You receive a phone call and hear the voice of someone you don’t recognize. They tell you they have your child and will kill them unless you pay a ransom – they direct you not to call police or you will never see your child again.
What would you do?
You tell the person on the other end of the phone not to hang up. You don’t want to disconnect with the one person that can reunite you with your child. You plead for your child’s safe return. “Please don’t hurt her. I will do whatever you want,” you say. And, you would!
They demand you go to the bank and wire a ransom of several thousand dollars. Do you call the police? Do you pay the ransom and hope the thug will return your child to you safe?
A child going missing is every parent’s worst nightmare, and for those who do have a missing child – living with such ambiguity is said to be the most traumatic of human experiences.
Sounds like a situation that only happens in the movies, right? Or, something that only happens to the wealthiest people in society.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) has declared virtual kidnapping a violent crime and issuing warnings to parents that scammers are targeting parents and demanding a ransom in exchange for the safe return of children they kidnapped . . . well, virtually kidnapped. Police throughout the country are following suit, issuing warnings in their communities.
Police throughout the country are following suit, issuing warnings in their communities.
What is a Virtual Kidnapping?
A virtual kidnapping scam is an attempt to dupe victims into paying a quick ransom. The virtual aspect of the scam involves staging a scene on the phone to convince a person that a loved one has been kidnapped, following with a demand for ransom.
According to the FBI, “The success of any type of virtual kidnapping scheme depends on speed and fear. Criminals know they only have a short time to exact a ransom before victims unravel the scam or authorities become involved.”
Typically, the scam is executed by calling a victim claiming they have kidnapped a loved one, then demand a ransom in exchange for the loved one’s safe return.
Valerie Sobel is one such person who did receive a call from a person who said, “We have your daughter’s finger. Pay up or you’ll get the rest of her body in a body bag.”
Petrified, Sobel rushed to a money transfer location to pay the ransom, wiring $4,000 to the person who claimed to have kidnapped her daughter.
Valerie made many frantic phone calls to her daughter’s cell phone and after many hours had passed, her daughter Simone called her back totally confused but safe.
Basically, scammers call random numbers hoping to find a person who they can convince, while other times these scammers research Facebook and other social media platforms for names and numbers. If a scammer calls 100 people, chances are at least one will instantly pay.
Another way it may go down is a scammer calls you and you hear a child crying, “Mom, please help me.” Panic immediately sets in. You think it is your child. Then a man’s voice comes on the phone and calls you by your first name. This legitimizes the caller and you immediately ask them to just tell you what they want. What mother would not empty her bank account in exchange for her child’s safety.
If you don’t think you could become a victim, please read on.
Virtually Kidnapped Daughter
According to the Washington Post, Wendy Mueller lives in historic Leesburg, Va., and never thought she would become a victim of a virtual kidnapping scam.
One afternoon, while standing at her kitchen sink, she received a call from a number she did not recognize but answered.
She heard screaming and it sounded like her 23-year old daughter’s voice begging for help.
Then a man’s voice tells her, “we have your daughter.”
The caller told Mueller to put her phone on speaker, get her purse and phone charger and get into the car.
The man asked, “How much cash can you get right now?”
$10,000,” Mueller replied.
The man told her not to contact anyone for help or they would kill her daughter.
Mueller’s daughter attends college hundreds of miles away and she had no way of knowing her daughter was safe.
“They told me they were actually targeting someone else, someone they would be able to get a lot of money for. But they said my daughter intervened when they tried to grab him. And that sounded exactly like something she would do,” Mueller said.
“I was terrified,” Mueller continued. “They told me they wouldn’t hesitate to kill her.”
The caller had told Mueller he had hacked her phone and knew every move she was making. For hours, he told her to go to small stores and offices across Northern Virginia, where she wired the max amount of usually $1,900 each time to names and addresses in Mexico that the caller had given Mueller.
Mueller cross-crossed the state following his directions and making payments, until nightfall came.
Mueller had kept asking to speak to her daughter.
“They kept promising me: ‘As soon as you send the last one, you will talk to her,’” Mueller said.
The caller told Mueller he was a professional and part of a group of kidnappers – a huge organization – who do this all the time and kill.
The man told Mueller they had placed a set of headphones on her daughter so she could hear everything, so her daughter would know if her mother did anything to cause her death.
