Missing and mentally ill persons are some of the most vulnerable in our society. When a loved one goes missing, those closest to them become law enforcement’s greatest asset. One of the tenets of any quality investigation is research and close examination of the subject’s habits. Clues to a person’s whereabouts or fate can often be found in their regular daily routine. However, when the missing person suffers from mental health issues, families and law enforcement are often without recourse.
A person vanishing without a trace or without warning is terrifying enough; one day they’re there, walking, talking, laughing, doing the things they love. Then one day, they’re not. The void left by that person creates shock waves in a community. Their families are rocked by their disappearance, sick with worry. Their friends do whatever they can to help with the search efforts—handing out fliers, talking to locals, giving law enforcement any relevant information. When the missing person has a mental illness, all of that anxiety is exacerbated to the nth degree. Erratic behavior and lack of routine can leave law enforcement without a place to start. And of course, the families still wring their hands while they wait for answers.
Because mental illness can often be a Rubix cube of complexity, there is a great need of resources for the families and communities of missing mentally ill. While it’s not uncommon for mentally ill persons to go missing, there is a disproportionate number of resources available for families and communities affected by the absence of a missing mentally ill person. Families need roadmaps with special focus on their loved one’s mental illness; checklists of crucial steps to take once it’s apparent they’ve vanished. One of the largest champions of mental health awareness is the National Alliance on Mental Illness, or NAMI. Their online resources offer detailed but straightforward instructions for the caregivers of the mentally ill after they go missing. Steps like contacting law enforcement immediately, reaching out to the missing person’s friends, registering them with the National and Unidentified Persons System (NAMUS).
Once their loved ones are registered, NAMI educates their users on how they can do their part in assisting in the investigation. They educate families on how to make a flyer—what information, what sort of picture, how to get it noticed on the street. There’s also a detailed guide on creating a social media page or website so families can work towards getting your loved one’s face to go viral.
While media coverage of the disappearance is ideal, organizations like NAMI place a heavy emphasis on the use of social media as a tool. It is the world-wide web, after all. Constant sharing and re-sharing of the missing person’s poster online can drive a loved one’s name and face to trending status. In our social media-saturated culture, that kind of visibility is priceless. As long as sharing remains steady, someone will eventually recognize the missing person. People like Christopher Moreland, who walked away from their familiar environments while experiencing mental health symptoms, were eventually located due to the diligent use of social media. Constantly sharing Chris’s story on various social media platforms, his mother, Elise Cash reiterated again and again, “All it takes is ONE person to recognize Chris.” Her words proved true when she was contacted by a woman who lived 240 miles away, claiming she’d seen Chris in her town, living on the street.
A majority of missing persons with mental illness who disappear are older teens and young adults. As a result, there is no guarantee locating the missing person will end in a happy reunion. When Elise Cash saw her son again after all those years searching for him, he did not recognize her, and refused to return home with her. No authority in the land could compel him to return. Once law enforcement has located a missing mentally ill person, they cannot detain them for any reason unless they have broken the law, or are a danger to themselves or others. When loved ones choose not to come home—whether in their right mind or not—it can be very emotional for their friends and family. These affected parties should seek out their local NAMI branch by going online where they can find a wealth of resources and support groups for those with no other recourse. Caring for a person with mental illness is one of the most difficult things a person can do—even more difficult when you can’t care for them—so finding a well of support is paramount.
Ultimately, the internet is one of our greatest tools. Not only can its potential for being an information superhighway be utilized to spread a missing mentally ill person’s story, but it can also connect you to some of the best resources in North America. The most important thing, however, is communicating with one another—educating our communities on mental illness so they will be better equipped to assist in search efforts for mentally ill persons. Families of missing persons need stacked support from the circles around them while they search, and the internet helps connect those people together through Facebook groups, message boards, and instant messaging. A bonding agent for fragmented families to share their experiences and remind one another there is a vast network of people who can relate to what they’re going through.
1. Approximately 2,300 children are reported missing each day in the United States, that one child
every 40 seconds.
2. Nearly 800,000 people are reported missing every year in the United States.
3. May 25 th is National Missing Children’s Day.
4. In 1983 National Missing Children’s Day was proclaimed by President Ronald Reagan and
commemorates the disappearance of Etan Patz who vanished in 1979.
5. After the abduction and murder of their son Adam, John and Reve’ Walsh helped create the
National Center for Missing & Exploited Children (NCMEC) in 1984.
6. NCMEC’s Cyber Tipline began receiving reports in 1998.
7. The NCMEC Cyber Tipline has received 41 million reports since its inception.
8. Unfortunately, many children and adults are never reported missing making no reliable way to
determine the true number of missing persons in the country.
9. There is no federal mandate that requires law enforcement to wait 24 hours before accepting a
report of a missing person.
10. Missing Children Act of 1982 authorized the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) to enter and
maintain relevant information about missing children in the National Crime Information Center
11. In May of 2018, there were over 89,000 active missing person cases in the National Crime
Information Center at the FBI.
12. When a child is reported missing federal law requires law enforcement authorities to
immediately take a report and enter the missing child’s information into NCIC.
13. On Christmas Eve 1945, the Sodder family home was engulfed in flames. George Sodder, his wife
Jennie and four of the nine Sodder children escaped. The bodies of the other four children have
never been found.
14. Since 1984, the NCMEC’s National Hotline has received more than 4.8 million calls.
15. According to the FBI in 2017, there were 464,324 NCIC entries for missing children.
16. NCMEC has facilitated the training of more than 356,000 law enforcement, criminal justice,
juvenile justice, and healthcare professionals.
17. Of nearly 25,000 runaways reported to NCMEC in 2017, one in seven are victims of sex
18. In 2000, President William Clinton signed Kristen’s Law creating the first national clearinghouse
for missing adults; the National Center for Missing Adults (NCMA) was founded by Kym L.
19. Kristen’s Law, signed in 2000 by President William Clinton was named after North Carolina
resident Kristen Modafferi who vanished in 1997 while in San Francisco in a summer college
20. The AMBER Alert was created 1996 after the disappearance and murder of 9-year old Amber
Hagerman from Arlington, Texas.
21. The Silver Alert is a public notification system to broadcast information about individuals with
Alzheimer’s disease, dementia, or other mental disabilities.
22. There are 17,985 police agencies in the United States.
23. On average, over 83,000 people are missing at any given time to include approximately 50,000
missing adults and 30,000 missing children.
24. The first 12-24 hour the most critical in a missing person investigation.
25. For missing children the first 3 hour are especially critical as 76% of children abducted by strangers are
killed within that time-frame.
