Missing Persons: How to Set Up a GoFundMe Campaign

Missing Persons: How to Set Up a GoFundMe Campaign

One type of campaign that is becoming more and more vital is GoFundMe campaigns for missing persons.

The development of crowd-funding platforms such as GoFundMe has elevated an individual’s ability to see their financial goals realized. Whether the goal is retaining support for a passion project, or simply garnering a smaller sum to pull through a financial crisis or emergency, crowd-funding is making it all possible. One type of campaign that is becoming more and more vital is GoFundMe campaigns for missing persons.

When a person is reported missing, law enforcement jumps on the case to follow up on hot leads, interview witnesses, and gather evidence. While these services are obviously a public service, it’s not uncommon for the families of missing persons to also hire a private investigator to conduct a tandem investigation with law enforcement. Private investigators possess a level of autonomy and flexibility that law enforcement does not, and this can further progress on the case. Unless the private investigator agrees to do the investigation pro-bono, the investigation will need funding, and GoFundMe is just one of the many platforms where an investigation can be crowd-funded.

Signing up for GoFundMe is completely free, and setting up a campaign is blessedly easy. Here is a step-by-step guide to setting up a GoFundMe for a missing person.

  1. Choosing an email address
    • We all have that extra email address for spam and other platforms so we don’t clutter up our primary email inbox. However, in the case of a GoFundMe account, it’s always best to use a primary email address. GoFundMe allows you to use the email associated with your Facebook account for easier signup, but it’s imperative that you confirm that you still have access to that email address before you begin.
  2. Creating your campaign
    • After setting up the account, the next step is very simple. Just select ‘start a new campaign.’ GoFundMe allows individual users to have as many as 5 active campaigns running simultaneously.
    • When deciding on campaign goals, it’s important to remain realistic. You want an attainable amount for your specific goal. While the proposed retainer may be different depending on the private investigation firm you plan to hire, $10,000 is always a good starting target sum. GoFundMe allows you to edit the goal of the campaign, increasing or decreasing the goal as needed.
    • Creating a campaign title is crucial, because it is often the first thing potential donors will see when they see the campaign on social media or another promotional platform. It must be 35 characters or less, so every letter counts.
    • You must decide if you’re raising funds as an individual or as a team. In the case of many missing person campaigns, the campaign will be created and managed by between 1-3 members of the missing person’s family. If you are a private investigation firm managing a crowd-funding campaign, you’ll want to select the option to raise funds as a team. Like many aspects of the campaign, these things can be edited after the creation of the campaign.
  3. Adding a photo and a story
    • After you’ve agreed to GoFundMe’s terms and conditions, you’ll need to select a campaign image. In the case of a missing person, just like a poster, you’ll want to use a recent photo of the missing person, preferably smiling, and ideally in the outfit they were wearing when they were last seen. It’s also important that you include the same information you would include on a missing person’s poster, including their full name, physical description, any medical conditions, and the circumstances of their disappearance. GoFundMe denotes effective stories as ones that are incredibly descriptive and straightforward about why you are raising money and how the money will be spent. In the case of missing persons, these aspects are as straightforward as they come. Because of the potential for scams surrounding crowdfunding campaigns of all kinds, you’ll want to be transparent about your relationship to the missing person and the name of the investigating entity where the funds will go. The more personal you make the story, the more likely you are to receive a donation to the campaign.
  4. Sharing the campaign
    • You’ve made the campaign, but it won’t incur donations by just sitting there—you have to share it. Social media is one of the greatest tools available in a missing persons campaign. Of all the social media platforms, Facebook yields one of the highest levels of exposure to social media users. Facebook also has an interface that is designed for sharing contact quickly and easily. Twitter is an excellent platform to get the name of your missing person trending under a hashtag and increase potential donations. Don’t’ forget Instagram, where the missing person’s photo will be prominent.
  5. Continue to share
    • Social media is powerful, but you will only get out of it what you put into it. After the initial creation and sharing of the campaign, it’s important that you make a consistent, repetitive effort to share the campaign on all available platforms.
Police Make Arrest in Missing University of Utah Student Mackenzie Lueck’s Disappearance

