What really happens when you file a missing person report?

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missing person report

What really happens when you file a missing person report?

I ran across a post that a social media friend of mine put on Facebook. It a nutshell it stated that if she ever went missing, she wanted a missing person report taken as she would never go missing on purpose.

You might be surprised by that statement. Maybe even think it is unnecessary, but as she is part of the “missing person world,” like I am, she knows that it is not such a crazy idea, in fact it may be the start of a movement, and let me explain why.

Most people are a little naive about what happens when you report someone missing to the police. It is not a bad thing, as it shows that you really have not had something like that touch your life. And because of that, you think that generally when someone goes missing the police will be there in minutes to make a report, send out a search party and notify the media. In reality, that does not happen. Unless, there is obvious evidence of foul play, and I mean obvious like blood or a fire, or the missing person is a child, it may be days before it gets out to the community that your loved one is missing.

What really happens

Let me set up the scenario for you of what does happen when you file a missing person report, as told to me by hundreds of missing families every single year. You call the police to let them know that your “husband” for example, is missing. The police will either tell you it has not been 24 hours and to call back in a few days or you will be told they will probably be back in a few days, and to just wait. Far cry from the all points bulletin you expected.

One case that sticks out in my mind is in San Diego, where Robin Burton was dealing with one of the missing person officers there that was obviously stressed.  You won’t believe what they told Robin, click here to read the story.

So, I asked several people, what are some of the things authorities told you when you first called to tell them your loved one was missing.

 Here are their answers:

“She is an adult and can be missing. Maybe she is with a male friend that she didn’t want me to know about and that I had to wait 24 hours before I could officially report her missing, said Keisha Edwards. “The whole time my baby was already dead. She was murdered on May, 9, 2017.”

“Are you sure they just don’t want to be alone… did you upset them?  Oh, so many other stupid questions that I had to answer…” said Morah Carey Chowning.

“My granddaughter, 15 was missing.  She left for school she never made it to school…The police said since nobody saw her taken there would be no Amber alert.  She was marked as a runaway and they would have to wait 72 hours before they would start looking for her.  I got upset told them she was only 15 and they need to be looking for her.  She was missing for little over 2 months.  She’s back home safe now, thank God,” said Lori White

Sue Middleton had a good experience with her police department but still was told to wait to report:  “Aside from name, age, address, vehicle description they asked… What were the circumstances, when was he last seen or last communication, does he have medical or cognitive concerns, does he have other family or friends in the area, where would he go, what was his mood at the time, any reason to believe he would leave on purpose, they asked if he had a cell phone or other device that could be tracked as well as onstar, credit cards etc- etc. so many questions I don’t think I can remember them all.  I do remember them doing a APB and then telling us they couldn’t do an actual report of missing for 12 hours … i think. Could have been less. They were pretty good, but I think it was because he’s elderly with Alzheimer’s. He was found 24hrs later. Thank God.”

Later Sue posted, “Moore county sheriffs office is great. Not sure of the other departments as he was pulled over twice after all of this and they still let him drive off and 1 time was after he was listed as a missing person. Apparently sometimes they don’t get the info in a timely manner? That was the explanation.”

Cases where a missing person report is not taken at all.

They either call it a well-person check or tell you the person is an adult and have every right to go missing. This is what these families were told when they tried to file a missing person report:

 

“They told me that since the young man was 37 all they could do is a well-neighbor check. They don’t care,” said Martha Kirkpatrick.

“Adults are allowed to come and go as they please. There is not much we can do,” said Patty McMillan.

“Sorry Mrs. Howard but he’s a grown adult, there isn’t anything we can do. 😢😢😢 good luck and hopefully he turns up,” Adina Howard said.

“They said she is an adult and there was not much which could be done if she didn’t want to be found,” said Gigi Bannister.

“I could not file because he was an adult and adults go off and don’t stay in contact sometimes, says the El Paso Police Department,” said Deborah Alston.

A person that asked to remain anonymous stated, “We can’t help you, sorry. Running away is not missing. They have to be gone for 72 hrs before you can file a report.”

When my friend tried to report her son missing they said to her to leave it a while as you know what these young ones are like always losing track of time and forgetting to let you know where they are, and I bet they’ll be back in a week, so wait a while to see what happens,” said Melanie Sheen.

The police told Nita Easterling,  “You must wait 72 hours to report them missing.”

