The development of crowd-funding platforms such as GoFundMe has elevated an individual’s ability to see their financial goals realized. Whether the goal is retaining support for a passion project, or simply garnering a smaller sum to pull through a financial crisis or emergency, crowd-funding is making it all possible. One type of campaign that is becoming more and more vital is GoFundMe campaigns for missing persons.
When a person is reported missing, law enforcement jumps on
the case to follow up on hot leads, interview witnesses, and gather evidence.
While these services are obviously a public service, it’s not uncommon for the
families of missing persons to also hire a private investigator to conduct a
tandem investigation with law enforcement. Private investigators possess a
level of autonomy and flexibility that law enforcement does not, and this can
further progress on the case. Unless the private investigator agrees to do the
investigation pro-bono, the investigation will need funding, and GoFundMe is
just one of the many platforms where an investigation can be crowd-funded.
Signing up for GoFundMe is completely free, and setting up a
campaign is blessedly easy. Here is a step-by-step guide to setting up a
GoFundMe for a missing person.
Choosing an email address
We all have that extra email address for spam and other platforms so we don’t clutter up our primary email inbox. However, in the case of a GoFundMe account, it’s always best to use a primary email address. GoFundMe allows you to use the email associated with your Facebook account for easier signup, but it’s imperative that you confirm that you still have access to that email address before you begin.
Creating your campaign
After setting up the account, the next step is very simple. Just select ‘start a new campaign.’ GoFundMe allows individual users to have as many as 5 active campaigns running simultaneously.
When deciding on campaign goals, it’s important to remain realistic. You want an attainable amount for your specific goal. While the proposed retainer may be different depending on the private investigation firm you plan to hire, $10,000 is always a good starting target sum. GoFundMe allows you to edit the goal of the campaign, increasing or decreasing the goal as needed.
Creating a campaign title is crucial, because it is often the first thing potential donors will see when they see the campaign on social media or another promotional platform. It must be 35 characters or less, so every letter counts.
You must decide if you’re raising funds as an individual or as a team. In the case of many missing person campaigns, the campaign will be created and managed by between 1-3 members of the missing person’s family. If you are a private investigation firm managing a crowd-funding campaign, you’ll want to select the option to raise funds as a team. Like many aspects of the campaign, these things can be edited after the creation of the campaign.
Adding a photo and a story
After you’ve agreed to GoFundMe’s terms and conditions, you’ll need to select a campaign image. In the case of a missing person, just like a poster, you’ll want to use a recent photo of the missing person, preferably smiling, and ideally in the outfit they were wearing when they were last seen. It’s also important that you include the same information you would include on a missing person’s poster, including their full name, physical description, any medical conditions, and the circumstances of their disappearance. GoFundMe denotes effective stories as ones that are incredibly descriptive and straightforward about why you are raising money and how the money will be spent. In the case of missing persons, these aspects are as straightforward as they come. Because of the potential for scams surrounding crowdfunding campaigns of all kinds, you’ll want to be transparent about your relationship to the missing person and the name of the investigating entity where the funds will go. The more personal you make the story, the more likely you are to receive a donation to the campaign.
Sharing the campaign
You’ve made the campaign, but it won’t incur donations by just sitting there—you have to share it. Social media is one of the greatest tools available in a missing persons campaign. Of all the social media platforms, Facebook yields one of the highest levels of exposure to social media users. Facebook also has an interface that is designed for sharing contact quickly and easily. Twitter is an excellent platform to get the name of your missing person trending under a hashtag and increase potential donations. Don’t’ forget Instagram, where the missing person’s photo will be prominent.
Continue to share
Social media is powerful, but you will only get out of it what you put into it. After the initial creation and sharing of the campaign, it’s important that you make a consistent, repetitive effort to share the campaign on all available platforms.