Police Make Arrest in Missing University of Utah Student Mackenzie Lueck’s Disappearance

Police Make Arrest in Missing University of Utah Student Mackenzie Lueck's Disappearance
Mackenzie Lueck, 23, has been missing since June 17, 2019, from Salt Lake City, Utah

Mackenzie “Kenzie” Lueck, 23, is a vanished Monday, June 17, 2019, from Salt Lake City, Utah. She last contacted her family during the early hours of June 17, to let them know her plane had arrived. No one has heard from her since. 

During an intensive investigation of Lueck’s disappearance, police made a grisly discovery Friday, June 28.

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On June 28, police announced they arrested Ayoola Ajayi, 31, in the kidnapping and murder of Mackenzie Lueck. Photo courtesy of Deseret News.  

After scouring a digital trail, Salt Lake City police have arrested Ayoola A. Ajayi, 31, in the kidnapping and murder of Lueck after serving search warrants on his home and finding remains and other articles that had been burned in Ajayi’s backyard.

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Mackenzie Lueck vanished after leaving Salt Lake City International Airport on June 17, 2018 after taking a ride from a Lyft driver.                                                          

Last week police released surveillance footage at Salt Lake City International Airport, showing Lueck had deplaned at approximately 2:09 a.m.

It does not appear that Lueck talked to anyone while at the airport. The footage shows she was at the airport for approximately 31 minutes, quickly stopping to pick up her luggage before leaving the jetway and getting into a Lyft rideshare at 2:40 a.m.

Salt Lake City Assistant Police Chief Tim Doubt told reporters that Lueck sent a text to her mother at 2:01 a.m. on June 17, shortly after landing in Salt Lake City. Lueck had been returning from California after visiting family for her grandmother’s funeral whom she was very close to.

From the airport, Lueck did not go home but instead took the Lyft to Hatch Park in North Salt Lake City. The park is nestled between restaurants and apartment complexes with a police department up the street. A hot spot for families and community events, the park is large with two playgrounds, basketball court, baseball diamond, and grassy field.

Lueck arrived at the park at 2:59 a.m., and according to the Lyft driver, a person was there waiting for her in a car.

The Lyft driver told police Lueck did not appear to be in any kind of distress when she was dropped off.

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Police say they are not aware of Mackenzie Lueck having any mental health issues or a history of going off the grid.                                                   

Lueck was a part-time student at the University of Utah in her senior year majoring in kinesiology and pre-nursing, attending the college since 2014.

Since her disappearance, Lueck failed to show up at a laboratory where she is employed, missed her mid-term exam and failed to show up for her return scheduled flight to Los Angeles on June 23. There was also no social media activity raising concern. Despite numerous attempts to reach her, Lueck’s phone had been turned off since she vanished.

Lueck’s cat and car were still at her house.

At the time of her disappearance, Ashley Fine, one of Lueck’s friends told the Salt Lake City Tribune that Lueck was a dedicated student and said missing classes is not something she would ever do.

Police had canvassed the park numerous times to get surveillance video and knock on resident’s doors to inquire if anyone saw anything the evening she vanished.

Police had received several tips that Lueck may have been using dating apps and might have been interested in meeting older men and casually dating.

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KSL TV reported that two comments to a social media post were sent anonymously to a private investigator and subsequently forwarded to a Utah cold cases podcast creator suggesting Lueck may have been seeking a “sugar daddy” type relationship with older men.

“Try Tinder and be blunt about it,” read one comment appearing to have been authored by an account belonging to a Kenzie Lueck.

The next comment reads, “Mine says ‘I want an SD/SB relationship with a real connection’ if don’t know what an SD/SB is, tell them, sugar daddy and sugar baby. But if they don’t know, they aren’t worth your time. Set (your) age preference to 35+. You’ll have the most luck there. Private message me, if you have more questions! I have experience.”

