We do not suffer from the shock of our trauma, but we make out of it just what suits our purposes. Alfred Adler.
I couldn’t imagine anything more distressing than a loved-one going missing. Last year, I remember flicking on the news one evening and there was Tom Meagher pleading for public assistance in finding his wife, Jill Meagher. That scene struck a chord for me and has since been etched in my mind. Meanwhile, the story itself, which came to a devastatingly grisly end with too light a punishment, struck a chord with hundreds of thousands of women across Australia. The fact that the offender is even contemplating appealing his sentence will have many Australians up in arms. As it stands, many have taken to the internet with suggested solutions: tougher parole laws, chemical castration for repeat offenders, life in solitary confinement… 30 years will never be enough to console the Meagher family or the Australian public for their loss.
However, this blog is not about Jill’s story or Tom’s relentless quest to find his beautiful wife – it is designed to assist everyone in our communities, across the globe, in staying safe and knowing what to do if someone we love does go missing.
A missing person is defined as anyone who is reported missing to the police, whose whereabouts is unknown and there are reasonable circumstances to cause serious concerns and/or fears for their safety or welfare.
Each year in Australia an estimated 35,000 people are reported missing according to the Australian Federal Police – that’s one person every 15 minutes. Meanwhile, in the UK approximately 210,000 people are reported missing each year – this includes The Sun’s frightening statistic that a child disappears every three minutes. And throughout the USA in 2012, the National Crime Information Centre recorded 661,593 missing persons, and of these reports: 2,079 remain unsolved.
Thankfully, in most reported incidences of a missing person, the people are quickly located after being reported missing. But with statistics as high as these, it’s important to know what to do if one of your loved ones happens to go missing.
There are many reasons people go missing, but some include anxiety and depression, misadventure, homelessness, dementia, domestic violence, becoming a victim of crime, drugs/alcohol abuse, family dysfunction and conflict and other mental health issues.
This week from Monday, 29 July until Sunday, 4 August it is National Missing Persons Week with a mental health theme, and to promote it, Happiness Weekly is going to look at what you can do if someone you love goes missing.
Step one – keep calm and make some calls
Naturally, your first instinct is going to be to panic. It’s best to conserve your energy for finding your missing loved one. Once you have sufficient reason to believe your loved one is missing, start making contact with people associated with your loved one and ask if they know where the person may be. You may also want to broaden your search without doing it all yourself and ask each person you make contact with to do some calling around. Be sure to keep a record of everyone you speak with (name, time, phone number) because you may be calling back to let them know the person has been found and thank them for their help.
Step two – stay by the phone
Have someone stay by the phone, or if you’re using a mobile – carry it on you at all times – in case someone has an update. Keep the number that the missing person is likely to contact you on available, in case they do try to call – or have call waiting on and ensure you answer it.
Step three – report it
If no one is able to provide much assistance, and you’re feeling suspicious because it is completely out of character for this person, call the police with as much information you have gathered as possible. It doesn’t actually matter how long the person has been missing for. If the person missing is under 18, over 65, suffering from physical or mental illness, depressed – ensure you make mention of this.
How to report it?
When you contact the police, let them know you want to file a missing person’s report.
What information will you need when making a report? a) Basic information about the missing person
– Full name
– Date of birth
– Nicknames, if any
– Current and previous addresses and who else lived there?
– Current and former employers.
b) Physical description of the missing person – Height
– Hair Color/Length of Hair
– Eye color?
– Any Markings – such as tattoos, birthmarks, scars, etc.
– Find the most recent photo of the missing person
c) Habits and personality of missing person – Does the person smoke? If yes, what brand of cigarettes?
– Does the person drink alcohol? If yes, what type?
– Does the person use recreational drugs?
– Does the person chew gum?
– What type of recreation or activities does the person engage in including hobbies?
– Are there novel habits that the person has? For instance, does the person have a place where they always go for coffee?
– Does the person have particular banking habits?
– What type of personality does the person have? Is the person outgoing or quiet? Is the person friendly or depressed?
– What are the values and philosophy of the person?
– Is the person religious?
– Does the person have any emotional problems?
– What level of education or training does the person have?
– Does the person go to any particular areas, bars, taverns or places of interest?
d) Clothing that the missing person was wearing the last time seen – Style and colour of shirt
– Style and colour of pants
– Style and colour of jacket or outerwear
– If applicable, type of headwear
– Type of glasses
– Type of gloves
– Type of footwear
e) Trip plans of the missing person the day they went missing – What were the missing person’s plans and/or activities on the day they went missing?
– Where was he/she going? Why was he/she going there?
– Was the person traveling by car? If so, provide the make and model number, license plate number and registration.
– Does the person have access to any other vehicles or mode of travel?
f) Information about the last time the missing person was seen – The time and location of where he/she was last seen
– The name of the person who last saw the missing person
– The name of the person who last talked at length with the missing person
– The direction the missing person was traveling the last time seen
– The attitude of the missing person the last time seen
– Was the missing person concerned about anything before he/she went missing?
g) Overall health and condition of the missing person – Physical condition
– Any known medical problems
– Is the person suffering from Alzheimer’s disease/dementia/memory loss? If so, are they registered on Safely Home? If they are registered on Safely Home, what is their registration number? Are they wearing a Safely Home identification bracelet or carrying an identification card?