26. Most missing children are abducted by family members which does not ensure their safety.
27. As of May 31, 2018, there were 8,709 unidentified persons in the NCIC system.
28. The AMBER Alert is credited with safely recovering 868 missing children between 1997 and 2017.
29. The most famous missing child case is the 1932 kidnapping of 20-month old Charles Lindbergh Jr.,
abducted from his second-story nursery in Hopewell, New Jersey.
30. Charles Lindbergh’s mother released a statement detailing her son’s daily diet to newspapers in
hope the kidnappers would feed him properly.
31. From his prison cell, Al Capone offered a $10,000 reward for information leading to the capture
of the kidnapper of Charles Lindbergh.
32. Laci Peterson was eight months pregnant with her first child when she was reported missing by
her husband Scott Peterson on December 24, 2002. In a highly publicized case, Scott Peterson
was convicted of first-degree murder of Laci and their unborn baby.
33. The FBI Combined DNA Index System (CODIS) was authorized in 1994 and cross-references
missing person DNA, familial missing person DNA and the DNA of unidentified persons.
34. NCMEC forensic artists have age-progressed more than 6,000 images of long-term missing
35. NCMEC has created more than 530 facial reconstructions for unidentified deceased unidentified
36. In the mid-1980’s milk carton with photographs of missing children were first used to help find
37. Those who suffer from mental disorders, minorities, and those who live high-risk lifestyles
engaging in substance abuse and/or prostitution are less likely to receive media attention than
other case of missing persons.
38. According to the NCIC, there were 353,243 women reported missing during 2010.
39. According to NCIC, there were 337,660 men were reported missing during 2010.
40. Of reports entered into NCIC during 2010, there were 532,000 under the age of eighteen.
41. In 1999, a NASCAR program called Racing for the Missing was created by driver Darrell LaMoure
in partnership with the founder of the Nation’s Missing Children Organization.
42. If a person has been missing for 7-years, they can be legally declared deceased.
43. Jaycee Dugard was 11-years old when she was abducted by a stranger on June 10, 1991. Dugard
was located 18 years later in 2009 kept concealed in tents behind Phillip Garrido’s residence.
Garrido fathered two of Dugard’s children and was sentenced to 431 years to life for the
kidnapping and rape of Dugard.
44. All 50 states to include the District of Columbia, U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico have AMBER
plans in place to help find missing children.
45. By definition, a “missing person” is someone who has vanished and whose welfare is not known;
and their disappearance may or may not be voluntary.
46. There are 6 categories in NCIC for missing persons to include Juvenile, Endangered, Involuntary,
Disability, Catastrophe and Other.
47. About 15% of overall disappearances are deemed involuntary by the FBI, designating urgent
48. The earliest known missing child case was of Virginia Dare who was the first baby born in the
New World. After her birth, her grandfather left for England and when he returned 3 years later,
Virginia and all the settlers were gone. One clue left was the word “Croatan” carved into a
49. In 1996, a family of German tourists visited Death Valley National Park in California, referred to as
the Death Valley Germans. In 2009, searchers located the remains of four individuals confirmed
to be that of the family.
50. Jimmy Hoffa was an American Labor Union leader and president of the International
Brotherhood of Teamsters who vanished in July 1975, and one of the most notorious missing
persons cases in United States history.
Several federal laws in the United States are focused on the plight of unresolved missing persons and unidentified remains. Each law, the result of families of missing persons who searched every dark corner for their missing child and tirelessly worked to ensure changes would be enacted to avoid the pitfalls they experienced in search of their missing or murdered child. The history of missing person law is always changing and evolving. Each law represents a victim, who in their name, would ensure another child would have a better chance.
As of May 31,2018, there were 87,608 active missing person cases in the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s National Crime Information Center (NCIC). An additional 8,709 unidentified persons are listed as active cases in NCIC.
These numbers are staggering and reflect gaps in the response and procedure to missing and unidentified cases, as well as a lack of a federal mandate requiring all law enforcement within the United States to intake and respond to a missing person case.
The families of missing persons have dedicated, at times years, to addressing the lack of response to missing person cases reminding the public each missing person reflects the name of an individual who is a child, mother, father, grandparent or sibling.
Missing Children Act of 1982
Etan Kalil Patz was a 6-year old boy who vanished on his way to school. The morning of May 25, 1979, Etan left his SoHo apartment by himself planning to walk from his residence at 113 Prince Street to his school bus stop on Broadway. He never got on his bus.
When Etan did not return from school that afternoon, his mother Julie called police to report him missing. An intense police search ensued that evening with approximately 100 police officers and a team of bloodhounds conducting a thorough ground and door to door search for Etan.
Etan’s father Stanley Patz, a professional photographer, had recently taken many professional photographs of Etan and made flyers and posted them throughout the neighborhood where his son had vanished.
Etan has never been found but his disappearance spurred a movement that would affect missing children cases for years to come.
In the early 1980’s Etan’s photograph was the first child to be profiled on milk cartons. Etan’s case marks the massive use of flyers to search for missing persons and credited for creating more attention to missing child cases.
In 1982, the Missing Children Act was introduced to Congress and passed to authorize the FBI to enter missing children’s personal data into and maintain a national clearinghouse of information in the NCIC, making the information accessible to local, state, and federal law enforcement and providing a previously lacking resource to help find missing children up to age 18.
On May 25, 1983, President Ronald Reagan proclaimed the day National Missing Children’s Day.
The disappearance of 6-year old Adam Walsh would spearhead the most significant contribution to finding missing children to date.
On July 27, 1981, Reve’ Walsh took Adam to a Sears department store in the Hollywood Mall, in Hollywood, Florida. Only a few minutes out of his mother’s sight, Adam vanished. His severed head found in a drainage canal alongside Florida’s Turnpike in rural St. Lucie County.
Adams parents, Reve’ and John Walsh spearheaded the effort to create the first national clearinghouse for missing children to provide resources to law enforcement and families of missing children.
NCMEC’s “Code Adam” program for helping lost children in department stores is named in Adam’s memory.
In addition, Congress passed the “Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act” on July 25, 2006 and President Bush signed it into law on July 27th, the day Adam had gone missing. Both John and Reve’ attended the signing ceremony held on the South Lawn of the White House. The law institutes a national database of convicted child molesters, while also increasing penalties for sexual and violent offenses against children.
Over the years, John Walsh has made a significant impact in the lives of missing children and their families with his advocacy, while also becoming internationally known for his hit television show “America’s Most Wanted” and the current hit show “The Hunt with John Walsh.”
In 1992, Jennifer Wilmer was a 21-year old living with her parents in Long Island, New York. She had received a full scholarship to St. John’s University in New York City but dropped out after one semester, planning to later enroll in College of the Redwoods in the small town of Eureka, California.