Private investigators use a wide variety of tools and experience to find missing persons. As of April 30, 2018, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), reported a total of 86,927 missing persons in the United States. Though this number fluctuates month to month, the average number of 87,000 missing persons listed as active missing person cases in the National Crime Information Center at the FBI remains fairly consistent. Access to the NCIC computer database is restricted to use only by law enforcement.
It’s important to know there are different kinds of missing
person cases in the NCIC database. The FBI categorizes missing persons into six
Most missing persons are found alive and well. Some may have
a history of illness, want to avoid financial responsibilities, or may be simply
avoiding family members (for varying reasons). Some may be in jail, a block
away from their residence, or even a continent away, having left without
notifying friends or family properly. However, there are also disappearances
that are considered suspicious or “at risk” when a person may have diminished
mental capacity suffering from Alzheimer’s Disease or another mental health
condition, and any juvenile runaway or missing child or when foul play is
supected. These are referred to as Critical Cases.
When a person goes missing, family members typically report
the missing person to a law enforcement agency but commonly begin to also
conduct an investigation on their own. Without guidance, this can become an extremely
emotional and daunting task.
The Use of Private
Investigators in Missing Person Cases
The use of a private investigator during the investigation
of the disappearance of a loved one, can be vital to finding them.
Private investigators commonly refer to missing persons as
“locates”, and the majority are found fairly quickly. Some may be ecstatic a
long-lost family member or friend has found them, while others may be annoyed,
they have been located by a creditor, attorney, or someone they perceive as the
For most locates, a “checklist” is used of in-house
resources that include accessing current and detailed data using a Social
Security or driver’s license number, along with a date of birth. Detailed
information can be obtained by multiple, professional and proprietary databases
that licensed private investigators have access to. Social networking profiles and
accessing a social circle or people can also be instrumental is missing person
investigations. These databases can often provide addresses and even current
employment for an individual. If that method does not produce the desired
results, a more thorough investigation of the circumstance of the disappearance
may be warranted, especially is “foul play” is suspected in the disappearance.
How a private investigator investigates a missing person
case varies depending on their skill set and experience with only a handful in
the country considered experts in their field.
A private investigator, commonly referred to as a PI or
private detective, with expertise in missing person investigations, typically
work directly with the family members of the person reported missing. Equally
important, if a police agency is involved, a private investigator also works
directly with the investigating law enforcement agency to preserve the
integrity of the investigation.
Investigations are designed to route out common reasons that
may contribute to the disappearance of a loved one, to confirm the facts
surrounding the disappearance and make discovery. In the case of potential foul
play, these discoveries are designed to discover probable suspects by the
mistakes they make, as well as unintentional or intentional clues provided by
the victim themselves.
This may involve pounding the pavement and knocking on some
doors and important this type of investigation be conducted by a professional.
This may include discovering a person’s habits, hobbies and
interests, questioning friends, neighbors or witnesses and even monitoring a
“person of interest’s” activities. Of course, all information that is uncovered
during an investigation by a professional PI is shared with the investigating
law enforcement agency so as not to compromise the case.
addition to an old-fashioned Sherlock Holmes investigation, some private
investigators may also help raise public awareness of the disappearance of a
loved one by providing guidance, assisting with social media efforts and coordinating
with victim advocates from nonprofits, such as the National Center for Missing & Exploited
Children, and other local advocacy groups for missing persons.
Thomas Lauth, CEO of Lauth Investigations International has
been a private investigator for over 25-years and headquartered in
Indianapolis, Ind. With expertise in missing person investigations and working
with media to raise awareness for missing person cases, Lauth has been featured
in national media like USA Today, Essence Magazine, New York Times, and more.
In addition to working with local and state police agencies, Lauth has also
worked with most federal agencies such as, Interpol, the FBI, Department of
Justice and Office for Victims of Crime.
Lauth has worked with hundreds of families of missing
persons, while also working cooperatively with police and judicial agencies
throughout the country, to include working with the National Center for Missing
Adults. With over 40 years combined experience at Lauth Investigations, Lauth
and his team specialize in the investigation of complex missing persons
investigations of endangered or “at risk” missing children and adults.
