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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.”
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.
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.
Tragedies can affect communities and
society as a whole. Sometimes it only takes one person to make a difference
that impacts us all.
It was 24 years ago, on June 9, 1995,
that a little girl vanished at a Little League baseball game in the small town
of Alma, Ark., within the River Valley at the edge of the majestic Ozark
Mountains. Beautiful Morgan Chauntel Nick, age 6, with
long blonde hair and blue eyes has not been seen since.
Morgan Nick is the eldest of three other children. She
loved cats and according to her mother Colleen Nick, she was a shy little girl.
A Girl Scout, Morgan loved bubble gum and said she wanted to be a doctor or a
circus performer when she grew up.
The evening of her disappearance, a friend of the Nick
family had invited them to a baseball game about 30 minutes away. Colleen told
Dateline; the game started late at approximately 9:00 p.m. that night.
Morgan sat in the bleachers with her mom nearly the
entirety of the game but towards the end, two kids, a boy and a girl, a few
years older than Morgan, asked if Morgan could go catch fireflies with them.
Colleen recalls initially telling Morgan no, but other
parents told the worried mother that the kids play in the parking lot all of
the time and would be safe.
Colleen ended up telling Morgan she could go play with
the other children. “She threw her arms around my neck, kissed my cheek, then
the kids all ran out to the parking lot,” said Colleen. “I could turn my head
and see she was right there in sight. I checked on them three or four times.”
At the end of the baseball game, Colleen watched as
the team walked off the field, momentarily looking away from Morgan who was
playing behind the bleachers. When she turned around, she could see the two
other children, but Morgan was no longer with them.
Colleen asked the children where Morgan was, and they
told her Morgan was at her car emptying sand out of her shoes. “Already, when I
couldn’t see Morgan, my heart started beating really fast,” Colleen said in a
Dateline interview. “We were somewhere we hadn’t been before. She wouldn’t go
anywhere by herself, and there wasn’t even anywhere to go,” Colleen said.
“There was no concession stands, no bathrooms.”
Confusion and panic set in for Colleen.
Within minutes a spectator called the police to report
Morgan missing. Police responded within six minutes.
Chief Russell White of the Alma Police Department told
Dateline that the initial officer on the scene immediately suspected “we might
have a bigger problem.” “They did have a lot of manpower or resources, but they
did a whole lot right that first night,” Colleen said.
“The other two kids that were playing with Morgan
separately told the police about a creepy man in a red pick-up truck with a
white camper shell on the back,” Colleen said.
Authorities immediately began an intensive
“We reached out for help from local agencies, the
state police, the FBI,” Chief White said. “We were running a pretty big crew.
The FBI brought in lots of extra people and resources and we did not have, like
a computer system that could handle this kind of case, which helped
According to Colleen, Morgan’s case files fill up an
entire room at the police department. “We have tons of tips coming in every
week,” Chief White said. “It’s very unusual for a 24-year-old case to still
have so many leads.”
Despite the thousands of leads received in Morgan’s
case, she remains missing.
A Mother Fights Back
“She’s not a number. She’s not a statistic. She’s not
a case file. She is a daughter, a sister, a granddaughter, a friend. And she is
someone worth fighting for,” Colleen told Dateline. “If you’re not on the front
line fighting for your daughter, no one else will. So, it is my job to make
sure she never gets lost. Until someone can prove to me that Morgan is not
coming home, then I am going to fight for her.”
In the years following Morgan’s disappearance, Colleen
started the Morgan
Nick Foundation to help prevent other families from going
through what she has experienced, to raise awareness of other missing children,
and educate the public on safety for children. The foundation also provides
crucial support to other families of missing children.
Over the years Colleen has received a countless number
of recognitions and awards from the FBI, state of Arkansas, to the
International Homicide Investigator’s Association, for her work throughout the
state of Arkansas throughout the country.
“When something so tragic happens to your child, there
is a need to do something of great value,” said Colleen. “We are trying to fill
the gap that wasn’t filled when we needed it the most.”
24 years later, Colleen
continues to selflessly work within her community and nationwide to the benefit
of families and children throughout the country.
The National Impact of John Walsh
We often forget there is a personal story behind many
monumental efforts in this nation and John Walsh is certainly the epitome.
