Missing & Murdered Native American Women: An Epidemic?

Missing & Murdered Native American Women: An Epidemic?

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(A department of Justice funded study showed that, in some places, Native American women are 10-times more likely than the rest of the population to be abducted and murdered. Photo courtesy of CNN.)  
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(A department of Justice funded study showed that, in some places, Native American women are 10-times more likely than the rest of the population to be abducted and murdered. Photo courtesy of CNN.) 

Montana is a Rocky Mountain state that borders Canada and often referred to as “Big Sky Country” with numerous spectacular mountain ranges, western prairie terrain, and the badlands. Best known as the “Crown of the Planet,” Montana is the home of the majestic Glacier National Park, Yellowstone National Park, Beartooth Highway, and Big Sky Resort with tourism being the fastest growing sector. 

Montana has changed little over time with an abundance of wildlife and breathtaking views. A place where Buffalo still roam the plains.

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(Crow tribe elder wearing traditional headdress.) 

Crow Nation

Crow Nation is located in south central Montana bordering Wyoming on the south, and its northwestern boundary approximately 10 miles from Billings. There lives a federally recognized tribe called the “Apsaalooke” which means “children of the large-beaked bird.” White men later misinterpreted the word as “crow.”

On the horizon, a highway sign is the only thing that one sees on the desolate strip of Interstate 90, that marks the entrance to the sovereign Native American Territory of the Crow Tribe. There are no gas stations, convenience stores or roadside attractions.

The Crow Nation is the largest of seven tribal lands, with the territory of 2.3 million acres. With a vast amount of ranch ground, the reservation has three enormous mountain ranges, two major rivers, and a dozen tributaries. 

The Crow and Northern Cheyenne are both in close proximity to two major cities attracting crime, and bordering state and federal parks. Like each of the seven federally acknowledged Native American reservations in Montana and the nine tribes that call the land home, the Crow and Northern Cheyenne share centuries worth of challenges with a contentious history, including many strange disappearances and murders.

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(Native American tribes march to raise awareness for the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women movement. Photo courtesy of Real Change News.)

Problem of Indigenous Disappearances

Montana’s Indian Country is amid an epidemic of missing and murdered indigenous people, mostly women, and girls. The Billings Gazette reported that more than a dozen indigenous women went missing during 2018, and indigenous women nationwide are being killed or trafficked at rates that are much higher than the national average of non-indigenous women. 

According to the state Department of Justice (DOJ), more than 5,400 reports of missing people have been filed in Montana during the past three years. Most missing person cases are closed within a day or two. 

However, while Native Americans make up only 6.7 percent of Montana’s population, an unbelievable 26 percent of Montana’s missing person reports are Native American’s who have been missing for over a month. 

When missing person reports are taken by police, they enter the data into the National Crime Information Center (NCIC), a national database at the FBI that cross-references the missing person’s description with unidentified persons (alive and deceased). The database also makes the person’s information available to other law enforcement and Coroners nationwide. 

Once entered into NCIC, if the missing person is determined to be in imminent danger, police can also issue a statewide alert, similar to the AMBER Alert that is distributed to local media and text messages to anyone in the region that has a mobile phone. Failing that criteria, police can also issue a Missing Endangered Person alert, which is similarly sent out to the public.

“One thousand plus missing person reports generated each year in Montana preclude the state from issuing alerts unless the person reasonably appears to be in danger,” said DOJ spokesman John Barnes. 

The crisis is often exacerbated by several factors. Many reservations are in very rural areas with little access to the Internet or cell phone service. Tribal law enforcement is understaffed to oversee such large areas of land to initiate searches and properly investigate disappearances. Also, many of the missing are part of a marginal population so the cases don’t get much national attention.

When disappearances follow one after another, the Crow tribe is often forced to turn to outside law enforcement for help, but the help doesn’t appear to happen fast enough. 

In 2008, the Montana Missing Persons Clearinghouse, within DOJ, implemented the first-ever searchable online database that is updated in real-time and includes a description of the missing person and photos. 

Even with new statewide advancements in raising awareness of missing persons, for the families whose loved ones are missing, the law enforcement response can sometimes feel underwhelming. 

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(Freda Knows His Gun vanished in October 2016, in Kennewick, Washington on her way home to the Crow Nation in Montana..)

The Disappearance of Freda Knows His Gun

In October 2016, down on her luck, Freda Knows His Gun, 34, was 740 miles away from home and needed money. She went to the Walmart in Kennewick, Washington, to call a friend to ask for an online money transfer to get home,  and promised to return to the Montana Crow Tribe in time to take her children trick-or-treating for Halloween. 