“I have some experience on seeking arrangements, online only, tinder, and currently have two lol,” the timestamp on the message indicates it was made 12 weeks ago.

The dating app noted the profile says the user is seeking a “mutually beneficial” relationship, from California, going to school in Utah and graduating kinesiology in Spring of 2020, along with what appears to be an image of Lueck.

Police have uncovered several other social media accounts including an Instagram account they continue to investigate.

Thomas Lauth, a private investigator based in Indianapolis, Ind., has worked on missing person cases for 25 years and watching the investigation closely. “One of the first things we do as private investigators is to investigate a missing person’s social and personal life,” said Lauth. “The information that can be extracted from social media accounts can be critical information that police can use to potentially move forward with the investigation and solid charges,” Lauth added. “I am sure even after the arrest they are scouring both Lueck’s and Ajayi’s social media accounts to determine how and when Mackenzie and Ajayi met.”

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Salt Lake City Police Chief Mike Brown makes announcement they have found the charred remains of Mackenzie Lueck. Photo courtesy of Fox News.

At a press conference announcing the arrest, Salt Lake City Police Chief Mike Brown said after Lueck disappeared, the suspect originally denied knowing what she looked like but several pictures of her were found on his phone, and the “digital footprint” has continued even after the arrest.

“This is a digital forensic investigation,” Brown said. “This is covering computers, cell phones, IP addresses, URLs and texting apps.”

Investigators also found forensic evidence after searching Ajayi’s home and property police said. As they did, neighbors came forward and told police they saw Ajayi using gasoline to burn something in his backyard on June 17 and 18, Brown said.

“A forensic excavation of the burn area was conducted, which resulted in the finding of several charred items that were consistent with personal items of Mackenzie Lueck,” Brown added.

Police also discovered charred material that was determined to be female tissue consistent with Lueck’s DNA profile. A mattress police were searching for has been located but they did not offer additional details.

After Ajayi’s arrest, Brown contacted Lueck’s parents to give them the news. They were “devastated and heartbroken” by this news Brown Said. “This is one of the most difficult phone calls I’ve ever made,” he said.

According to Ajayi’s LinkedIn profile, he is a former information technology specialist for the US Army and recently worked for Dell and Goldman Sachs. He lived approximately 5 miles from the park where Lueck was last seen.

Brown told reporters they expect to charge Ajayi with aggravated murder, aggravated kidnapping, obstruction of justice and desecration of a body.

How PIs Find Missing Persons

How PIs Find Missing Persons

Private investigators use a wide variety of tools and experience to find missing persons. As of April 30, 2018, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), reported a total of 86,927 missing persons in the United States. Though this number fluctuates month to month, the average number of 87,000 missing persons listed as active missing person cases in the National Crime Information Center at the FBI remains fairly consistent. Access to the NCIC computer database is restricted to use only by law enforcement.

It’s important to know there are different kinds of missing person cases in the NCIC database. The FBI categorizes missing persons into six different categories.

  • Juvenile
  • Endangered
  • Involuntary
  • Disability
  • Catastrophe

Most missing persons are found alive and well. Some may have a history of illness, want to avoid financial responsibilities, or may be simply avoiding family members (for varying reasons). Some may be in jail, a block away from their residence, or even a continent away, having left without notifying friends or family properly. However, there are also disappearances that are considered suspicious or “at risk” when a person may have diminished mental capacity suffering from Alzheimer’s Disease or another mental health condition, and any juvenile runaway or missing child or when foul play is supected. These are referred to as Critical Cases.

When a person goes missing, family members typically report the missing person to a law enforcement agency but commonly begin to also conduct an investigation on their own. Without guidance, this can become an extremely emotional and daunting task.

The Use of Private Investigators in Missing Person Cases

The use of a private investigator during the investigation of the disappearance of a loved one, can be vital to finding them.

Private investigators commonly refer to missing persons as “locates”, and the majority are found fairly quickly. Some may be ecstatic a long-lost family member or friend has found them, while others may be annoyed, they have been located by a creditor, attorney, or someone they perceive as the enemy.