– Any handicaps or disabilities
– Any psychological problems
– Any medications that the person is taking
– Any addictions that the person has
– Provide the name of the missing person’s family physician and their health card number, if possible
– Provide the name of the missing person’s main dentist, if possible
h) Potential people that the person would contact – List all of the people who the missing person may try to contact. Try to include addresses and telephone numbers.
Note: When the missing person’s report has been filed, ask the police for the missing person’s file number. As well, ask for contact information for the investigator in charge of the file.
The Police will likely request that there be one family contact with the police. This simplifies contact between the Police and the family. Police officers will only have to update one person about the investigation. In addition, they will know who to contact when information is needed from the family. Talk with your family and close friends about who will be the family contact. The members of your family may not want to take on this role. If so, you may decide that a close friend should be the contact person.
Step four – retrieve their belongings
Secure the personal belongings and living space of the missing person until the police provide further direction. Below is a list of items of importance.
– Items such as a hairbrush, a toothbrush, or undergarments. Investigators may need to undertake DNA analysis.
– Any electronic equipment such as a cell phone or computer. What is the make of phone and the cell phone provider? Do you know if they were active on a chat line or other social media network such as MSN, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn or Skype?
– Any personal documents such as banking statements and credit card statements as well as all bank card information.
– Any written material such as a journal.
Step five – ask the public for help
Make a poster including the person’s date of birth or age, description, where they were last seen, what they were wearing when last seen, any belongings they may have had on them, any noticeable marks or tattoos, police contact details etc. Don’t forget to include a recent head-and-shoulders photo (no sunglasses or hat, if possible). Place your appeal on as many social media channels as possible (such as Facebook) or post it on appeal websites and distribute posters around the neighbourhood (and particularly the areas they were last seen) asking people to contact the police if they have any further information. Go to the media: radio, newspaper and television!
Step six – be your own private investigator
You need to access as much information as you can. Contact their phone company and request an itemised bill so you can see who they were in contact with, get a bank statement to see if they are still withdrawing money and where, check bus stations, train stations, cruise lines and airports to see if they travelled somewhere. Check security footage, depending on where they went missing.
Step seven – keep a journal To make things more manageable, start a log or journal. Include all information about the missing person’s case in the journal.
Step eight – tell the people that need to know Tell all necessary people about the disappearance of the missing person. This may include the missing person’s employer, their bank, and their doctor. If the missing person is a child you will need to contact the school they are attending. If you need extended leave from work, discuss your options with your employer.
Step nine – help the missing person
You may need legal advice before proceeding with this one but you will need to arrange payments for the missing person’s mortgage or rent and other bills.
Step ten – stay as healthy as possible
In order to be useful in the search for your missing loved one, make sure you look after yourself and remain as healthy as possible. This includes eating, sleeping and exercising on a regular basis. Try not to blame yourself for the disappearance and seek counselling if required.
What NOT to do if a loved one goes missing
* Do not panic
* Do not delay in searching. Time can be of the essence
* Do not keep their disappearance a secret, the more you tell, the more people you have looking on your behalf and speedier the results might be
* Do not tidy up their bedroom until the police have seen it, mess or not
* Do not dust before fingerprints have been taken
* Don’t be put off … you know your own … follow your intuition
* Do not wait – if missing person is vulnerable, notify the police as soon as you think something is wrong
* Do not put your own telephone numbers or address on posters or advertisements, to avoid hoaxes – use the police numbers
* Do not give up, keep appealing and searching. Remember, people want to help. Try and keep the name and photo in the public eye
You should know
– Details of the missing person are kept confidential from the public unless permission has been granted by the family and investigating officers
– If the person goes missing again, they can be reported missing again – it will be treated as an individual report
– When a missing person is located, they must give permission before their whereabouts is released. It is not a crime to go missing. If it is a child, a decision will be determined around the circumstances surrounding the reasons the child went missing
– If an Australian goes missing overseas, the Australian Federal Police and the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade work with agencies in investigating these cases. Australian Red Cross, the Salvation Army and the International Social Service of Australia also work to reunite these people
– Don’t be afraid to follow up with police or people you have called to see if they have any further information and don’t feel guilty if you need to return to work
– Parental abductions are handled by the Family Court of Australia and the Australian Federal Police.