Despite an error in Freda’s name that caused a slight delay, within fifteen minutes the money arrived. However, Freda was nowhere to be found, even though she had been waiting at the Walmart customer service counter. 

Aldean Good Luck, Freda’s cousin, told the Billings Gazette, “Her friend called and corrected the name and it wasn’t even fifteen minutes when she called Freda back and her phone was no longer working.”

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(A poster of Fred Know His Gun sits on the kitchen table of Aldean Good Luck, a family member of Freda. Photo courtesy of Billings Gazette.)

It’s hard to determine what may have happened to Freda, but her family and three children continue to wait, overcome with the ambiguity of the loss. 

It was hard to know who to turn to the family told the Billings Gazette. What complicated matters is she was last seen in Washington but a resident of Montana. The Bureau of Indian Affairs law enforcement within the Crow Agency registered Freda as a missing person. 

The FBI eventually became involved in Freda’s case, but there have only been dead ends.

According to Freda’s sister Frances Knows His Gun, the FBI called and asked her if she had ever heard of the drug “hot shot” and explained that once you take it you forget who you are. She responded she had never heard of it and that was the last time she heard from them.

Freda’s mother Barbara Susan Stewart is now raising Freda’s three children with the help of other family members. One daughter is now in high school, another getting braces, and many life moments are passing without their mother. 

Her forehead permanently creased with worry, “I would know in my womb if she was dead, Barbara told Aljazeera. “I don’t know if she is mad at me, but it doesn’t matter. She needs to come back. Her children need her. I can’t give them what they need.” 

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(March in downtown Billings, Montana for Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women. Photo courtesy of the Billings Gazette.)

A Movement

The Missing and Murdered Indigenous People (MMIP) movement is big in Canada and the United States and working to raise awareness and change laws pertaining to missing indigenous women. However, critics wonder why missing men are not getting as much attention.

Truth is nobody knows how many indigenous men and women are truly missing and that is part of the larger problem.

Contributors stem from centuries of discrimination, the lack of accurate record-keeping, jurisdictional issues and historical laws that collide with demands of modern-day law enforcement. 

To raise awareness, several protest marches, social media outreach, and community-building programs have been organized to ensure missing persons are never forgotten. 

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(Lynette Grey Bull hold a template of the billboard image with Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. Photo Courtesy of Wyoming Public Radio.) 

Not Invisible Act and Savannah’s Act

A bill addressing the crisis of missing and murdered indigenous women, the Not Invisible Act is now under consideration by the House and Senate. The legislation was introduced in the House on April 2, 2019, by Haaland, a member of the Pueblo Nation of Laguna, Davids, a member of the Ho-Chunk Nation of Wisconsin; and Cole, a member of the Cherokee Nation. The bill is building steam.

According to CBS News, the bill would create an advisory committee comprised of law enforcement, tribal leaders, survivors, and family members of the victims, to make recommendations to the Department of Interior and of Justice on how to address this crisis. It would also designate an official within the Bureau of Indian Affairs to improve violent crime prevention efforts across federal agencies. It is expected to pass with no opposition.

The Not Invisible Act compliments Savanah’s Act introduced to Congress on January 25, 2019. The bill will direct DOJ to review, revise, and develop law enforcement protocols to address missing and murdered Indians to include: providing training to law enforcement; implement a system to notify citizen of the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System (NAMUS); conduct outreach; develop guidelines specific to missing and murdered Indians; provide technical assistance to Indian tribes; and report statistics. Savannah’s act is also expected to pass without opposition.

However, with each agonizing day that passes, for families of the missing, it’s simple. Missing persons have become an epidemic and their loved ones need help sooner than later.

Adults Have the Right to Go Missing but That Doesn’t Mean They Don’t Need Help

Adults Have the Right to Go Missing but That Doesn’t Mean They Don’t Need Help

On any given day, nearly 100,000 people are listed as active missing in the United States.

(On any given day, nearly 100,000 people are listed as active missing in the United States. Photo courtesy Creative RF/Getty Images.)

Most of us are aware of our inalienable rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. But for most American’s there is a lesser-known right . . . the right to go missing. 

As of April 30, 2018, there were 86,927 active missing person cases in the National Crime Information Center (NCIC) at the Federal Bureau of Investigations. Of that number 14,411 are listed as endangered by authorities. 

While most cases will resolve quickly, others date back decades. 