“Finding missing persons is often more than just having
experience in missing person investigations, it is a cooperative effort between
the family, private investigators, advocacy groups, law enforcement and most
importantly, the media,” says Lauth. “In the more difficult cases, it sometimes
becomes imperative to reach out to the public because each time you generate
the public interest and awareness, you increase the potential of generating
that one lead needed to recover the missing person.”
Americans are captivated by missing child stories, haunted by the nagging specter of “What if this happened to my child?”
The year 2018 was punctuated by a handful of missing child cases that were covered by mainstream media, including Jayme Closs, Mollie Tibbetts, and Karlie Gusé. Interest in missing children cases continues to grow with the production of documentaries and docuseries about famous missing child cases, like Madeline McCann and Jan Broberg. This cultivated curiosity can only benefit the ultimate goal of keeping a missing person’s face in the public eye in the interest of unearthing unexplored leads in their cases. Here is a list of fast facts about missing child cases to inform coverage in the media and online.
Law enforcement in the United States received reports of
424,066 missing children in 2018.
The FBI’s National Crime Information Center (NCIC) Missing
Person File states that as of December 31st, 2018, there were 85,459
active missing person records in which children under the age of 18 account for
It’s estimated that 1,435 kidnappings occur every year, but
due in large part to a majority of those being familial abductions, not all
have likely been reported.
The Second National Incidence Studies of Missing, Abducted,
Runaway, and Throwaway Children released by the Department of Justice in 2002,
spanning the years of 1997-1999, reported that 203,900 of the 797,500 reported
missing children in a one-year period were abducted by family members, and 58,200
were abducted by non-relatives. 115 of those reported cases were classified as
According to the National Center for Missing and Exploited
Children, since 1965, there have been 325 reported infant abductions in the
United States. Of those abducted children, 140 were taken from healthcare
facilities, 138 were taken from the home, and 47 were abducted from other locations.
Of those abducted infants, 16 remain missing.
Not all missing minors and children qualify for Amber
Alerts. America’s Missing Broadcast Emergency Response Alerts are emergency
messages broadcast when a law enforcement agency determines that a child has
been abducted and is in imminent danger. The broadcasts include information
about the child and the abductor, including physical descriptions as well as
information about the abductor’s vehicle—which could lead to the child’s
recovery. Missing children and teenagers who are classified as “runaways” may
not qualify for an Amber Alert because there is no evidence of abduction.
When people think of abductions, they likely think of
stranger danger and violent attacks. However, in 2016, 60% of all AMBER Alerts
that were issued were for abductions committed by a family member.
Since 1997, the AMBER Alert Program has been responsible for
the safe recovery of 957 children.
The AMBER Alert system was named for Amber Hagerman, who was
abducted and killed in 1996.
Missing Children in Media
Etan Patz, a six-year-old boy who disappeared on his way to
his bus stop in Manhattan, was one of the first missing children to be featured
on a milk carton.
Media coverage of missing child cases has been elevated in recent years by American television personality John Walsh, host of America’s Most Wanted. John Walsh became an anti-crime advocate following the disappearance and murder of his son, Adam Walsh, in 1981.
The disappearance of 3-year-old Madeline McCann is often regarded as one of the highest-profile missing child cases globally.
NCMEC received 23,500 reports of endangered runaways in
2018. One in seven of those children were estimated to be victims of sex
The average age of a child sex trafficking victim is 15
years old, according to NCMEC reports.
Child sex trafficking has been reported in every single
state in the United States.
The age group of children targeted by strangers in
abductions are female children aged 12-17. This aligns with approximate age
range of minor children targeted for sex trafficking.
The average minor victim of online predatory behavior is 15
years of age.
Of the predators targeting minor victims online, 82% are male, 9% are female, and 9% could not be determined.
Online predators most commonly target children on social media, photo sharing platforms, and video gaming platforms.