Mueller thought of stopping passersby but didn’t want to chance the kidnapper knowing.
“It was torture,” Mueller said.
As it turned out, her daughter was in class, safe and sound. Mueller had been scammed.
No one is immune
Thousands of families throughout the country have become targets of these malicious scammers.
According to FBI kidnapping expert, Agent Eric Arbuthnot, several organizations use these scams regularly to make money.
“Thousands of dollars in ransom,” said Arbuthnot. “And you’re talking about a criminal organization that is capable of doing more than one kidnapping at a time.”
According to Arbuthnot many of the cases have been happening on the West coast and along the border involving criminal organizations from Mexico, some claiming to be members of the cartel.
The FBI has seen recent increases in California, Nevada, New York, and Texas and increasing on the east coast.
Monroe Police Department in Connecticut said by using social media, scammers can identify a victim, look up relatives, and reference names of family members and friends to make the call appear legitimate.
FBI Supervisory Agent Christopher Johnson said his office in St. Louis, Missouri, deals with these types of crimes. “Scammers will often mention specific facts about the parent or victim, likely from information they were able to obtain online.”
Authorities say about one in five kidnapping cases are successful resulting in the criminal getting their ransom and not getting caught. While extortion has been around for decades, virtual ransom kidnapping calls are increasing around the country.
With this emerging scam, the FBI has launched a nationwide campaign to warn parents to fight back against “virtual kidnapping.”
If you receive a virtual kidnapping ransom call
Unlike traditional kidnapping schemes, a “virtual kidnapper” has not actually kidnapped anyone. According to Federal Bureau of Investigation, if you receive a call from an individual demanding a ransom for the safe return of a kidnap victim, it is suggested you quickly evaluate the following to determine if you are receiving a legitimate ransom call:
- Caller insists you stay on the phone.
- Call does not come from your child’s cell phone.
- Caller tries to stop you from contacting the kidnap victim.
- Call includes demand for ransom to be paid via wire transfer.
- Ransom amounts may decrease quickly.
Knowing what to do
Police say it is best to hang up the phone but:
- If you engage the caller, don’t call out your loved one’s name.
- Deliberately try to slow the situation down and ask to speak to your child directly.
- Ask “proof of life” questions like, “How do I know my loved one is okay?”
- To gain confirmation if your child is an actual kidnapping victim, ask questions only your child would know such as the name of a pet.
- Listen very closely to the voice of the person speaking, if possible record the call.
- If possible, have someone else try to call your child’s cell phone, school, by text, social media, etc., to confirm their safety.
- To buy time, repeat the caller’s request and tell them you are writing down the demand, or tell the caller you need time to make arrangements.
- Don’t agree to pay a ransom, by wire or in person.
- Don’t deliver money in person.
- Immediately call your local FBI office and police.
According to the National Crime Information Center (NCIC), as of March 31, 2017, there were 86,618 active missing person cases in the FBI database, with 8, 792 entered as involuntary.
Experts agree that an actual kidnapping with a ransom demand is quite rare but all experts urge parents to be vigilant.
To read the FBI warning, please click here.
How easy would it be to kidnap a child in a crowded place? Maybe the park, walking home from school or even sleeping in their own bedroom. Over again, we see parents of missing children making pleas for the safe return of their children on the news. We see the Amber Alerts and Facebook posts and immediately picture our own children’s faces, thinking “What if it happened to me?” A common reaction to something so traumatic.
A young child becoming the victim of a predator is every parent’s worst nightmare, but the fact is, it is happening every day to parents throughout the country and our own fears do not wane just because our children are getting older.
I am a parent of four grown children and a mother who has worked in the field of missing persons for over 25 years. Every day I interacted with parents who were desperately searching for their missing child. Their pain unimaginable. Very quickly I realized the crime of abduction does not discriminate based upon a child’s age.
Commonly, we think of small children when we hear the word kidnapping and we think as our children age, they are safer, but the fact is, they can become even more vulnerable as they approach adulthood.
While teenagers are venturing out, without the protective eye of a parent, there is even more chance they can cross paths with a potential kidnapper. It is our responsibility as parents to guide our children throughout their lives and hopefully provide them with some tools that will keep them safe.
