The National Center for Missing & Exploited Children is a 501c3 nonprofit based in Arlington, Virginia, and the largest missing child agency in the country. With over 655,000 people following their activity it is hard to ignore the agency’s social impact. 

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.