Autism & wandering
Between 2007 and 2017, 952 children with autism were
reported missing to NCMEC. In 61% of cases, those children were classified as “endangered
runaways” or lost, injured, or otherwise missing (20%).
Almost half of the cases of children were autism reported (48%) were recovered within one day of going missing, and 74% were recovered within 7 days.
We can help…
If your child has gone missing, call Lauth Investigations International today for a free consultation and learn how our expertise and experience can provide you answers in the search for your missing child. Call 317-951-1100, or visit us online at www.lauthmissingpersons.com
Couple vanishes while on vacation in Dominican Republic
A romantic trip to the Caribbean sounds just like what the doctor ordered as the warmer weather approaches. Unfortunately for one New York couple, a mysterious series of events on their vacation to the Dominican Republic culminated in tragedy, leaving their families searching for answers.
Orlando Moore and Portia Ravenelle documented their adventure
through SnapChat—photos in front of lush greenery, photos with wildlife. The gregarious
couple managed to make friends with other tourists who were staying at their
resort, the Grand Bahia Principe Cayacoa. The couple was last seen sharing a
drink with this couple on their last night at the resort. Nothing was amiss
when they said their goodbyes and headed back to the airport in the rental car
they’d procured. Little else is known about the fate of Orlando and Portia, but
what we do know is that they did not board their scheduled flight in Santo
Domingo, and their rental car never made it back to the agency.
When their families did not hear from the couple, Orlando’s
sister Lashay Turner told the media she contacted the U.S. Embassy in the Dominican
Republic. Upon learning they Americans were missing, a police report was filed
and a search began, with a social media campaign urging anyone with information
to come forward.
After two weeks, authorities finally began to piece together
what had happened. National Police on the island announced they believed the
couple had been killed in a car crash along a stretch of Las Americas Highway,
which runs right along the coast. Portia Ravenelle was found on the side of the
road with injuries that would eventually end her life an estimated nine days
after the alleged car crash. Orlando Moore’s body was found almost 13 miles
from this crash site, and was found to be in state of advanced decomposition. Despite
this discovery and the fact that the body had an arm tattoo that matched one
Orlando had, police have not yet confirmed his identity. While authorities have
not released information on exactly where they were found or the nature of
their deaths, local fishermen reported seeing a vehicle in the water, but the
current had been too perilous to recover it. U.S. officials commented, “We are
closely monitoring local authorities’ investigation into the cause of death. We
stand ready to provide all appropriate consular assistance. The U.S. Department
of State and our embassies and consulates abroad have no greater responsibility
than the protection of U.S. citizens overseas. Out of respect to the family
during this difficult time, we have no further comment.”
When people go missing overseas, the family’s search for answers can be tricky. A quality initial investigation is dependent on a level of communication between departments oceans away. Missing person Investigator, Thomas Lauth, specializes in complex missing person cases and thoroughly recommends retaining a private investigator to conduct an investigation in tandem with federal and foreign authorities. “You just can’t get that level of autonomy from any investigative body supervised by government or a municipality. There is a chain of command and bureaucratic red tape that tends to get in the way of following a time-sensitive lead, or some jurisdictional boundaries that may prevent them from following that lead in the first place. A private investigator can follow any clue to a missing person’s trail without having to get permission first.”
When a family or friend fears that their loved one has gone
missing overseas, Lauth has a few suggestions of where to look before assuming
Check the hotel where the loved one stayed,
speak with hotel staff who serviced them.
Check hospitals on disembarking routes where
Speak to airport personnel and verify whether or
not they got on the flight.
Speak with the United States Department and the
Travel to their last confirmed location and immediately
engage the local authorities.
If one of your loved ones has gone missing overseas, contact Lauth Investigations International today to speak to a knowledgeable member of our investigative team and learn how we can help you. Thomas Lauth has over 20 years of experience specializing in complex missing person cases. Call 317-951-1100, or find us online at www.lauthmissingpersons.com
There are many different types of missing persons—adults with mental illness, homeless individuals, children, and runaways. Each type of case deserves to be treated with a special approach, with careful regard given to the circumstances of each case. Perhaps the type of case that deserves the most particular care and approach is the case of a missing/abducted infant.