Adam Walsh, age 6, was a little boy whose
disappearance and murder changed the way society looked at missing children.
On the afternoon of July 27, 1981, Adam’s mother took
him shopping at a local mall in Hollywood, Fla. Reve Walsh had wanted to
inquire about the price of a lamp at the Sears department store.
Momentarily, Reve left Adam at an Atari video game
display where several other little boys were taking turns playing on the
display. When Reve returned, she couldn’t find Adam or the other boys and was
told by the store manager that the security guard had asked them all to leave
Adam was paged over the intercom as his mother
searched the store and mall for about an hour. She then called the Hollywood
Police Department at approximately 1:55 p.m. to report Adam missing.
Tragically, on August 10, 1981, a severed head of a
child was found in a drainage canal alongside the Florida Turnpike in Vero
Beach, about 130 miles from Hollywood. It was confirmed it was Adam. His body
has never been found.
Early on, Adam’s parents John and Reve Walsh were
critical of the police investigation which led to John’s anti-crime activism
and the creation of America’s Most Wanted which he is well known for.
Lesser known is his impact on laws and organizations
for missing children. During the 1980s, John and other child advocates lobbied Congress
to pass a law that would protect missing children and educate the public on the
importance of child safety resulting in the Missing Children’s Assistance Act
and the first national clearinghouse of information for missing children.
Headquartered in Arlington, Virginia, NCMEC has
regional office in California, Florida, New York and Texas.
According to NCMEC, in 2018 there were 424,066 entries
of missing children in the FBI National Crime Information Center (NCIC).
35 years later, NCMEC provides support to thousands of
families of missing children each year, missing children’s case management,
provides training to law enforcement agencies throughout the country, and
offers numerous educational programs that fight child exploitation, sex
trafficking, and provides critical information to keep our children safe.
Black & Missing Foundation
Tamika Huston vanished into thin air on or around May
27, 2004, from Spartanburg, S.C. and subsequently found murdered.
Spartanburg was Derrica Wilson’s hometown and she recalls
watching as Tamika’s family struggled to gain any media coverage on a local or
national level while Tamika was missing. A few months later, Natalee Holloway –
a white woman – went missing and dominated news headlines, becoming a household
“It was heartbreaking to see the difference in the
media attention these two cases were getting,” Derrica told Jet Magazine.
Derrica and her sister-in-law Natalie decided to team
up to ensure other families did not face the obscurity that Tamika’s family had
experienced. “We combined our professional backgrounds – mine in law
enforcement and Natalie’s in media – to create an organization that joins the
very important elements in the field of missing persons,” said Derrica.
Founded in 2008, a veteran law enforcement official
and a public relations specialist began channeling their skills for a greater
Eleven years later, Black and Missing
Foundation has become the primary voice for minority missing
providing a platform of hope for the overwhelming number of missing persons of
On the afternoon of January 13, 1996, 9-year-old Amber
Hagerman was last seen riding her bike in a parking lot near her home in
Arlington, Texas. A witness reported seeing a man in a black, flat-bed truck
snatch Amber from her bicycle.
Four days later, Amber’s body was found in a creek
approximately 3.2 miles from her home. Her murder remains unsolved.
Area residents were outraged and began calling radio
and television stations to vent their anger and to also offer suggestions to
prevent such crimes in the future. One resident, Diana Simone suggested
utilizing the Emergency Alert System (EAS) to notify the public when a child
has been abducted so the public could also assist in the search. Simone
followed up with a letter, with her only request to ensure the program would be
dedicated to Amber Hagerman.
The program was eventually taken to NCMEC with a
request to implement a national initiative that would eventually become known
as the AMBER Alert.
What began as a local effort in the area of the Dallas-Fort Worth area has
grown into a seamless system used by every state in the country. Since the
inception of the program in 1996, through December 31, 2018, 956 children have
been safely recovered specifically as a result of an AMBER Alert being issued.
so tragic happens to your child, there is a need to do something of great
value,” as Colleen said. “We are trying to fill the gap that wasn’t filled when
we needed it the most.” Most certainly, the advancements made in the last 35
years are proof the efforts of one person can make a difference.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
(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.
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.
(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)
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?
(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.
(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.
(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.
(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.
(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.”