According to the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children (NCMEC), approximately 800,000 children are reported missing each year in the United States. That number accounts for nearly 2,000 per day.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) estimates a relatively small number, approximately 115 of those missing children are abducted by strangers and listed as an “involuntary” abduction in the national database of missing children. However, this number does not account for children (to include teens), who are listed in the FBI National Crime Information Center (NCIC) in various categories such as “Endangered Missing,” “Runaways” or “Other.” Many of these disappearances are considered “long-term” with more than a year having passed with no resolution or explanation as to how or why the child disappeared. The fact is, we just don’t know, therefor accurate statistics impossible.
One thing we all can do as parents is prepare our children. Much of the following information and tools have proven to save lives.
- Communicate with your children
Predators do not look like the “Boogieman.” Strangers look like everyone else. Children need to understand that everyone is a stranger, even women and seniors. It is not about being unsociable, explaining this is about being cautious.
- Agree to a code word
Strangers have no business asking a child for directions or a lost pet. Many times, a predator will try to coerce a child into coming with them voluntarily without causing a scene by telling them they were sent by their parents to pick the child up. Agree to a simple “code word” like “Giraffe” or “Cheetos” that your child can remember and tell them to only trust an adult who knows the code word.
- Walking Away
Children should be taught to trust their instincts and walk away if a stranger approaches them. Though not all people are dangerous, it is always more important to be safe than being polite.
- Don’t put your child’s name on personal items
Children will tend to trust others who know their name. Never put your child’s name on personal items such as clothing or backpacks.
- Just scream
If approached, children should be taught to scream and run. Reassure your child the likelihood of being approached by a stranger is minimal but should it happen, to scream “This is not my dad” or “Fire” while running away.
The stakes are high when a child becomes the target of a predator. It really is a matter of life or death. According to the FBI, statistically when a child is abducted by a stranger, the likelihood of recovering them alive diminishes with each hour that passes.
When a predator has targeted its prey, survival depends upon fighting back. For example, if approached with a knife or gun and told to get in a car, statistically the child or teen have more of a chance surviving if they fight back at the initial crime scene. Survival rates drop when a child is transported to a second crime scene.
As children get older and spend more time away from parents, it is important to communicate openly with them. They need to know the dangers and reality of abduction without feeling fear which can be paralyzing.
- Not alone
Children should never answer the door when home alone or answer the phone and tell the caller their parent is not home.
- No compromises
Use the “Buddy System” and teens should always inform their parents where they are going and with who. No compromises.
- No shortcuts
Children should avoid shortcuts through empty parks, fields, and alleys. It is better to always remain in a well populated area to be safe.
- Life-saving technology
Use a GPS on their phone. There are free Apps such as Life 360. The App can be loaded on both the child’s phone and the parent’s phone and track location. Personally, my children are all grown with their own families now but my daughter and I both use Life 360 to keep tabs on each other. Though teens may demand their space, their safety trumps the right to privacy.
Remember, promote a home atmosphere that is open so kids can let you know what is going on in their lives. It is important to help them to have an understanding and confidence you want the best for them. Thomas Lauth has been in the private investigation industry for over 30 years, and in the cases of missing children, he stresses the importance of communication between parent and child, “We often get calls for missing children and teens. Once located and reunited with their families, we often educate parents or caregivers on tenets that would prevent this from occurring again. Regardless of circumstances, the most important thing is communication. Not only open and honest communication between parent and child, but communication safety concerning things like social media. In a world where young people are glued to their devices, it’s paramount that they remember to have awareness of their surroundings. Communicate, Educate, Communicate.”
Teaching children techniques to avoid an abduction
The window of opportunity to save oneself from danger might be seconds and children need to feel confident enough to make a split-second decision. In addition to coercion, abductors use intimidation. There are some techniques you can practice at home to build their self-confidence should they ever be face to face with a kidnapper.
- Practice yelling “Stop, Stranger” or “Fire” to draw attention and yell as loud as they can.
- Practice the Windmill technique which means rotating arms in a big circle so a potential attacker can’t get a good grip.
- Practice the Velcro technique by having your child grab and hold onto something, not letting go. They should also learn to scream while doing this.
If a child is abducted and somehow placed in a vehicle, they should know they need to take any opportunity they can to escape while trying to keep a cool head.
- Children should be taught not to be passive but proactive.