In good hands
The presumption behind any missing infant case, because they cannot take of themselves, is they were abducted by an adult. When an infant’s whereabouts cannot be accounted for, it leaves investigators with a very polarizing theory of the case: The baby is with a caregiver or something tragic has occurred. In March 2019, the Indianapolis Police Department found themselves in the middle of a search for 8-month old Amiah Robertson. The infant was last seen on March 9th on the west side of the city in the custody of her mother’s boyfriend, Robert Lyons. He left the residence he was at with the infant, and returned empty-handed around 10 PM. Lyons assured authorities Amiah was in good hands, but because police could not verify the baby’s whereabouts, they officially classified the investigation as a homicide. Now, Robert Lyons has been named a suspect by IMPD in the infants disappearance, while Amber Robertson, Amiah’s mother, remains cooperative with authorities.
Familial vs. stranger abductions
In cases of missing children, familial abductions, or abductions by a party close to the child’s family, are the most common. But the data on missing infants indicates the odds of being abducted by a stranger are nearly half. The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children lists the number of infants abducted in the United States since 1965 as 325 where 138 of those children were taken from their homes, and another 140 were taken from health care facilities. Only 47 were abducted from other locations. Women who take babies from health care facilities are generally of childbearing age who may appear pregnant, or express they have lost a child or are unable to have a child. They often live in the vicinity of the abduction and impersonate health care personnel in order to gain access at a facility. They rely heavily on deception and manipulation in order to carefully plan the abduction, but usually not with any particular focus on a single infant. These are crimes of opportunity, which is why such a woman would have lots of detailed questions for hospital staff about the layout of the building and procedures following birth.
Just last June, Gloria Williams was sentenced to 18 years for abducting a baby girl from a hospital in Florida and subsequently raising the child as her own into adulthood. On July 10, 1998, Williams posed as a nurse in order to kidnap Kamiyah Mobley, when she was only hours old. She used fraudulent documents to raise the baby under a different name. It wasn’t until investigators followed a tip made to NCMEC about claims Kamiyah made that she was kidnapped from a Jacksonville hospital the day she was born.
How to protect your newborn
Despite this narrative continuing to terrify expectant parents, the FBI assures us this cloak and dagger scenario is far less common today. Ashli-Jade Douglas, an FBI intelligence analyst working in the Crimes Against Children Unit, credits this decline in abductions to new developments in security technology. Hospitals across the nation are implementing the use of security bracelets on babies, so if they make an unauthorized exit from the building, alarms immediately go off. This security measure, however, has a dark consequence. Douglas says, “Now, women who desperately want a child—and are willing to go to extreme lengths to get one—have to gain direct contact with their victims, and that’s when things can turn violent.”
The FBI advises “exercising good sense online and in the home.” On the internet, don’t be an over-sharer when it comes to personal details, and always have your security settings restricted. Any law enforcement official or private investigator will tell you it’s easy to use this information to plan the abduction. “We have seen several recent cases involving social networking sites,” Douglas explains, “and we see how easy it is to use these websites to gain access to targets.” The FBI also cautions against displaying any exterior decorations, such as pink or blue balloons, indicating there is a new baby in the home.
A missing person poster can be our first awareness of a famous missing person case. When we see missing person cases in the news, we become fascinated on an exponential scale. This includes media coverage, their missing persons flyer, or podcasts about their disappearance. The farther away we are positioned from a missing person case—whether it’s geographically or inter-personally—the more fascinated we are, like those who rubberneck to see the aftermath of a terrible accident. A person in Indianapolis who reads all of the news coverage about the Jayme Closs case in Wisconsin might do so without any sense of paranoia, because it’s happening 400 miles away, and not in their own lives. Recent statistics regarding the number of open or unsolved missing person cases in the United States are approaching 90,000, fluctuating week to week. That may sound like a pretty comfortable number to some individuals. It makes the odds of you or someone you love going missing sound pretty slim. The fact of the matter is anyone could have a loved one go missing at some point in their lives, and there is no preclusion based on race, class, or any other kind of status.