She moved to California in early 1993 and quickly found work but eventually fell on hard times, having to go on public assistance for a time. Her parents, Fred and Susan Wilmer promised to send an airline ticket to a local Eureka travel agency, so Jennifer could return to New York, but she never arrived to pick it up.
There are two conflicting accounts as to what happened the day Jennifer disappeared. One account was that Jennifer was last seen leaving her northern California residence on September 13, 1993, to go to the travel agency to pick up her ticket. Another account was Jennifer was last seen hitchhiking from the Hawkins Bar area to Willow Creek to inquire about a job opportunity at a farm. Jennifer remains missing.
In 1994, Fred and Susan Wilmer sought out help to find their missing adult daughter from the Nation’s Missing Children Organization (NMCO), founded by Kym Pasqualini, and located in Phoenix, Arizona. The group organized visits to the United States Department of Justice (USDOJ), and members of Congress to raise awareness of Wilmer’s disappearance and thousands of other missing persons throughout the country. They also formed a group of families of missing persons to create a group called F.O.C.U.S. (Finding Our Children Under Stress) and invited experts in the field of psychology and law enforcement to participate in order to better understand the emotional and psychological effects of dealing with “ambiguous loss” when a person goes missing.
The Wilmer’s also began the years long effort to pass a federal law that would enable each state to enhance its efficiency with regard to the reporting system for unidentified and missing persons.
Report to the National Crime Information Center and when possible, to law enforcement agencies throughout a state regarding every deceased unidentified person, regardless of age, found in the State’s jurisdiction;
Enter a complete profile of an unidentified person in compliance with the guidelines established by the US Department of Justice for the NCIC Missing and Unidentified Persons files, to include dental, X-rays, fingerprints and DNA, if available;
Enter the NCIC number or other appropriate case number assigned to each unidentified person on the death certificate of each; and
Retain all such records pertaining to unidentified person until a person is identified.
The Wilmer’s early advocacy brought much needed attention to the correlating problem between identifying unidentified persons by cross-referencing the descriptive information of missing persons with unidentified remains.
In 1997, 18-year old Kristen Modafferi was an industrial design major at North Carolina University. She had been offered an opportunity to attend a summer photography course at University of California at Berkeley and left North Carolina on her birthday, June 1, 1997, to travel to San Francisco. It would be her first time away from home.
She would quickly get a job at Spinelli’s Coffee Shop (now called Tully’s) at the Crocker Galleria in San Francisco’s financial district, working weekdays. On weekends, Kristen worked at the Café Musee inside the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.
On June 23, 1997 Kristen asked a Spinelli’s coworker for directions to Baker Beach, located next to the popular Land’s End Beach about a 20-minute bus ride from downtown San Francisco. That was the last time Kristen was ever seen.
Her parents, Robert and Deborah Modafferi immediately flew to San Francisco to file a missing person report for their daughter. A ground search was conducted with Bloodhounds and detected Kristen’s scent at an overlook at the beach, but no other evidence could be found.
Soon after Kristen’s disappearance, the Modafferi’s requested help from the Nation’s Missing Children Organization (NMCO) in Phoenix, one of the only groups in the country that would provide services to families of missing persons over the age of eighteen.
The founder, Kym Pasqualini, would again travel to Washington D.C., with the Modafferi’s to speak to the USDOJ and members of Congress to raise awareness of adult missing persons. In 1998, Representative Sue Myrick of North Carolina spearheaded the introduction of Kristen’s Law that would appropriate $1 million per year for 4-years to create the first national clearinghouse for missing adults.
On November 9, 2000, President William J. Clinton signed Kristen’s Law with the recipient of the funds going to the Phoenix-based NMCO to create the “National Center for Missing Adults,” (NCMA), the first national clearinghouse for missing adults. The group went on to serve thousands of families of missing adults, receiving up to 100 calls per day from families and law enforcement needing assistance.
In 2002, NCMA in cooperation with the Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA) at the USDOJ, and Fox Valley Technical College created and implemented the first training program for law enforcement focused exclusively on the disappearances of those over the age of eighteen.
In 1998, Suzanne Lyall was a 20-year old undergraduate at the State University of New York at Albany. On March 2, 1998, at closing, Suzanne left her job at the Babbage’s in Crossgates Mall in a suburb of Guilderland, NY. It is believed Suzanne had taken the city bus from the mall to the University’s Uptown Campus, where a classmate of Suzanne’s told police they saw her getting off the bus at Collin’s Circle near her dorm. She has never been seen again.
The Lyall’s became outspoken activists on behalf of families of missing persons creating the “Center for Hope.”
In 2003 President Bush signed “Suzanne’s Law” requiring police to immediately enter the person’s descriptive information into NCIC when someone between 18-21 is reported missing. Previously police were only required to report missing persons under the age of 18. Now, anyone under the age of 21 is considered a missing child and qualifies to also receive assistance from NCMEC.
In 2007, Congress enacted the Campus Security Act, requiring all colleges across the country to maintain written plans on how they will work with local law enforcement agencies in the event a student is reported missing.
The Lyall’s have continued to make their mark in the lives of others, in the name of their daughter Suzanne. On the 20-year anniversary of Suzanne’s disappearance, her mother, Mary Lyall was presented with the Senate Liberty Medal for her work on behalf of other families of missing persons.
At approximately 7:00 p.m., on July 6, 2004, Molly Datillo dropped off an employment application off a Wendy’s fast food restaurant near 10th Street and Highway 465 in Indianapolis, Indiana. She then purchased personal hobby and school supplies for one of the three classes she was taking at Indiana University where she was taking a summer class while she was readying to graduate from Eastern Kentucky University later that year.
Molly had been taking private voice lessons and had planned on auditioning for the “American Idol” show in August. She had attended all of her classes up to the day she vanished.
At 11:00 p.m., Molly placed a call to a friend from a pay phone at a Thornton’s gas station on Crawfordsville Rd. the friend said the phone disconnected when they picked up the phone. Molly has never been seen again.
In October 2008. Police announced they were investigating Molly’s disappearance as a homicide and looking at John E. Shelton as a person of interest because he was the last person to have been with her when she placed a call from the gas station. Shelton had a lengthy criminal record for theft and traffic offenses, with his driver’s license being legally suspended for life.
Shelton had been the friend of a friend. Molly had met him the day of her disappearance. They went on a boat ride, then ate dinner together at a Taco Bell restaurant according to him.
In the aftermath of Molly’s disappearance, Molly’s sister Amy Datillo worked tirelessly to get a law enacted that would outline what makes a missing person “at risk” and how law enforcement should obtain information relevant to finding the missing adult.
The FBI defines an “At Risk” missing person to be someone who has a proven medical or physical disability such as someone with mental health issues, diminished mental capacity such as Alzheimer’s disease or other physical disability that compromises the health and safety of the individual without immediate intervention.