For most locates, a “checklist” is used of in-house resources that include accessing current and detailed data using a Social Security or driver’s license number, along with a date of birth. Detailed information can be obtained by multiple, professional and proprietary databases that licensed private investigators have access to. Social networking profiles and accessing a social circle or people can also be instrumental is missing person investigations. These databases can often provide addresses and even current employment for an individual. If that method does not produce the desired results, a more thorough investigation of the circumstance of the disappearance may be warranted, especially is “foul play” is suspected in the disappearance.

How a private investigator investigates a missing person case varies depending on their skill set and experience with only a handful in the country considered experts in their field.

A private investigator, commonly referred to as a PI or private detective, with expertise in missing person investigations, typically work directly with the family members of the person reported missing. Equally important, if a police agency is involved, a private investigator also works directly with the investigating law enforcement agency to preserve the integrity of the investigation.

Investigations are designed to route out common reasons that may contribute to the disappearance of a loved one, to confirm the facts surrounding the disappearance and make discovery. In the case of potential foul play, these discoveries are designed to discover probable suspects by the mistakes they make, as well as unintentional or intentional clues provided by the victim themselves.

This may involve pounding the pavement and knocking on some doors and important this type of investigation be conducted by a professional.

This may include discovering a person’s habits, hobbies and interests, questioning friends, neighbors or witnesses and even monitoring a “person of interest’s” activities. Of course, all information that is uncovered during an investigation by a professional PI is shared with the investigating law enforcement agency so as not to compromise the case.

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In addition to an old-fashioned Sherlock Holmes investigation, some private investigators may also help raise public awareness of the disappearance of a loved one by providing guidance, assisting with social media efforts and coordinating with victim advocates from nonprofits, such as the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children, and other local advocacy groups for missing persons.

Thomas Lauth, CEO of Lauth Investigations International has been a private investigator for over 25-years and headquartered in Indianapolis, Ind. With expertise in missing person investigations and working with media to raise awareness for missing person cases, Lauth has been featured in national media like USA Today, Essence Magazine, New York Times, and more. In addition to working with local and state police agencies, Lauth has also worked with most federal agencies such as, Interpol, the FBI, Department of Justice and Office for Victims of Crime.

Lauth has worked with hundreds of families of missing persons, while also working cooperatively with police and judicial agencies throughout the country, to include working with the National Center for Missing Adults. With over 40 years combined experience at Lauth Investigations, Lauth and his team specialize in the investigation of complex missing persons investigations of endangered or “at risk” missing children and adults.

“Finding missing persons is often more than just having experience in missing person investigations, it is a cooperative effort between the family, private investigators, advocacy groups, law enforcement and most importantly, the media,” says Lauth. “In the more difficult cases, it sometimes becomes imperative to reach out to the public because each time you generate the public interest and awareness, you increase the potential of generating that one lead needed to recover the missing person.”

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.

First 72: A Missing Person Investigator’s Race Against Time

First 72: A Missing Person Investigator’s Race Against Time

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If you watch a lot of crime dramas, either on television or on the silver screen, you might have heard a law enforcement character say something to the effect of, “You must wait 24 hours before reporting a person missing.” It surprises many Americans that this is a myth perpetuated by mainstream media to cover narrative plot-holes. In fact, waiting even a few hours can compromise a missing persons investigation, as the first 72 hours are the most important when investigators begin searching for a missing person.

Close your eyes and try to remember what you had for breakfast three days ago. If you have a repetitive routine, this might be easy for you. Unfortunately, when it comes to interviewing witnesses, investigators just aren’t that lucky. Dr. Bryanna Fox recently told ABC news, in an interview regarding the importance of time in any investigation, “The information that law enforcement gets tends to be a little more accurate, and they are able to act on the information and hopefully get that person who is missing quicker.” The passage of time is one of investigators’ greatest obstacles when it comes to missing person cases. Not only does time hinder a witness’s memory, but evidence is also lost and cannot be properly secured. Leads go cold as time is lost, and the trail slips through investigators fingers.