The Importance of a Missing Persons Flyer
The total number of entries classified as Missing Person Activity in Federal Bureau of Investigation’s National Crime Information Center was in excess of one million in the year 2016—exactly 1,862,238. Around a third of those entries are either canceled or cleared for a variety of reasons. Unfortunately, many of those entries are identified with supplemental material following the discovery of remains—DNA samples, dental records, etc. Hundreds of thousands of those entries are cleared following the individual having been located, usually not too long after the report was made. Investigators follow a handful of leads, make a few phone calls, and are able to locate a missing person alive and well within 24-48 hours. There are other cases that stretch on longer, with search parties organized, investigators trying to retrace the individual’s steps, and perhaps most importantly, flyers with all of the relevant information about the missing person are circulating.
Private investigator, Thomas Lauth, is an expert in complex missing person cases. He lauds the current voyeuristic climate in the United States as perfect conditions for distribution of a missing persons flyer, “The purpose of a missing person’s flyer is to get the missing person’s face and information out there. The more individuals who see their face, the greater the chance is that the one person who might have seen something or knows something will come forward with information that could lead to their safe return.” The digital age, Lauth says, has ratcheted this type of visibility up to an entirely different level. Everyone these days is glued to their screens, waiting for the next big story to surface, or keeping up with their friends on social media. If you can get a missing person’s name or face on social media throughout the nation, that’s a well of information the boots-on-the-ground investigators just aren’t able to tap quickly and efficiently.” Viral visibility of a missing person means investigators can receive many leads—while varying in quality—to conduct a comprehensive investigation that looks at all angles of any disappearance.
How To Create a Missing Persons Flyer
When a loved one goes missing, the police turn to those closest to them for information about their daily routine, habits, personality, and behavior. Once information has been provided, those witnesses often experience a high-adrenaline need to be a part of the search effort. They organize and conduct searches, both with and without the facilitation of law enforcement. Creating and printing missing person fliers is another way they contribute to the search. Law enforcement do not typically create missing person fliers, so it’s important close loved ones compare notes to compile all relevant information for a flyer that’s easy to read and catches the eye. Digital distribution is also crucial, sharing the flyer over and over again while encouraging others to do the same. The following is a list of items that must be present on a missing persons flyer:
Name: The word MISSING should be displayed in large font over the person’s full name. This grabs people’s attention.
Date of birth
Height (in feet and inches)
Weight (in pounds)
Build (thin, medium, heavy, etc).
Hair (color, length, wavy, or straight, how they wear it the most often)
Race (Caucasian, Hispanic, African American, etc)
Complexion (fair, olive, etc)
Clothing: Describe what the person was wearing at the time they disappeared, including any jewelry, personal belongings. It’s also crucial to note any other significant physical descriptors such as tattoos, body piercings, birth marks, scars, or health conditions.
Circumstances of disappearance: This includes the date, time, location, and conditions under which the person goes missing, whether it’s of their own volition, due to a health problem, or if they were kidnapped. Be sure to include details such as whether or not this person is with anyone else and possible places they may be. This can trigger a person’s memory when they see the flyer.
And of course, a missing person’s flyer is useless without a current photo of the missing person. Characteristics such as build, hairstyle, and clothing are so important because the photograph may not reflect these details accurately.
When a loved one goes missing, their friends and families often feel helpless as they wait anxiously for answers from law enforcement. Creating, printing, and distributing a missing persons flyer is one of the best ways for private citizens to assist law enforcement. Whether on the street or online, visibility is key. Out there, someone knows something and has seen something. A missing person flyer could be the thing that triggers their memory.