“If you, as an adult, want to take off and need some time alone, you’re entitled to do that,” according to St. Cloud Police Assistant Chief Jeff Oxton. “That’s the right to go missing and can generate legitimate and sometimes illegitimate concerns from others.” 

At the age of 18, going missing is not considered an offense. Unless the adult has been found to have significant issues with mental health, or if they are legally under the care of another person, it is not a crime to go missing and most resolve without incident. 

“Most missing persons, we find them OK,” said Oxton. “We find there’s been a misunderstanding, or there was another reason they weren’t where they were supposed to be.”

However, that doesn’t always mean that all missing person cases are resolved with expediency. 

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(Missing Marine veteran Jesse Conger vanished from his Scottsdale home August 14, 2019.)

Police in Scottsdale, Ariz., are searching for missing Marine veteran Jesse Conger who vanished without a trace on August 14, 2019. Loved ones fear he may be suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and depression. Conger had served for 10 years and deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan during his military service. 

Authorities say Conger was last seen at his apartment in Scottsdale by his girlfriend Natasha Harwell and may be driving a 2015 Toyota Camry with Nevada license plate number 696G03. 

“I asked him to get help. He kept telling me, ‘No.’ but I feel like I should have insisted a little bit more,” Harwell said. 

When Conger did not come home and never answered her calls or texts, she reported him missing. She noticed his gun was missing but all other personal belongings left at his home, including his wallet with identification, debit card, credit card, and all necessities. His service dog was also left behind. 

“I feel like all the times before when he has done this, it was more like—you could know something was about to happen. He would talk to me about it, I could talk to him. This time he just picked up and left,” said Harwell.

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(Jesse Conger is a United states Marine with PTSD who has been missing for a month from Scottsdale, Ariz.)

The search has gone viral after a tweet from Pulte Group CEO Bill Pulte offered a $30,000 reward to help find Conger.

“I don’t know if I would be alive without my twin brother,” Patricia Conger said. “He’s always been with me. I want you to come home Jesse, please come home and I love you.” 

Scottsdale Police Department is treating Jesse Conger’s case as an “endangered missing person” and added him to the NCIC system at the FBI. 

What Happens When a Missing Person is Entered Into NCIC?

Once someone is entered into the NCIC database they are flagged as missing making their information available nationwide. For example, if they disappear from California and get pulled over or questioned by authorities in Arizona, police are quickly able to run their information through NCIC and make a determination if the individual is possibly a danger to themselves or others. This enables authorities to take them to the hospital. 

There are five categories in NCIC that a missing person can be classified in.

  • Juvenile
  • Endangered
  • Involuntary
  • Disability
  • Catastrophe
  • Other

When a person is added to NCIC, it makes their descriptive and automobile information available to all law enforcement agencies, medical examiners and Coroners in the country.

It is a common misconception that when an adult goes missing, a reporting party must wait 24 hours before making a report to police. 

“There’s just not (a waiting period,)” Oxton said told the Sy. Cloud Times. “And I think that comes back to, you know, people see it on TV, or whatever, that they have to be missing for 24 hours. But that’s just not true.

In fact, there is no national mandate that requires one to wait before going to the police to report an adult missing. 

However, when a child goes missing there is a national mandate requiring law enforcement to accept an immediate missing report, report it to the FBI and enter the person’s descriptive data into NCIC. This is due to the age and vulnerability. Though this national mandate does not apply to missing adults, there still exists no required waiting period to report them. 

When there is a reporting delay for some reason, or something bad has happened, the first two hours are critical.

After receiving a missing person report, police will attempt to find the person in question, which may include contacting the person who made the report, along with friends and family, hospitals and jails. 

If police discover the person went missing on their own accord, legally police cannot tell the reporting party where they are if the missing person does not wish friends and family to know. Police can let the reporting party know they are alive and well and do not wish contact. 

Authorities are expected to make informed judgment calls about whether the missing person is at risk of death or injury. If the person is considered “endangered” it adds more urgency to the case, meaning law enforcement has received enough evidence that the person is at risk for personal injury or death due to one of the following:

  • the person is involuntarily missing or result of an abduction;
  • the person is missing under dangerous circumstances; 
  • there is evidence the person is in need of medical attention or needed medication such as insulin, that would severely affect the person’s health;
  • the person does not have a history of disappearing;
  • the person is mentally impaired or has diminished mental capacity, such as someone with Alzheimer’s or Down Syndrome;
  • the person has been the subject of acts of violence or threats;
  • there is evidence the person may be lost in the wilderness or after a catastrophic natural event;
  • any other factor that law enforcement believes the person may be at risk of physical injury or death. 