- Try to open the passenger side door quickly or jump in the back seat and try to escape through the rear doors.
- If placed in a trunk, they should be taught not to panic but to look for the “release” that opens the trunk upon pulling on it. Tear all the wires to the tail lights and brakes if possible.
I know this is a very serious and scary topic and just the thought of having to explain to an innocent child that some people are out to hurt them is incredibly uncomfortable, but when teaching others about fire safety, Benjamin Franklin said, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” It applies throughout life.
Kym Pasqualini is the founder of the Nation’s Missing Children Organization and the National Center for Missing Adults and worked with law enforcement and families of missing persons for over 25 years. Kym continues to work with media nationwide to raise awareness of missing children and adults.
50 Missing Person Facts
1. Approximately 2,300 children are reported missing each day in the United States, that one child
every 40 seconds.
2. Nearly 800,000 people are reported missing every year in the United States.
3. May 25 th is National Missing Children’s Day.
4. In 1983 National Missing Children’s Day was proclaimed by President Ronald Reagan and
commemorates the disappearance of Etan Patz who vanished in 1979.
5. After the abduction and murder of their son Adam, John and Reve’ Walsh helped create the
National Center for Missing & Exploited Children (NCMEC) in 1984.
6. NCMEC’s Cyber Tipline began receiving reports in 1998.
7. The NCMEC Cyber Tipline has received 41 million reports since its inception.
8. Unfortunately, many children and adults are never reported missing making no reliable way to
determine the true number of missing persons in the country.
9. There is no federal mandate that requires law enforcement to wait 24 hours before accepting a
report of a missing person.
10. Missing Children Act of 1982 authorized the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) to enter and
maintain relevant information about missing children in the National Crime Information Center
11. In May of 2018, there were over 89,000 active missing person cases in the National Crime
Information Center at the FBI.
12. When a child is reported missing federal law requires law enforcement authorities to
immediately take a report and enter the missing child’s information into NCIC.
13. On Christmas Eve 1945, the Sodder family home was engulfed in flames. George Sodder, his wife
Jennie and four of the nine Sodder children escaped. The bodies of the other four children have
never been found.
14. Since 1984, the NCMEC’s National Hotline has received more than 4.8 million calls.
15. According to the FBI in 2017, there were 464,324 NCIC entries for missing children.
16. NCMEC has facilitated the training of more than 356,000 law enforcement, criminal justice,
juvenile justice, and healthcare professionals.
17. Of nearly 25,000 runaways reported to NCMEC in 2017, one in seven are victims of sex
18. In 2000, President William Clinton signed Kristen’s Law creating the first national clearinghouse
for missing adults; the National Center for Missing Adults (NCMA) was founded by Kym L.
19. Kristen’s Law, signed in 2000 by President William Clinton was named after North Carolina
resident Kristen Modafferi who vanished in 1997 while in San Francisco in a summer college
20. The AMBER Alert was created 1996 after the disappearance and murder of 9-year old Amber
Hagerman from Arlington, Texas.
21. The Silver Alert is a public notification system to broadcast information about individuals with
Alzheimer’s disease, dementia, or other mental disabilities.
22. There are 17,985 police agencies in the United States.
23. On average, over 83,000 people are missing at any given time to include approximately 50,000
missing adults and 30,000 missing children.
24. The first 12-24 hour the most critical in a missing person investigation.
25. For children the first 3 hour are especially critical as 76% of children abducted by strangers are
killed within that time-frame.
26. Most missing children are abducted by family members which does not ensure their safety.
27. As of May 31, 2018, there were 8,709 unidentified persons in the NCIC system.
28. The AMBER Alert is credited with safely recovering 868 missing children between 1997 and 2017.
29. The most famous missing child case is the 1932 kidnapping of 20-month old Charles Lindbergh Jr.,
abducted from his second-story nursery in Hopewell, New Jersey.
30. Charles Lindbergh’s mother released a statement detailing her son’s daily diet to newspapers in
hope the kidnappers would feed him properly.
31. From his prison cell, Al Capone offered a $10,000 reward for information leading to the capture
of the kidnapper of Charles Lindbergh.
32. Laci Peterson was eight months pregnant with her first child when she was reported missing by
her husband Scott Peterson on December 24, 2002. In a highly publicized case, Scott Peterson
was convicted of first-degree murder of Laci and their unborn baby.
