Police have announced that they suspect “no
foul play” in the death of a California man who was reported missing over a
month ago. Alex
Holden, 25, was reported missing on New Year’s Day after he was last seen
the night before. The Sacramento Police Department solicited the public’s help
in finding answers surrounding his disappearance, which was described as
“uncharacteristic” by his family.
Alex is the son of two Missouri Judges. Alex’s father, Judge
Calvin Holden, told the Springfield News-Leader, “He has no history of
disappearing. It’s very unusual. You know he missed work this morning, which is
extremely unusual. He’s very conscientious about his work.” Judge Holden
eventually went on to address the lingering question of whether or not his son
would take his own life, to which he gave a categorical denial, “It’s not him.
He would never do that. He was one of the happiest people you’d ever know.”
Friends and family were struck with confusion because Alex
had shared the location of his mobile device with several individuals with whom
he was close, but his phone went dead sometime earlier in the evening, so no
one was able to ascertain his last known location. He had been in an argument
that evening, and had set off on a walk to another location to sleep. He had
walked the route before, and was familiar with the area. His girlfriend,
Kennedi Perri, indicated that Alex had been drinking before his disappearance.
On Sunday, January 26, 2020, after almost a month since he
was reported missing, a
body found in the America River was identified as Alex Holden. In a tweet
regarding the tragic news, the Sacramento Police Department said, “This is
never the outcome we want from any missing person case. Our hope is that this
may provide some closure for the family.”
Law enforcement is remaining tight-lipped on the subject of a case that has mystified the town of Placerville, California. Eleven-year-old Roman Anthony Lopez was last seen at the family home on Coloma Street, January 11, 2020. Later that same day, the boy’s body was reportedly discovered. In a Facebook post, the Placerville Police Department said that the body was found. They also reported at a press conference that they discovered the body following a search of the area, and were investigating his death as “suspicious.” Little else was disclosed, however, leaving the community with devastating news, but no answers.
The radio silence from law enforcement officials has led the
public and the press asking questions, but maybe none so fervently as Roman’s
biological mother, Rochelle “Shelly” Lopez. Lopez is a military veteran, who
unfortunately developed an addiction to pills following an injury she sustained
while deployed in Iraq. Because of these circumstances, it was his biological
father, Jordan Piper, who was awarded primary custody of Roman. According to
Lopez, Piper had relocated several times over the past few years, and had made
it difficult for Lopez to see her son.
One of the most tragic aspects of the case so far is that Lopez learned of her son’s death through an online news article. Lopez told KOVR, “Why didn’t anybody let me know? Why didn’t they even know I existed? People in that town didn’t even know that I was his mother. There are so many things that are wrong with this situation and don’t add up and don’t make sense.”
There were seven other children in the home where Roman was
last seen. Those children were reportedly moved into protective custody
following the onset of the investigation. A spokesperson for the family told
Oxygen.com, “The Rochelle Lopez family has full confidence in the law
enforcement agencies investigating Roman’s death and know there will be resolve
and closure.” The family has offered no other comment as the family prepared to
travel to California in order to mourn the loss of Roman Lopez.
On January 16, the Placerville Police Department issued a
statement, “We realize that the press and public are looking for answers and
mourning the loss of Roman. The police department has also been affected, and
has been working tirelessly to complete the investigation. The complexity of
the case will require time and patience.” They went on to say that a pathology
report regarding the boy’s cause of death will not be available for about a
Investigating authorities have encouraged anyone with information regarding Roman Lopez’s death to call Detective Luke Gadow at (530) 642-5210, ext. 116.
When a child or a loved one goes missing, immediately life changes as you know it, your entire world seems to fall apart. You feel isolated, confused and desperate and may feel you have nowhere to turn for help and support.
Life becomes an emotional roller coaster for those left behind, leaving you emotionally vulnerable. Feelings of sadness, loss, guilt and anger are normal but leave you feeling emotionally drained.
Longing for direction, most families who have experienced a child or loved one missing say they wished they had a handbook to tell them what to do, what to expect, and how to respond.
(Statement by Colleen Nick, mother of Morgan Nick, missing since June 9, 1995. Photo courtesy of OJJDP.)
The Office of Juvenile Justice & Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP) created a handbook “When Your Child is Missing: A Family Survival Guide” providing direction to parents of missing children. It is an invaluable resource for families. However, since it was created, there have been many advancements in methods to distribute fliers and raise public awareness of missing persons.