Once there is a report on a missing person, it then becomes crucial that law enforcement obtain dental records, fingerprints and have the family submit a DNA sample into the Family DNA database. 

Records and samples are regularly cross-referenced with Unidentified Persons, alive and deceased for matches. 

Jesse Conger is listed as “endangered” in NCIC due to his mental state when he went missing. But what happens when the trail goes cold? 

Until a missing person is found, their entry in NCIC remains active. Once entered police do not stop investigating the case and following up on every lead that is provided by the public.

However, some cases, like Conger’s do not resolve right away and it becomes necessary and effective for police to ask for the public’s help to generate new leads. 

Family and friends commonly try to engage the public and community to help find the missing person, including setting up Facebook Pages to generate leads and offer rewards for information. 

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Behind every missing person appeal, and every headline is an individual story and a family experiencing heartbreak. 

“For law enforcement, at times searching for a missing person is like searching for a needle in a haystack,” says Thomas Lauth, a missing person expert, and CEO of Lauth Investigations International. “Often an effective investigation is a cooperative effort between law enforcement, the public, and the media. 

Lauth has worked on missing person cases for over 25 years, working with local, state and federal law enforcement. “Generating that one lead that law enforcement needs to progress with the investigation becomes of utmost importance.” 

Inevitably some cases go cold but that doesn’t mean the case is closed or impossible to solve.  

 “While missing persons have the right to go missing, the police still pour all of their resources into investigating the disappearance which should be reassuring to families who are experiencing the trauma of having a loved one missing,” says Lauth. 

National Organizations Join Search for Sarah Galloway, Missing with Down’s Syndrome

National Organizations Join Search for Sarah Galloway, Missing with Down’s Syndrome

Sarah Galloway went missing March 21, 2019, from the front of her home in Picture Rocks, outside of Tucson Ariz.)

(Sarah Galloway went missing March 21, 2019, from the front of her home in Picture Rocks, outside of Tucson Ariz.) 

Sarah Galloway, 38, has Down’s Syndrome and vanished between 7:00 a.m. and 8:00 a.m., from the front porch of her rural home in Picture Rocks, Ariz., just outside of Tucson on March 21, 2019.

Due to the mysterious circumstance of Sarah’s disappearance and disability, Sarah is classified an “endangered missing person” in the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s National Crime Information Center (NCIC). The National Missing and Unidentified Persons System (NAMUS), has joined the search and published a flier and alert on their website to be distributed nationwide.  

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In addition, Missing in Arizona  has been posting alerts on their Facebook site that has been shared over a hundred times throughout Ariz., and beyond, continuing to grow.  Missing in Arizona was created by Det. Stuart Somershoe, a missing person detective at Phoenix Police Department. 

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(Pima County Sheriff’s Department searching the Galloway property in Picture Rocks, Ariz. Photo courtesy of the Daily Star.) 

Early on, multiple agencies and a hundred volunteers set up a command post near the property to search for Sarah. Donnie Wadley, a member of the community coordinated the volunteer search. “We’re a big community,” he said. “We all care. We’re all out here . . . we can go as long as we need to.” 

Although Pima County Sheriff’s Office is investigating the disappearance, they have not had any clues to date and have limited resources to continue an in-depth investigation. 

Despite the good efforts of law enforcement and the community, Sarah’s mother now feels like she is alone in the search for her missing daughter. “Sarah’s story is not in the news headlines anymore,” said Sherry Galloway. “Sometimes the feelings are overwhelming. Am I ever going to see my daughter alive again? Was she abducted into a sex trafficking ring . . . or worse?” Sherry Galloway now shares her missing daughter’s on Facebook trying to enlist the help of anyone that will listen. 

The story caught the attention of Thomas Lauth, Chief Executive Officer of Lauth Investigations headquartered in Indianapolis, Ind. “We called Sarah’s mother and offered our services pro bono,” said Lauth. “This young lady needs help and media attention had dwindled.” 

Lauth Investigations has set up a Go Fund Me site to help cover the expenses related to beginning a new private investigation to search for Sarah. “We need to keep Sarah in the public eye,” said Lauth. “Every time we show Sarah’s photograph and story with the media and public, we increase the chances she will be found.” 

All proceeds from the Finding Sarah Galloway on Go Fund Me will be used to pay for the search for Sarah Galloway. 