“She has not been missing long enough,” said Sharon Hunter

The police told Patty McMillan, “Adults are allowed to come and go as they please. There is not much we can do.”

“Did she go with her friends?” said Daisyanne Merrie Miller.

Police are telling the public they have to wait to file a missing person report

What is unbelievable to me is the police are telling the public they have to wait before filing a missing person report.  What!!!  There is no waiting period. It was Hollywood years ago that started this myth, in reality there is no such thing, but we have many law enforcement that are telling the public that with different time restraints from 24 hours to 72 hours.

John Lordon of BrainScratchers did an interview with a police officer named Mike about this very subject.  Lordon brought up that he heard that police departments are stating it is a policy to wait on a missing report, but his guest says he knows of no policy were he is at.  He also talks about many examples of what may cause a case to be put to the side, and gives a police officers point of view on this subject.  The video is well worth watching to learn more about this subject that seems to keep coming up.

 

So, I began to think, is it possible that police know there is no law, but are  just stalling because they fully believe the person will be back in a few days?  Evidence points that that is probably what is going on, but what is scary is everyone is getting lumped into one generalized category, so how does the police know for sure they took off on purpose when they are theorizing and not investigating?

But, there is some good news.  Over the years I have been doing this I have seen a definite improvement. In some cities in the US the police are getting 21st century training. They are the first to tell you that the first 24-hours someone goes missing is the most crucial. In some states it is actually illegal to NOT report a child missing.  And there seems to be more of a standardized procedure.  For example, they are taking your report, passing the information to other police officers, making up missing posters, putting it on social media and entering it into the databases.  There are organizing searches and checking cell phone records and pings.  For many police departments the procedure for a missing person has become standardized and the seriousness of the situation comes from the Police Chief on down.

But, then there are still other police departments that are drastically underfunded. The ones that are so under trained they believe the Hollywood myth that you are to wait 24 hours before reporting someone missing. They are so under staffed that the thought of going out and searching for a missing person is an impossibility and they will suggest the family members do it.   Also, they are so under communicated with, they have no guidelines, no instructions on what is required of them when a call for a missing person comes in.

“No one knows how difficult it really is to file a missing person report until a family member or friend goes missing.  It is so bad that thousands of missing have become Jane and John Does, seniors die of exposure before they are found, teens are labeled runaways that are later found murdered, and adults are never looked for and are labeled voluntarily missing.  – Jerrie Dean

Jholie Moussa Case

Just recently In Alexandria, Virginia, Syreeta Steward-Hill came face to face with the reality of reporting a teen missing to the police. Her daughter Jholie Moussa went missing on January 13, 2018. First she was told that Jholie was a runaway. And if that wasn’t enough they told the community she was a runaway, which greatly diminishes help from the public, who have been so conditioned to the word they don’t take a missing teen seriously.

Moussa’s mother told Fox 5 news “the family shared several factors with police that contradicted their public statements that Moussa was a runaway, yet there was not sufficient information to issue an Amber Alert.”

Fox 5 asked the Fairfax County police to comment on how they handled the case and they were confident they had given the case their “proper attention.” They also responded with the standard police response, that they had no information to lead them to believe that their was foul play in this case.  But, yet, Jholie was found deceased under a bush, likely murdered.

“The worst outcome that could possibly happen has happened…” said Steward-Hill.

 

Now think about this

If Steward-Hill and her daughter had been living in Washington.  It may have been a completely different situation.  Looking at the  case of missing Jacob Hilkin, not only has the Snohomish Sheriffs Department immediately taken his missing report, they began investigating his disappearance immediately.  The media stepped in and interviewed Jacob’s mom, and with the police and the media taking Jacob’s disappearance seriously, it is overlapping to the community that is coming out in droves to help search for him.

That right there is a perfect example of why it is so important that the police take a missing person seriously.  It sends a message to everyone that everyone matters, everyone is important and if one of ours goes missing, we are going to be out there trying our best to bring them home.  No one, no mother or father, sister or brother, not one family or friend of the missing should ever be left alone waiting or wondering how to get help finding their beloved family member.  The family of the missing need the police to stand alongside them.  And that cannot happen until every government agency at each state level gives the police the support, permission and expectation to do it.

A big thank you to all that answered my question and participated.  You are not alone, as many share your story and are still searching for their missing loved one.  -JD  

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Jerrie Dean, who is retired from Federal Law Enforcement, is the Founder of Missing Persons of America and Missing Texas Forty.

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