Though not a federal law, Molly’s Law was signed by Governor Mitch Daniels in 2007, requiring law enforcement to enter an “At Risk” missing person into the NCIC database within two-hours of their disappearance within the state of Indiana.
While Amy would still like to see Molly’s Law become a federal law, it will serve as a “model” for to her states to follow and Molly will always be remembered by the people she helped after she disappeared.
When we think of missing persons, we often think of victims who have likely befallen violence at the hands of another. Either they have been killed and their remains concealed, or they were abducted and are being held against their will somewhere. While there are many circumstances under which a person can go missing, those who go missing with mental illness can be some of the most difficult to find. The intricate layered mesh of mental health issues combined with the complexities of a missing persons investigation make for a maddening puzzle that plagues both the heart and the mind.
Nationwide interest in missing persons cases most often occurs when the victim is a child or a young adult. News coverage of the Mollie Tibbetts case made it all the way to Washington D.C., with politicians and activists alike invoking her name. Few things attract viewers to news cycles like coverage of a case involving a missing toddler, like that of Lucas Hernandez earlier this year. Cases involving missing adults draw far less attention from both media and law enforcement, despite the fact in 2017, nearly 500k missing persons files collected by the National Crime Information Center (NCIC), 150k were persons who went missing over the age of 21.
According to the non-profit Missing People, just because a person is reported as missing does not mean law enforcement will necessarily see it that way. There are many reasons a person might disappear of their own volition. After all, adults are free to conduct their lives as they see fit, beholden to no one so long as they do not break the law. Perhaps they’re a battered spouse attempting to escape their partner, or a person escaping harassment on behalf of people in their community, or maybe they just want a fresh start. These assumptions leave missing adult cases with a high threshold to prove the person is in danger.
Take for instance the case of Molly Dattilo, a woman who went missing from Indianapolis in July of 2004. She was a student at Eastern Kentucky University taking summer classes at an IUPUI campus in Indianapolis, trying to finish her education in her fifth year at 22 years old. On the night she went missing, her movements are well-documented. After dropping off a job application at a local Wendy’s restaurant, she bought supplies for school and for her personal hobbies, as well as made a change to her IUPUI schedule. At 11:00 that night, she placed a phone call from a booth at a Thorton’s gas station. When her vehicle was discovered, all of her personal belongings were left behind inside, including her wallet, cell phone, and several more job applications. From what we know, it doesn’t appear Molly had any intentions of running away, or starting over in a new place, so why did it take law enforcement months to get involved in her disappearance?
What the Johnny Gosch bill did to change how law enforcement reacts to missing child cases, Molly’s Law did for how law enforcement reacts to cases involving missing adults. The law crafted important procedures for executing investigations into missing adult cases in the state of Indiana, and assists law enforcement and the victims’ families communicate and work in tandem to find their missing loved ones. Governor Mitch Daniels signed the law in 2007, defining once and for all what constituted “high risk” in adult missing person cases and how to obtain information relevant to finding that adult. The law also states law enforcement may enter missing person’s information into the NCIC database as soon as two hours after the person is reported missing. According to the FBI, “A person of any age who is missing and who is under proven physical/mental disability or is senile, thereby subjecting that person or others to personal and immediate danger,” is the requirement for having their information placed in the NCIC database. This can be the difference between your loved one ending up in jail versus the hospital when confronted by law enforcement, whether they are looking for them or not.
The case of Kristen Modafferi also had a significant impact on law enforcement investigations into missing adults. While Kristen was only 18 at the time of her disappearance, her age still precluded the investigation from valuable resources that might have assisted in finding her. Twenty years later, her case still remains one of the most baffling missing person cases to date. As a reaction to her case, the National Center for Missing Adults was created, one of the first of its kind. Kristen’s Act, signed into law by Bill Clinton in 2000, provided federal funding to organizations like the National Center for Missing Adults. The center lost funding in 2004 after Kristen’s Act expired and continues with the help of donations and volunteer efforts.
It is clear missing adult investigations are far more complicated than missing minors. Now when you throw the numerous complexities of mental illness into the intricate layers of a missing adult investigation, the waters become murky in record time. That’s why the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) recommends acting as soon as possible when a loved one with mental illness goes missing, first by calling the police. Information is key to finding any missing person, so providing law enforcement with all the information you can remember will be instrumental to locating them. Not just identifying information, but also details about their schedule or their daily routine can inform law enforcement of the missing adult’s habits. If your mentally ill loved one is missing for more than three days, you should request law enforcement enter their name onto the FBI’s NCIC list as an “endangered adult.” In addition to contacting the police, NAMI also suggests reaching out to the missing person’s friends and coworkers to see if they’ve heard from them.
Just like with any missing persons case, you should create a flyer with the person’s picture and include the following information:
Home state and town
Photo of their Vehicle
Where they were last seen
Phone number of police department and name of investigator
Once you’ve got a flyer, check nearby hospitals, churches, homeless shelters, and libraries for your loved one, posting flyers where permitted. Getting your missing loved one’s face out there is crucial to their being found. Even more important than posting flyers is creating a social media page with the same information in order to spread the missing person’s face throughout the internet at high speeds. Getting a person’s case to go viral can often draw in helpful tips to law enforcement that can lead to resolution in the case. It is crucial you emphasize the specifics of your loved one’s mental illness so anyone who sees them can react appropriately. It’s important to remain diligent in sharing the person’s picture and their story. The internet offers the average individual an opportunity to cultivate interest in their loved one’s case in a way they cannot control with mainstream media, making it a vital tool in the modern-day missing persons investigation.
When dealing with a missing person with mental illness, it’s important you seek the advice of professionals who are familiar with the complexities of their disease. Even if you have known the person for many years, only an expert can speak with certainty to the details of their illness. Contacting your local NAMI affiliate or another accredited mental health organization can put you in touch with people and resources valuable in locating your missing loved one. Remember, these are vulnerable people who might feel threatened, or as if they have no way out. Mental health professionals can help provide answers as to why a loved one disappeared in the first place. Regardless of the specific circumstances, it’s important to have an expert on hand to advise both law enforcement and the family of the intricacies of the person’s mental illness and what they might do next.
The disheartening thing is once a missing adult with mental illness has been located, law enforcement is not obligated to detain them unless they have committed a crime or are a danger to themselves and others. They cannot hold them against their will, and they cannot force them to take their medication unless they have been compelled to do so by a court order. It’s not always a happy ending when a missing adult with mental illness is found. Take for instance the case of Christopher Aaron Moreland. His mother, Elise Cash, had given up all hope her son with paranoid schizophrenia would ever be returned to her. After a pattern of increasingly paranoid and suspicious behavior, Christopher had disappeared, leaving a three-month supply of his anti-psychotic medication behind. After fifteen years without answers, Cash was contacted by a woman who said she had found Cash’s son. When the mother was finally reunited with her son, he did not recognize her and refused to return home with her—he even went as far as threatening to call the police if she did not leave him alone. In 2011, he was arrested on a felony possession of marijuana charge, which landed him in jail. This provided Cash with some relief, because at least now she knew where her son was at all times.