Sarah is a happy go lucky and friendly woman whose disappearance has left a gaping hole in many people’s lives. “She’s super friendly. No one is a stranger to her. But she needs supervision to care for herself. She cannot even operate a cell phone and has no money,” says her mother, Sherry Galloway. 

Sarah Galloway Description
HEIGHT: 4’11”
WEIGHT: 100lbs 
HAIR: Brown 
EYES: Brown

Sarah was last seen wearing a dark gray button up knit sweater, red short sleeved T-shirt with unknown black lettering on front, black polyester pants and Skechers sneakers with rainbow color. She also wears light brown plastic framed sunglasses.

America’s Homeless Are Going Missing

America’s Homeless Are Going Missing

With over 500,000 homeless in the United States, homeless cities are popping up at record numbers Photo courtesy Mercury News, San Jose, Calif.)
With over 500,000 homeless in the United States, homeless cities are popping up at record numbers Photo courtesy Mercury News, San Jose, Calif.)

(With over 500,000 homeless in the United States, homeless cities are popping up at record numbers Photo courtesy Mercury News, San Jose, Calif.) 

The numbers are staggering. According to the Housing and Urban Development (HUD), there were approximately 554,000 homeless people living somewhere in the United States on any given night last year. Sadly, that number is rising. 

According to Forbes, cities with the highest rate of homelessness are in one of the five states – California (129,972), New York (91,897), Florida (31,030), Texas (25,310), and Washington (22,304). Not surprising is the problem has become much more visible in urban areas and over half of all homeless people live in one of the country’s 50 largest cities. 

Homelessness is an issue that permeates many societies throughout the world but seems to be a unique struggle in the United States. One might be surprised to know, the Big Apple has one of the lowest levels of unsheltered homeless at 5% while Los Angeles, 75% of people were found in unsheltered locations. 

People who are homeless are often not able to secure and maintain regular, safe, and secure housing. Many become transient, never staying in one place for any length of time . . . wandering the streets, from city to city. 

Who are the Homeless?

People often become homeless when the economic issues collide with their housing issues, to include other factors such as domestic violence, physical disability, mental illness, addiction, transitioning into adulthood and strains on relationships.

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(Many homeless people start out with jobs and homes; then social and economic factors intervene.)

Something that we see more and more often these days is homelessness caused by untreated Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), along with untreated depression and other serious mental illness. 

According the Mental Illness Policy Org., in January 2015, the most extensive survey ever undertaken by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) revealed 250,000 homeless individuals suffered from varying mental illness. That is 45% of the total homeless population. 

At any given time, there are many more people with untreated severe psychiatric illnesses living on the streets than are receiving care in hospitals. Approximately 90,000 individuals with schizophrenia or manic-depressive illness are in hospitals receiving treatment for their disease. 

No vision haunts America’s conscience more than the sight of the street people . . . the irrationality and anguish that grip so many of these individuals leap out during any encounter, whether in Washington or Albuquerque.” ~ Senator Pete Domenici (R-NM)

How Many Homeless are Missing?

As of April 30, 2018, there were 86,927 people in the United States listed as missing in the National Crime Information Center (NCIC) at the Federal Bureau of Investigation. There are no statistics available about missing persons and homelessness being a factor in the disappearance. 

To further complicate any understanding of the numbers, homeless shelters and service providers ride a very delicate line. 

Due to privacy-related HIPPA regulations, tracking a person that is navigating the hodgepodge of homeless services can be nearly impossible. 

Providers do not report entry logs with missing person systems because of HIPPA. Also, there is no training to use the counts to collect information and data that can help identify known missing persons. 

As the law stands, adult persons can come and go as they please. Unlike with missing children, there is no statute requiring law enforcement to even take a report, though in some state’s legislation has been passed to change that and improvements being made. 

Organizations like Missing and Homeless are urging communities to work collaboratively with the homeless with direct outreach efforts beyond that system that is in place. Small providers, nonprofits and homeless individuals themselves are more successful in assisting with the search efforts of other missing people.

What Happens When a Loved One is Homeless and Goes Missing? 

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(Bridget Pendell vanished April 2003 and despite hundreds of leads she has never been seen again. Photo courtesy of SF Gate/Flier courtesy Kym Pasqualini – National Center for Missing Adults.) 

There is nothing more intense and emotional than not knowing where someone you love is. The ambiguity alone can cause extreme emotional turmoil. Families are left frantically searching, hanging fliers, begging for media exposure, and talking to anyone who will listen in an attempt to find their missing loved one.  