With a missing person, it is imperative to gain public attention. Experts agree, every time you share information with the public, it creates the potential to generate that one lead law enforcement needs to bring that person home safe.
Much of the time, creating public awareness is a cooperative effort between the families of the missing person, media, and law enforcement. However, getting each to work cohesively with the other is sometimes difficult and much of the burden of creating social awareness falls on the family.
Social Media’s Role in Finding Missing Persons
Government agencies and police are increasingly using social media to help find missing persons. In fact, New York City Police Department launched a social media campaign to include the public in ongoing investigations, to both find missing persons and catch criminals.
“If a person goes missing, commands make initial notifications on social media. Then, posters are made,” said Zachary Tumin, deputy commissioner for strategic initiatives and leader of the NYPD’s social media efforts. “As that information gets retweeted by police and the public, word spreads very quickly to be on the lookout for that missing person.”
(NYPD actively utilizes Facebook and Twitter to search for missing persons.)
NYPD’s Facebook page currently has “822,054 Likes” with no sign of slowing down.
Prior to social media, distribution of information was always limited by limited geographic outreach, with missing person pages commonly only posted within the community the person went missing.
With social media platforms, it changed the landscape of searching for missing persons. Facebook has 2.37 billion users in 2019, Twitter 126 million daily users, and Instagram over 800 million, making it the ideal place to generate leads for law enforcement.
Mystery and misery linger in a missing person case. Many think the number of missing persons has risen in missing person cases, but experts say it is thanks to social media, not an actual increase in cases. “Missing persons have always been there, of course, but due to social media, the cases are more widespread,” said Ray Wagner, Director of Relations for Crimestoppers.
(Missing in Arizona’s post on Facebook for Elizabeth Breck who vanished from Tucson, Arizona, on January 13, 2019.)
Nothing compares to sharing information using social media platforms. The information posted is immediately available throughout the country, and the world.
Combining Social Media with News Media
Working with local and national media is also a critical component of searching for a missing person as news stories also have the long-time been proven to generate leads.
Here are some guidelines to follow when working with news media when a person is missing:
It is important to always speak to the investigating law enforcement agency prior to doing a news interview so as not to compromise an investigation. It is common for law enforcement to request minimal information about an investigation be shared in a news interview to protect their case, especially if a nonfamily abduction is suspected.
Consider using a public relations firm. Sometimes costly, they do have expertise in constructing press releases and attracting media interest. Try obtaining services pro bono. It doesn’t hurt to ask.
Appoint a family spokesperson, someone capable of speaking publicly and comfortable being in the public eye.
Keeping the media interested requires pulling at “heart strings” so plan on doing interviews on birthdays, anniversary dates, and holidays.
Remember, just because they ask a question, doesn’t mean you have to answer it.
Utilization of Social Media Platforms
Working with law enforcement cannot be over-emphasized. While using social media platforms gives you instant ability to mass communicate, and can be a source of significant support, it can also be a place where you may be scrutinized or asked many questions. Aside from being time consuming, the public has a tendency to ask questions, and it is important for you to only stick with the facts of an investigation without leaking tidbits of information by identifying a perpetrator or details of the investigation.
Utilizing any social network platform can be emotionally taxing, but worth utilizing when a family member is missing, and life may hang in the balance.
There are several social media platforms that can help you widen your search, stay organized and reach various audiences.
Facebook helps raise social awareness, fundraise, organize events and keep your social network apprised of any new developments.
YouTube can help keep news coverage organized and a quick and effective way to post your media on other network platforms, involving people in your efforts.
Twitter can reach very large audiences to include politicians, celebrities and news stations.
Instagram can help with sharing photographs and “behind the scenes” images, while connecting with a younger audience that is very socially aware and involved.
Blogger or any blogging platform, can help by giving you a place to vent your everyday frustrations and emotions while sharing progress with readers.
Setting up Storage
When a love one is missing you can find yourself being asked over and over again for the same information and photographs of your loved one.
It is advisable to use a cloud content storage like Dropbox or Google Documents where you can create different folders or files such as press releases, letters, and high-quality photographs that media and other organizations can use to help raise public awareness. Also, utilizing “content storage” saves time and frustration when trying to email high resolution images.
Dropbox is free and offers up to 2GB of storage and Google Documents is free and offers 15GB of storage (to include emails and attachments).
Appoint a trusted Administrator(s) to help you with the page.
Set up a “Page” in Facebook and choose a name consistent with the purpose such as “FIND BRYCE LASPISA” or “MISSING SARAH GALLOWAY.” Choose something and use both first and last name of the missing person.