Dementia is not a mental illness, but adults with dementia are the most vulnerable adults who disappear. Dementia and mental illness do share some qualities, most significantly that they are disorders of the brain. Their brain chemistry is fundamentally different from the average human, leading to a myriad of brain disorders from Alzheimer’s to paranoid schizophrenia. As a result, investigating the disappearance of these persons becomes complicated. Adults with Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia are prone to what’s known as “wandering.” There are millions of stories of individuals whose aging parents simply wandered away from the property—or from their side—one day. Kimberly Kelly is the founder and current director of Project Far from Home, an educational program tailored to train law enforcement and search and rescue teams how to respond to calls concerning missing adults with Alzheimer’s or dementia. Kelly told HuffPost, “With 5.5 million people with the disease, and 70 percent wandering away at least once, you can do the math. Even [if] it is a 10-minute wandering episode versus a 10-day episode, you’re still looking at potentially 3 million people who would be walking away any given year. It’s huge.”
It’s a startling statistic of epidemic proportions, but rarely is it covered in the media. And even more terrifying, it has the potential to become much worse as the baby boomers continue to age. That’s an estimated 16.5 million individuals who will suffer from Alzheimer’s before the year 2050. In the case of Alzheimer’s and dementia patients, they are adults who cannot afford anything less than immediate response from family and law enforcement. When they cannot remember where they are, where they wanted to go, or how to get back home, they are the definition of endangered. Help for Alzhemier’s Families is a resource website with invaluable information for caregivers. They recommend acting immediately when you realized your loved one with dementia is missing. Conduct a thorough, but expedient search for them in the area where they were last seen—allowing no more than 15 minutes. Monica Moreno is the director of Early-Stage Initiatives for the Alzheimer’s Association. According to her, “Those who wander are often found within a half mile of home or the starting location of the incident.” The first 24 hours after your loved one goes missing is crucial, so if you find no sign of them, call 911. Brace yourself and your memory, as your knowledge about the adult’s habits and behaviors will be crucial to aiding law enforcement in locating them unharmed.
Caregivers and loved ones should inform law enforcement of the specifics of their disease so they can issue a Silver Alert. A Silver Alert is like an Amber Alert, except instead of missing children, it concerns missing adults with dementia and other mental disabilities. The scope of the alert varies by state, most specifically persons over 65 who have been medically diagnosed by a medical professional as having a mental disability. Some states recognize persons of any age with a mental disability under the Silver Alert. One of the first nationally-recognized cases that laid the groundwork for this alert was the disappearance of Mattie Moore in 2004. She was a 68-year-old Alzheimer’s patient from Atlanta. After Mattie’s body was located 500 yards from her house, the city of Atlanta invented “Mattie’s Call” as a concentrated effort to support responders in search of missing adults with dementia. Today, there are few states that do not have programs formally known as Silver Alerts, or programs that are similar.
The Department of Justice responded to the epidemic of missing persons in the United States by creating the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System (NamUS). According to them, humanity is running out of time to develop a cure before there is a major spike in missing persons cases due to wandering dementia patients. Caregivers and families should register their loved one with NamUs to increase the likelihood that they will be found and identified.
An avenue often unexplored by families of missing adults with mental illness is hiring a private investigator. After all, law enforcement is equipped with the tools and experience to find missing adults, especially ones with mental illnesses. However, private investigators have similar experience and tools as law enforcement, and can give your loved one’s case the focus it demands. Depending on how well-staffed a police department is, the average investigator can juggle between 30-40 cases, leaving your missing loved one with mental illness as a file on someone’s desk. On average, private investigators handle between three and four cases at a time, meaning your missing loved one’s case gets the attention and dedication it deserves. Law enforcement is not obligated to notify the family of a missing adult with mental illness if they locate them, unless they fall under the supervision of the court. A private investigator is restricted by law on the information they can release once an adult with mental illness has been located, but they can inform the missing adult that their family is concerned about them, and the private investigator can relay the message to the family that their loved one has been found.
When a loved one goes missing, as private investigator Thomas Lauth says, “the family become members of a club no one wants to join.” And when a loved one with mental illness goes missing, it can exacerbate the fear and dread. Taking action right away will help ensure the investigation gets off to a strong start. Provide information to investigators and spread your loved one’s name and story for the world to see. As Elise Cash said in a post in a Facebook group for locating missing adults, “All it takes is ONE PERSON to recognize Chris somewhere.” Seeking the advice of professionals can not only help you locate the missing adult, but also process the trauma of losing them. It’s just as important for the families of missing adults to take care of themselves while they continue their search. Find solidarity in the social media groups and pages seeking to provide support for families of missing persons. Not only will there be a network of empathetic people to prop you up, but these communities can often kick up new leads for investigators that might lead to a resolution in your case. While missing adults may not receive the same Amber Alerts children do, they still need people to look for them. And when an adult with mental illness goes missing, it’s going to take a network of educated and informed individuals to find them.
Carie McMichael is the Communication and Media Specialist for Lauth Investigations International, a private investigation firm based in Indianapolis, Indiana–delivering proactive and diligent solutions for over 30 years. For more information, please visit our website.
When we hear the word “missing” we often think of missing children. When we walk into Walmart the faces of missing children stare back at us and the missing child cases that receive public and media attention are often the most extreme examples, such as the case of Ayla Reynolds.
One-year-old Ayla Reynolds vanished from her home on December 16, 2011, in Waterville, Maine. Her arm in a sling, Ayla was last seen wearing green pajamas with “Daddy’s Princess” on the front. Six years later, Ayla’s disappearance remains a mystery.
(Poster of Ayla Reynolds distributed by the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children at www.missingkids.com.)
It is quite common there is less concern for adult missing, further obfuscating an already complex issue.
The most reliable overall missing person statistics are maintained at the National Crime Information Center (NCIC), at the Federal Bureau of Investigation to include all ages of missing persons to include age, race, gender, and category of disappearance.
What is NCIC?
Called the lifeline of law enforcement, NCIC is a clearinghouse of crime data that can be accessed by every criminal justice agency in the country. It assists criminal justice professionals to locate missing persons, apprehend fugitives, recover stolen property, and even identify terrorists.
Launched in 1967, with five file categories and 356,784 records, by 2015, NCIC contained 21 file categories and 12 million records, averaging 12.6 million transactions per day.