Bridget Pendell may look like a wasted-thin drug addict and could be wandering the streets of San Francisco or turning tricks in Portland or Phoenix. Or she could be dead, just another unidentified missing person buried in the city’s Potter’s Field. 

Her sister Jackie Horne wants to know what happened to her sister. She has spent the last 15 years searching for Pendell, traveling from New York to San Francisco to scour the city for her missing sister. 

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(Jackie Horne leaves missing person posters on mailboxes in the Haight district of San Francisco. Photo courtesy of SF Gate/Flier courtesy Kym Pasqualini – National Center for Missing Adults.) 

Pendell would be 46 now and shows just how easily homeless can disappear. Horne travels the hard-core sections of the city where women sell their bodies for sex and drugs, leaving missing person posters on mailboxes, giving out her missing person posters and scanning the worn-out faces. Horne quietly asks for help from anyone who will listen. 

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(Bridget Pendell was a former Barbizon model with her life in front of her.) 

Pendell was a beautiful young girl who grew up in Plattsburg, New York and graduated high school before becoming a former Barbizon model student. She eventually became a nurse and met the “man of her dreams” married and had a baby girl they named Sasha. Pendell had met some friends who followed the Grateful Dead, and she joined them and began following the band throughout the country. 

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(Followers of the Grateful Dead followed the band to different locations throughout the country.) 

Pendell’s new lifestyle broke the marriage apart as her husband would have no part in the lifestyle, she was dabbling in. Following their divorce, Pendell began wandering between New York, Kansas, and Florida, sometimes with Sasha. There she began using heroin and cocaine and by 1996, she had succumbed to drugs and prostitution. 

Pendell’s mother took Sasha while Pendell continued to live in California. 

Her last chance . . . the family decided the only way to save Pendell was to have her enter a two-month drug rehabilitation program. If she refused, no one was certain what would happen to her. 

She accepted the help and entered into Seton Health System rehab center. A doctor’s report explaining Pendell’s condition read: “Above average intelligence.” She was released from rehab two days early and immediately left to San Francisco. 

From the answers Horne receives while out searching, it seems Pendell is known everywhere, yet a phantom in a dark world few can imagine. 

 “I saw her a couple of days ago, I swear,” a prostitute named Crystal said as she brushed on mascara, getting ready to hit the chaos of Mission Street. “She works this street. Shoots up heavy.” Another man said he believed Pendell went by the nickname Butterfly. 

Now joining in the search is Pendell’s daughter Sasha who despite her mother vanishing, has maintained Straight A’s at school. Growing up without her mother she did know her mother was on drugs. “Maybe she feels bad . . . maybe she doesn’t want to come back into my life while she’s on drugs . . . but if I could see her, I would tell her I wasn’t mad.”

Leads have been received from across the country, but most have led back to San Francisco and Santa Cruz. Another possibility is that known rapist, Jack Bokin killed Pendell. Horne reached out to him and he never denied killing her. It is unknown what happened to Pendell and if she is still alive out there somewhere. 

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(Horrified seeing the numbers of other missing, San Francisco authorities explained to Horne that ever year, hundreds of homeless die in the city, most identified.) 

Nobody knows exactly how may chronically homeless are missing. Losing touch with family and friends they are joining a steady stream of panhandlers and those sleeping on the sidewalk. 

Going under the radar, with no identification, no address, no welfare checks they are impossible to follow.

According to the California Department of Justice, more than 17,000 women like Pendell are reported missing in California every year, but no records are kept about how many are homeless. Nearly 300 are found deceased, and although most are found safe, approximately 100 remain missing – whereabouts unknown. 

Morgues throughout California maintain remains of over 2,000 people, dating back 45 years, who have never been identified. 

“We have about two bodies per year we can’t identify, and we cremate another 160 because we make an identification but can’t find relatives to claim them.,” said Herb Hawley, administrator at the San Francisco medical examiner’s office. It is a similar story throughout the country. 

It’s just like she vanished off the face of the earth,” said Horne as she walks up and down a line of homeless men and women waiting for lunch at a local church. “These guys in line, all those homeless people around downtown – they have relatives, too, and hopefully some of those relatives know where they are. But Bridget? Nothing.”

How to Create a Missing Person Flyer

How to Create a Missing Person Flyer

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 missing
  • Date of birth
  • Age
  • Sex
  • Height (in feet and inches)
  • Weight (in pounds)
  • Build (thin, medium, heavy, etc).
  • Eyes (color)
  • 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.