Those who report a person missing will be one of law enforcement’s greatest assets as a person closest to them, but the pool of human resources doesn’t end with their friends and family. As those close to the missing person begin to fill law enforcement in on their routine, investigators take that information and use it to piece together their movements in the hours before they disappeared. They interview members of the public who are affiliated with the person’s routine, such as their neighbors, coworkers, employees of the grocery store they frequent, hair stylists, mechanics, etc. Locating these witnesses as soon as possible is paramount to providing accurate accounts of what they saw, heard, or noticed during this crucial time frame. It’s important investigators retrace the missing person’s steps as soon as possible in order to gather any physical evidence that might lead to their whereabouts. Take a familiar scenario, for instance: A young woman leaving her job late at night is attacked and abducted between the business and her vehicle. The vicinity of this abduction is the initial crime scene. Time (and weather, if outdoors) can erode evidence of a struggle. Scientific methods and investigation procedures become less effective when technicians are unable to observe the crime scene in the same condition at the time of the abduction. Another common issue with the passage of time is securing video footage. Surveillance technology has become so ubiquitous in the United States many investigators, especially those in large municipalities may be able to track a perpetrator’s movements street to street, creating a partial road map to the missing person’s whereabouts. However, depending on the quality of this surveillance equipment, these devices may automatically recycle valuable footage before it can be preserved by investigators, thereby resulting in a dead end.

It’s not uncommon for a person to go missing on their own terms. Perhaps they want a fresh start, or they’re running from law enforcement. Adults are free to disappear, if that’s what they wish, but loved ones should still remain concerned. The first 72 hours of a missing person investigation can be the difference between life and death, as the missing person might be in danger. When law enforcement believe a missing person might not have vanished of their own accord, they classify the person as “missing endangered.” This classification is often reserved for minors under 18, or senior citizens over 65, but definitions vary from state to state.  In Indiana, endangered missing persons bulletins are often accompanied by a Silver Alert, which applies to senior citizens and adults who might be imminently harmed. Indiana recently began issuing Silver Alerts when children are reported missing as well to instantly distinguish the circumstances of their disappearance. For instance, a child who is abducted by a custodial parent or family member are often not in immediate danger, qualifying them for an Amber Alert. When there is evidence to the contrary, however, law enforcement in Indiana can issue a Silver Alert to classify the child as endangered missing. Dr. Michelle Jeanis, a criminology professor at the University of Louisiana, describes a horrifying reality that sends fretful parents into a tailspin. In the rare case of a stranger abduction, children are killed only a short time after they’ve been taken. Senior citizens and adults who may have disabilities, mental illnesses, or who are otherwise unable to take care of themselves are also at high risk. Consequently, time is of the essence when it comes to reporting these individuals missing so investigators can jump on their trail to ensure they are reunited with their families safe and sound.

Kierra ColesSocial media platforms and mainstream media coverage are two of the greatest assets for investigators working on a missing persons case. In tandem with their efforts to follow the trail, the media can publish press releases with the missing person’s picture, identifying information, and the circumstances of their disappearance. As smart devices continue to climb in ubiquity, this means members of the public can have all this crucial info in their hands in seconds. A woman having her hair set in a stylist’s chair may check her social media timeline to see an alert from local law enforcement about a runaway teenager they recognize from the bus stop on their commute. She can alert authorities so investigators can immediately follow that lead. This increases the chances the teen may be found safe and returned to their family. By the same token, members of the public may recognize composite sketches of abductors or other persons of interest.

Regardless of the circumstances surrounding a person’s disappearance, time is of the essence when it comes to an investigation. When reporting a friend or loved one missing, it’s important you are armed with all possible information for investigators. Deductive reasoning will allow them to shape viable leads to follow in pursuit of their trail. Any knowledge about their personal relationships, routine, and habits will prove more useful than expected. This information allows investigators to make the most of that crucial first 72 hours, increasing the chances the missing person will be found safe and reunited with their loved ones.