The NCIC Missing Person File was implemented in 1975. Records entered in the Missing Person File are retained indefinitely, until the person is located, or the record is canceled by the entering investigating law enforcement agency.
According to the NCIC, as of May 31, 2018, there were 87,608 active missing person cases in the United States, some cases dating back decades. Juveniles 18-years old and under accounted for 31,580 active cases in NCIC.
But, what exactly does this mean? And, who are all of these missing persons?
Missing persons entered into NCIC range from birth to age 99-years old and can include children to a senior with Alzheimer’s disease. Unfortunately, there are no statistics available to narrow down the contributors specific to an individual’s disappearance such as a history of domestic violence, mental illness, diminished mental capacity such as Alzheimer’s, those living a high-risk lifestyle, etc. However, missing persons are entered into six categories within NCIC.
Within NCIC, the Missing Person file includes the following six categories of missing person entries and defined by the FBI as follows:
Juvenile: Person under the age of eighteen who is missing and does not meet any of the entry criteria set forth in the other categories.
Endangered: Person of any age who is missing under circumstances indicating physical safety may be in danger.
Involuntary or Nonfamily Abduction: Person of any age who is missing under circumstances indicating the disappearance may not be voluntary (abduction or kidnapping).
Disability: Person of any age who is missing under proven physical or mental disability or is senile with the potential of subjecting him/herself or others to personal and immediate danger.
Catastrophe Victim: A person of any age who is missing after a catastrophe such as a flood, avalanche, fire, or other disasters.
Other: Person over the age of 18 not meeting the criteria for entry in any a category who is missing and there is reasonable concern for safety.
(Source: NCIC Missing Person Analysis as of May 31, 2018)
When an individual is reported missing to a law enforcement agency, the missing person’s descriptive data is entered into the NCIC computer to include full description, age, race, gender, clothing, jewelry, scars, tattoos, past surgeries, vehicle description, and any other related descriptive data is entered into the computer database and placed into a specific category based upon an initial determination by the investigating law enforcement agency if the person may be endangered due to circumstances surrounding the person’s disappearance, possible foul play, or a disability.
Unfortunately, with missing persons, the cause of the disappearance may not always be clear. Unlike a homicide, where evidence may be collected to help the investigation progress, many times, there is no scene of a crime for police to analyze – a person simply vanishes.
Missing Child Act of 1985
In 1984, the United States Congress passed the Missing Children’s Assistance Act, which established a national resource center and clearinghouse for missing children. In 1984, the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children (NCMEC) was created by President Ronald Reagan.
Primarily funded by the United States Department of Justice, Office of Juvenile Justice & Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP), NCMEC acts as an information clearinghouse and resource for families of missing children, law enforcement, and communities to assist in locating missing children and to raise awareness about way to prevent child abduction, child sexual abuse, child pornography and child sex trafficking.
On April 6, 2018 it was announced in Forbes Magazine that the United States Department of Justice, in a joint effort with the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Internal Revenue Service, and the U.S. Postal Inspection Service had seized and shut-down Backpage.com, considered a constant opponent of NCMEC due to it’s facilitation of child sex trafficking. In the battle against child sex trafficking, the world waits to see what happens with the case against Backpage.com.
NCMEC and the OJJDP utilizes enhanced definitions of missing children as follows:
Family Abduction is defined as a member of the child’s family or someone acting on behalf of a family member takes or fails to return a child in violation of a custody order or other legitimate custodial rights and conceals the child, transports the child out of state with the intent to prevent contact, or expresses the intent to deprive the caretaker of custodial rights permanently or indefinitely.
Nonfamily Abduction is defined as a nonfamily perpetrator, without lawful authority or parental permission, uses force or threat to take a child (at least 20 feet or into a vehicle or building), or detains a child in a place where the child cannot leave or appeal for help for at least one hour, conceals the child’s whereabouts, demands ransom, or expresses the intent to keep the child permanently.
Stereotypical kidnapping (nonfamily abduction subtype) is defined as a nonfamily abduction perpetrated by a stranger, person of unknown identity, or slight acquaintance in which the perpetrator kills the child, detains the child overnight, transports the child at least 50 miles, demands ransom or expresses to keep the child permanently.
Runaway is defined as a child who leaves home without permission and stays away overnight.
Thrownaway is a defined as a child whom an adult household member tells to leave or prevents them from returning home and does not arrange for alternative and adequate care.
Missing Involuntary (lost, stranded, or injured), is defined as a child whose whereabouts are unknown to the caretaker, causing the caretaker to contact law enforcement or a missing child agency to locate missing child.
Missing (benign explanation) is defined a child whose whereabouts are unknown to the caretaker, causing the caretaker to become alarmed for at least one hour, try to locate child, contact police about the episode for any reason, as long as the child does not fit any of the above episode types.
(National Incidence Studies of Missing, Abducted, Runaway and Thrownaway Children (NISMART) comparison of NIMART-3 2013 study and NISMART-2 1999 study.)
What Determines Entry in NCIC
Public Safety Telecommunications personnel are responsible for first response to incident of missing persons and entrusted with the critical task of gathering, organizing, and entering identifying information into the NCIC database. They also play a crucial role in making queries as well as executing record updates, modifications, and cancellations.
Missing persons are entered into an NCIC category based upon information gathered from family members, friends and potential witnesses, while detectives respond and investigate the last known whereabouts of the missing individual.
Entry into a specific category is determined by information that is collected at the scene and based upon the initial information collected. As information is collected, an initial determination is made that can be modified later based upon any new information that is obtained.
For example, a family comes home to find their 13-year old daughter is gone. Recently, she has been threatening to run away and the parents first assume that is what happened. They call police who respond to the house. At that point, she may initially be entered in NCIC as Endangered. However, upon further questioning, the family soon discovers she did not pack anything and her cell phone is found on the living room floor. Police investigate further and discover the screen to the back door is cut and it appears the house was entered by someone other than family. Very quickly, an Endangered Missing Person case can become an investigation of a critical Involuntary Missing Person.
At that point, in the case of the most serious cases of missing children, an immediate notification is made to the FBI and NCMEC to enable them to arrange resources. If given permission by the investigating law enforcement agency, NCMEC may also issue an AMBER Alert.
Each case if different, circumstances vary. Whether an individual may have vanished on their own, to one who may have schizophrenia or Alzheimer’s disease, entry into NCIC will depend upon the determination made by law enforcement based upon their initial response and ongoing investigation
It was June 9, 1995, on a beautiful evening in the small town of Alma, Arkansas. Alma is located along I-40 within the Arkansas River Valley at the edge of the Ozark Mountains with a population under 5,000 people.