File a police report
File a border report
Hire a private investigator
Supply the police with as much of the following information as possible:
Vehicle (car, make, model, license, VIN)
Public transportation used and typical schedule
Credit cards/debit cards, checking account
Savings, checking accounts and loans
Health condition and state-of-health
Several recent pictures
Shoe Size/Clothing size
What last wearing
What clothing missing
Tattoos (pictures if possible)
Emails, and social media accounts
Make a timeline, last seen, last talked to, last text, last messaged
Regular daily routine
Anything missing or disturbed
Who dating, who broke up with, who turned down
Provide contact information and point of contact
Recall significant events, attitudes, moods, conversations, stressors
When the trash is picked up
When the snow is removed
What has been new in their life
What has changed recently
Enemies, buddies and friends, co-workers and significant acquaintances
Past unsavoury behaviour (drinking, drugs, gambling, abuse, crimes)
Don’t touch anything including:
Kitchen sink and dishes
Get media attention as soon as you can:
Make media kits
Have photographs available
Create press release/media release
Call a news conference
Visit radio stations, TV stations, Cable channels, Newspapers
Hold candlelight vigils
Hold fundraisers to raise funds for search efforts
Know how to get word out:
Post on social media pages
Post on local news blogs
Take out an advertisement in the newspaper
Create a direct mail campaign
Make an email blast campaign
Make a website
Post on missing websites and participate on their blogs
Purchase billboards, bus cards, bus stop posters
Make posters and flyers, distribute to:
— Media outlets
— Area businesses to post
— Area employers to put with paychecks
— Police forces
— Ambulance services
— Food kitchens
— Homeless shelters
— Truck Stops and Trucker pay checks
— Area hospitals
— Area mental hospitals
— Ambulance services
— Sanitation workers
— Newspaper delivery personnel (to add with their paper delivery)
— Rest Stops
— Places with locker and shower facilities
— Temporary employment agencies
— Transportation services (airplane, train, bus, cabs)
— Car rental facilities
— Coffee shops
— Church (bulletins, corkboards, direct distribution through newsletters)
Know how to conduct a thorough search on your own:
Houses, cabins, sheds and favourite spots
Attics, rooftops, locked doors
Nearby railroad tracks
Rivers, streams and lakes
Retrace their last 24 hours
Business owners videos
Places where they could have fallen
Places where they could hide
Contact their employer:
Look in lockers, in their desks, amongst their personal items
When did they last work?
Any problems with co-workers or boss?
When was the last performance review or raise?
Had they been reprimanded for anything lately?
Did they have any enemies?
Talk to their close co-workers
Any recent interoffice affairs?
Did they go on any business trips lately, if so who else went?
Is their desk or locker cleared out?
Make note of their vehicle:
Vehicle description (make, model, VIN, license, year)
Is it missing?
Have GPS traced on vehicle
Can local business area cameras capture its image, and whose inside?
Whose got the keys?
Did you check the trunk?
Look into their mobile phone (from their phone itself or by accessing their phone bills):
Phone every contact
Look at all text
Run GPS on their phone
Run activity report on their phone (incoming/outgoing calls, text and online activity)
Log when last activity took place
Log into their computer and conduct your own computer forensics (at home, at work, etc):
Trace their computer activities for clues to areas of interests?
What did they search?
What sites did they visit?
Look at computer history
Who did they messenger and what were those conversations?
Investigate their email activity, conversations, dating sites, social media activities, posts and messages
Log their blog activity
What sites were they members on and what was their recent activity?
Game site history, conversations and sites
Did they leave a message on their computer desktop?
Did they leave any notable documents in their computer?
Check their bank information regularly:
When was the last bank activity?
Does there still continue to be bank activity? (If so have the banks provide video)
Do they have their credit/debit cards, checks or were they left behind?
Do they have secret accounts outside of those the family is aware?
Were they in debt?
Did they have any unusual payments or withdrawals?
Did they have any unusual deposits?
Did they foreclose or go bankrupt lately?
Are their bills all paid up?
Did they have a gambling debt?
Find out about their financial situation – wills, trusts and insurance:
Did they make a will, trust or financial arrangements lately?
Did they take out a life insurance policy recently?
Did anyone else take out a life insurance policy on them?
Did they leave behind a note in their bedroom, on the computer, in a bible, at their work desk?
Consider their emotional wellbeing:
Were they depressed?
Were they being bullied?
Were they in a recent relationship breakup?
Did they have any family members pass away recently?
Is this a memorable anniversary of any kind?
Did they just lose their job?
Did they lose a lot of money lately?
Were they recently diagnosed with any type of illness or disability?
Were they on any medications? If so, did they take them as prescribed? (i.e., not taking meds as prescribed, or overdosed?)
Were their dosages or brand changed?
Were their medications checked at pharmacy to insure they were correctly filled?
Were they suffering from PTSD?
Do they have a mental condition?
Do they have a medical condition?
Do they have a physical impairment?
Interview the neighbours:
Did they hear anything?
Did they see anything?
Was anything unusual lately?
Did any routines seem to change?
Were there any strange vehicles in the area?
Any strangers knock on doors lately?
When are meters read?
When is snow removed?
When is garbage taken out?
Any disputes with neighbours lately?
When do they recall last seeing person? Doing what?
Did they have any conversations lately? What about?
Search the internet for:
Human remains found
Crimes around time missing in areas likely to be
Other like crimes
Newly released criminals in area
Area offender locations
This year the National Missing Persons Coordination Centre is working in partnership with numerous mental health organisations, to inform the Australia community of the link between mental health and missing persons.
Thank you for reading, and please keep your family and friends safe – don’t forget, if you have any tips, stories or advice to please share them with us below.