Use high-quality photographs when possible and use a picture of the missing person as a profile picture.
Include a brief description of the missing person to include where they were last seen, along with law enforcement’s contact number or hotline.
Communicate clearly and succinctly in all posts.
Post at times the most people are going to see your posts, not in the middle of the night. According to a Buffer study, the best times of post on Facebook is between 1-3 p.m. during the week and on Saturdays, with Thursdays and Fridays having the most engagement.
Post consistently and frequently with “Calls to Action” such as asking people to share your post (and ask their friends to share), or ask they use a photo of the missing person flier as their profile picture for a week.
Always try to stay positive. The tone of your post matters.
Provides updates when possible and post any media interviews or links to television shows that may have profiled the missing person.
Don’t feel obligated to respond to any comment or message.
With social media, comes the potential for negative comments, messages or posts from users. Never feel the need to respond to negative correspondence or comments, just delete or hide negative comments as soon as you can.
Lastly, you can also pay for advertising on Facebook.
Advertising on Facebook
Everyone’s Facebook account comes with the ability to run ads. With Facebook Advertising, you can target specific locations the missing person may be most likely to be in, to include entire cities to just parts of a city. You can also target specific age groups and should be done as quickly as possible if you are able to afford it.
Choose your objective. These four categories can help you in the search for a missing loved one.
Promote your page
Boost your posts
Increase your reach
Raise attendance at your events
Define your audience.
Location. Start with country and state.
Age. Choose an age range. It is advisable to keep this broad to reach people of all ages (18-65+).
Language. Choose English if in the United States.
Define your budget.
Daily: a daily budget is the maximum amount your will spend per day during the timespan of your ad.
Lifetime: a longer-term budget you will spend during the lifetime of the ad.
Create new ad.
Choose your ad format (above).
You get 90 characters of text to concisely share your message.
Use only high-quality images or video.
Use a name like “Have You Seen This Missing Person” or similar.
Recommended image size: 1200 x 628 pixels
Image ratio: 1.91:1
To maximize ad delivery, use an image that contains little or no overlaid text.
Format: .MOV or .MP4 files
Resolution: at least 720p
File size: 2.3 GB max.
Recommended aspect ratio: widescreen (16:9)
Facebook: 60 minutes max.
Most importantly, when using Facebook or any social media platform, check your messages and comments frequently so if someone contacts you with information you can forward it to law enforcement immediately.
Twitter is a great social media platform to reach masses of people. There are more than 500 million Tweets per day on Twitter.
Set up a new account.
Like Facebook, choose a name consistent with the purpose.
Use a photograph of the missing person as a profile picture.
Tweet links to news coverage, interviews, and articles.
Use hash tags such as #Missing #State #Missing Person’s Name
Tweet to local and national media.
Tweet to celebrities, both local and national.
Keep your tweets brief.
Respond when someone tweets to you.
Follow similar pages.
Like Facebook and all social media platforms, it matters when you post on Twitter.
According to American Marketing Association, the best time to post on Twitter is Wednesdays and Fridays at 9 a.m., with most consistent engagement occurring Mon-Friday 8 a.m. – 4 p.m. Other studies have shown Mon-Friday between 12-3 p.m. is the best time. Saturday is the worst day to post and has least engagement.
While building followers and social media presence takes time, there are strategies and techniques you can use to increase your engagement and get more clicks.
Twitter engagement is when someone engages with the content that you post such as favoriting your tweet, retweeting your tweet, responding to your tweet or mentioning you in a separate tweet.
It is also important that you engage with other users’ content with likes, comments and retweets. When you engage with another user’s content, they will be more likely to pay attention to what you are posting too. This works across all social media platforms.
In addition, leverage other feeds and encourage your followers on Facebook and other platforms to follow you on Twitter and visa versa.
Using social network platforms to find missing persons is still relatively new and is no doubt a learning process. One only needs to look at the numbers in order to gauge the success.
It is advisable to follow other families who have missing persons, advocacy agencies, and shows like In Pursuit with John Walsh or Vanished to gain ideas for successful posts and make valuable connections.
Again, try not to be discouraged as you try to grow your social networks and don’t let running the various platforms consume you. Again, it is recommended you share these tasks with other family members or friends that can assist you. Don’t be afraid to ask for help.
As said before, using social media is a learning experience, but rest assured you will get better as you go along. Remember HOPE is the most important thing to hold onto.
(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.
(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.”