That evening was the first time 6-year old Morgan Nick had gone to a baseball game. Her mother Colleen was attending the Rookie League game at the Alma ballpark and Morgan had whined about having to sit next to her mother in the bleachers. There was a nearby sand pile with other children playing and Morgan wanted to play. It was within eyesight and only seconds away, so Colleen consented.
(Morgan Nick, age 6, vanished from Alma, Arkansas on June 9, 1995.)
Morgan ran to the sandpile, laughing with the other children while Colleen turned her head back to watch the Marlins and Pythons. A player whacked the ball and two runners tied the game, then a run was scored, and the Pythons won the game. The sound of the crowd cheering was deafening.
When Colleen stood up she could see Morgan’s playmates walking down the hill away from the sandpile, but where was Morgan? It was approximately 10:30 p.m.
The children told Colleen that Morgan was pouring sand out of her shoe near her mother’s car parked nearby. Colleen frantically searched. Morgan was gone.
Later, the children would tell police they saw a man approach Morgan. Another abduction attempt had occurred in Alma that day and police had a composite sketched based on witnesses of the other incident.
Thousands of leads later, numerous appearances on national news talk shows, even America’s Most Wanted, and Morgan’s mother is nowhere closer to knowing what happened to her daughter that evening. Police have interviewed hundreds of persons of interest, searched homes and wells, and dug up slabs of concrete with backhoes, but Morgan remains missing 23 years later.
The stakes are high when a person vanishes involuntarily and the search.
Missing with disabilities
Patty Mosley is a 66-year old woman with dementia who had been placed in a Maple Heights medical center in Cleveland, Ohio and went missing on April 21, 2018.
According to Police Detective Lieutenant Grossmyer, it appears Patty just walked away from the facility. Broadway Care Center, a nursing and rehabilitation center, has not made a statement regarding how Patty was able to get out of the facility. “They weren’t sure how she had gotten out of the facility,” Grossmyer said.
(Patty Mosley, age 66 with early onset of dementia, vanished from a care facility in Ohio on April 21, 2018.)
Patty had been diagnosed with major depression, dementia, alcoholism and other brain disorders.
Police issued a public “Missing Endangered Adult” alert, searched all local hospitals, RTA stations, and women’s shelters, even calling in their search team. All local media covered the story.
“We went into individual businesses, establishments, we checked people up and down the streets. We have checked everywhere we can and the information was put out throughout Northeast Ohio,” Grossmyer said.
Sadly, Patty is not the only individual to have disappeared from Broadway Care Center. In June 2017, 52-year old Francis Kish “walked out” of the facility and vanished. A paranoid schizophrenic dependent upon medication was later found safe at an RTA station.
Patty was also found safe and the NCIC entry cancelled by Maple Heights Police Department. A happy ending.
However, these are not isolated incidents. Mark Billiter who suffered from Alzheimer’s walked out of Glenwood Care & Rehabilitation in Canton and was later found deceased near a gas station having died from exposure to the cold.
There are 5,731 individuals entered into NCIC with disabilities that include physical disabilities, those needing medications, missing persons with schizophrenia, bipolar, dementia, Alzheimer’s disease, and other incapacitating disabilities.
When an individual who has disabilities, especially diminished mental capacity, goes missing, it is vital the search is initiated quickly.
Endangered Missing – Few Clues
It has been 21-years since Kristen Modafferi has been seen.
Kristen, 18, was an honor roll design student at North Carolina State University. She planned to spend her summer in San Francisco studying photography at U.C. Berkeley with classes scheduled to begin on June 24. She waved goodbye to her parents on her birthday June 1, 1997 and boarded the plane to San Francisco. It was the first time she had been on her own.
(Kristen Modefferi vanished in San Francisco on June 23, 1997.)
Kristen quickly found employment at Spinelli’s Coffee Shop in the Crocker Galleria and worked there during the week and weekends at the Café Museo, located inside the Museum of Modern Art. The adventurous young lady was in her element.
On June 23, the day before classes were to begin, Kristen asked a coworker at Spinelli’s for directions to Baker Beach, next to the popular Land’s End Beach. She proceeded to clock out at 3 p.m. and was last seen by a coworker at approximately 3:45 p.m. on the second floor of the Crocker Galleria with an unidentified blonde woman. The coworker thought it strange because Kristen normally left the mall immediately after shift’s end. That was the last time Kristen was seen. She never returned for her $400 paycheck.
Upon learning of Kristen’s disappearance, her parents Bob and Deborah immediately flew to San Francisco and met with police.
(Baker Beach, near Land’s End beach is approximately 6 miles from the Crocker Galleria where Kristen was last seen.)
Kristen’s scent would be tracked by bloodhounds from the Crocker Galleria to a nearby bus stop that leads to Sutro Park Beach, next to Land’s End. Bloodhounds picked up her scent again at the beach but lost it at a high cliff. Police feared she may have fallen to her death at the beach.
(Land’s End Beach where bloodhounds search for Kristen Modafferi.)
Police then found a personal ad that read, “Friends: Female seeking friends to share activities, who enjoy music, photography, working out, walks, coffee, or simply the beach, and exploring the Bay area. Interested, call me.” Authorities believed Kristen had responded to or placed the ad in the local paper.
Authorities suspected the person who answered or placed the ad was the unidentified blonde seen at the mall with Kristen and somehow, she may be involved in Kristen’s disappearance.
On July 10, 1997, local news station KGO, an ABC affiliate, received an anonymous phone call from a man who claimed two lesbians had kidnapped Kristen, murdered her and dumped her body under a bridge at Point Reyes in Marin County. When police interviewed the two women Jon had identified they told detectives Jon was angry with them spurring the phone call. Jon then claimed he had learned about the case from television.
Shortly thereafter, three women came forward claiming Jon liked to abuse and torture women and often targeted women using personal ads while using other women to lure his victims.
One of the women who came forward told police Jon had mentioned Kristen by name, threatening her, “the same thing that happened to her could happen to you.”
Police searched Jon’s girlfriend’s residence and found a diary that had pages ripped out that correlated with the dates Kristen went missing. She told them that Jon had ripped the pages out because they may have contained incriminating information.
Though they polygraphed Jon, there was never enough evidence to make an arrest.
Private investigators hired by Kristen’s family believe Kristen was murdered in the basement of her residence though there has never been any information or DNA evidence to substantiate those claims.
21 years later, Kristen remains missing.
Other – At Risk Missing
(Corinna Slusser vanished in NYC on September 20, 2017.)
Life was different two years ago for Sabina Tuorto, mother of 19-year old Corinna Slusser who has been missing since September 20, 2017.
“Only two years ago, so much was different then. My daughter was a great student, a cheerleader. She had many friends and lived her life as a normal teenager,” said Sabina. “I need her home and I can’t bear any more days like this. I fear the worst, but I pray for the best and her return home . . . waiting for an Angel to hear my prayer.”
Corinna was last seen at Haven Motel in Queens, New York on Woodhaven Boulevard, approximately 5 miles from LaGuardia Airport.
According to online Yelp reviews of the budget hotel, the consensus is the place needs to be shut down.
“I live right by the place and feel compelled to review it. It’s a motel mostly for prostitutes – seriously. The cops are constantly out investigating it and there’s always an issue. Parking lot is generally full of minivans (vom). It goes on an hourly rate. The windows are tinted 100% black. Repulsive. This place should seriously be shut down,” wrote one reviewer.
Corinna was last seen leaving the hotel during the early morning hours of September 20th.
Before the bright and cheery high school cheerleader’s disappearance, Corinna lived in Bloomsburg, Pennsylvania, and dreamed of becoming a makeup artist. On her Instagram account, which she updated almost daily, she is often dressed in bohemian type clothing showing peace signs, photographed hugging her friends and enjoying the outdoors.
However, one can see a transition occurring in the photographs she posted. Corinna goes from a bright and bubbly teen to showing less modest photographs.
An Instagram post uploaded on September 11, 2017, is thought to have been taken in the Bronx. The caption reads “cyphin mid day mid road is always good for the soul.”
There has been no activity on any of her social profiles since her disappearance.
While living in Bloomsburg, Corinna had become depressed and landed in the hospital where she met an older man that persuaded her to move to New York City. He offered a place to stay for the adventurous teen. Little did she know, the 32-year old man was a suspected “pimp” from Harlem. She took with her only her cell phone, identification and what she was wearing and moved to the bustling city where police believe she was coerced into prostitution.
Initially, Corinna kept in touch with family and friends and posted to her social media accounts.
With multiple arrests for “promoting prostitution, the man she left with was known by police in New York City. NYPD detectives now theorize Corinna has been moved from pimp to pimp and no longer in the city. Her name has been mentioned in various vice investigations and they fear she has been kidnapped by a sex trafficking ring.
One month prior to her disappearance, her mother received a copy of an order of protection revealing her daughter had been an assault victim on August 25, 2017.
Corinna had made a 911 call from the Harlem Vista Hotel in Northern Manhattan telling police she had been assaulted by her pimp. She accused him of grabbing her around the neck, smashing her head against the wall and strangling her after she confronted him of stealing $300 from her. The document named the man she had left with as Yovanny Peguero. When confronted by her mother she tried to downplay the incident.
When Corinna failed to show up for her grandfather’s funeral in Florida she was reported missing.
There is a $10,000 reward offered for information that leads to the safe recovery of Corinna Slusser.
Experts in the Field of Missing Persons and Sex Trafficking
These are typical cases that populate NCIC and each vastly different from the other.
Thomas Lauth of Lauth Investigations has worked over 20 years throughout the country and internationally on endangered missing person cases.
“The most important thing a family can do when a loved one is missing is pull in as many resources as possible,” says Lauth. “Finding missing persons is a cooperative effort between police, media, missing person experts and advocates, private investigators and especially the public.”
According to missing person experts, the more time that goes by, the less likely the person will be found alive. However, with cases like Jaycee Dugard, kidnapped by a stranger on June 10, 1991 at age 11, and found alive in 2009, there still remains hope for every family.
For months, the family of 5-year-old Lucas Hernandez wondered if they would ever have answers in his mysterious disappearance. On the day he disappeared, he was left in the care of his father’s girlfriend, Emily Glass. In the missing persons report Glass gave to investigators, she said she saw Lucas playing in his room around three in the afternoon. She then took a shower and fell asleep. When she awoke around six in the evening, Lucas was nowhere to be found.
Law enforcement in Wichita investigated for months, unearthing no credible leads into Lucas’ disappearance. Months later, on May 24th, locals were shocked after a private investigator blew the case wide open by informing law enforcement Emily Glass had led them to the decomposing remains of little Lucas under a nearby bridge. Why would Glass, after dealing with law enforcement for months, only then break her silence regarding her knowledge of the little boy’s body? The answer is as simple as this: Private investigators have advantages law enforcement do not when it comes to conducting concurrent independent investigations in criminal and missing persons cases.
So how is a private investigator’s approach different from the approach of a local, state, or federal law enforcement agency? The first thing to consider is the caseload of most law enforcement agencies. From the moment an initial report is made, in both criminal and missing persons cases, law enforcement have the meticulous and overwhelming task of gathering evidence to build a case that will secure justice on behalf of the victims and the state. Crime scenes need to be mined for evidence by medical examiners and crime scene technicians. Detectives and other investigators need to canvass witnesses—sometimes dozens of people—in the area who might have seen or heard something. Now imagine the workload of one case multiplied by 40 or 50 times. An audit conducted in Portland Oregon in 2007 reviewed law enforcement data from Portland itself, and nine other surrounding cities, to conclude the average caseload for a detective in Portland was a median of 54. This is compared to a 5-year average of 56 cases. Knowing statistics like these are similar in law enforcement agencies all across the country, it’s easy to see how the progress of cases might slow to a crawl. Agencies are overwhelmed, and this is where private investigators have the advantage. Private investigators may only handle one or two cases at a time, giving them their full focus and attention. Wichita law enforcement might have faced similar challenges of an overwhelming caseload when it came to investigating Lucas Hernandez’s disappearance. An article released by the Wichita Eagle in mid-December of 2017 revealed, as of publication, there were still ten homicides from the year 2017 remaining unsolved as the new year approached.
Another compelling advantage for private investigators might initially sound like a disadvantage: Private investigators have no powers of arrest. It seems counter-intuitive that a private investigator may use the same tools as law enforcement, ask the same questions, and may even come to the same conclusion as law enforcement without the ability to arrest a suspect for the crime. However, the case of Hernandez showcased exactly why a private investigator—and their inability to arrest—broke the case wide open. Jim Murray of Star Investigations told KMBC News in Kansas, “We’re less of a threat sometimes to people that we’re talking to because we have no powers of arrest,” said Jim. “We can’t arrest them.” This could explain why Emily Glass finally led a private investigator to Lucas’s body, because she knew they could not put handcuffs on her in that moment.
Unfortunately, family members and locals will never have the truth about what happened to Lucas. In the wake of the private investigator’s discovery, autopsy reports were found to be inconsistent with what Glass told both police and the PI, but before the People could build a case against her, Glass was found dead from an apparent suicide. However, were it not for the efforts of the private investigator, Lucas’s father may never have had answers in his son’s disappearance.
Carie McMichael is the Communications and Media Specialist for Lauth Investigations International, writing about investigative topics such as missing persons and corporate investigations. To learn more about what we do, please visit our website.