33. The FBI Combined DNA Index System (CODIS) was authorized in 1994 and cross-references
missing person DNA, familial missing person DNA and the DNA of unidentified persons.
34. NCMEC forensic artists have age-progressed more than 6,000 images of long-term missing
35. NCMEC has created more than 530 facial reconstructions for unidentified deceased unidentified
36. In the mid-1980’s milk carton with photographs of missing children were first used to help find
37. Those who suffer from mental disorders, minorities, and those who live high-risk lifestyles
engaging in substance abuse and/or prostitution are less likely to receive media attention than
other case of missing persons.
38. According to the NCIC, there were 353,243 women reported missing during 2010.
39. According to NCIC, there were 337,660 men were reported missing during 2010.
40. Of reports entered into NCIC during 2010, there were 532,000 under the age of eighteen.
41. In 1999, a NASCAR program called Racing for the Missing was created by driver Darrell LaMoure
in partnership with the founder of the Nation’s Missing Children Organization.
42. If a person has been missing for 7-years, they can be legally declared deceased.
43. Jaycee Dugard was 11-years old when she was abducted by a stranger on June 10, 1991. Dugard
was located 18 years later in 2009 kept concealed in tents behind Phillip Garrido’s residence.
Garrido fathered two of Dugard’s children and was sentenced to 431 years to life for the
kidnapping and rape of Dugard.
44. All 50 states to include the District of Columbia, U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico have AMBER
plans in place to help find missing children.
45. By definition, a “missing person” is someone who has vanished and whose welfare is not known;
and their disappearance may or may not be voluntary.
46. There are 6 categories in NCIC for missing persons to include Juvenile, Endangered, Involuntary,
Disability, Catastrophe and Other.
47. About 15% of overall disappearances are deemed involuntary by the FBI, designating urgent
48. The earliest known missing child case was of Virginia Dare who was the first baby born in the
New World. After her birth, her grandfather left for England and when he returned 3 years later,
Virginia and all the settlers were gone. One clue left was the word “Croatan” carved into a
49. In 1996, a family of German tourists visited Death Valley National Park in California, referred to as
the Death Valley Germans. In 2009, searchers located the remains of four individuals confirmed
to be that of the family.
50. Jimmy Hoffa was an American Labor Union leader and president of the International
Brotherhood of Teamsters who vanished in July 1975, and one of the most notorious missing
persons cases in United States history.
According to the National Crime Information Center (NCIC) at the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), there are 86,927 active missing person cases as of April 30, 2018. These cases include juvenile disappearances, endangered missing, involuntary or “non-family” abductions, those with disabilities, catastrophe victims and those entered into NCIC as “other.”
When a person we love goes missing, a time of great emotional turmoil and intense ambiguity follows. Dr. Pauline Boss said decades ago, having a loved one go missing is one of the most traumatic of human experiences.
Not only are families trying to manage the trauma of “not knowing” where their loved one is, they must quickly learn to maneuver the legal system. When do you report a loved one missing? What happens when police get involved? What can you do to help find a missing person? These are just a few of the questions a family of a missing person is facing.
Unfortunately, there is no handbook to fully educate someone as to what do to and how to emotionally handle the initial shock or help maintain the energy needed to find a loved one who has mysteriously vanished. However, there are many things you can do to help find a missing loved one and help reduce stress for family members.
There are various contributors to cause a person to go missing. A family member may suffer from Alzheimer’s or mental illness, they may be a victim of domestic violence, live a “high risk” lifestyle, even be a victim of a vehicular accident. There are also disappearances that cannot be immediately explained.
The key to increasing the chances of finding a missing person safe is acting fast and initiating a search effort as soon as possible. From making the initial missing person report and engaging the public to hiring a private investigator, there is much to expedite finding a missing loved one.
1. Contact Authorities
Making a police report is the first and most vital step in initiating a search for a missing person. Filing a police report ensures local law enforcement is alerted to the disappearance and can assess the situation to determine if the person may be in danger and if an investigation needs to be conducted.
When a child goes missing, law enforcement is required by federal mandate to take the report immediately and enter the child’s information into the National Crime Information Center at the FBI. However, when an adult goes missing, law enforcement is not required to take an immediate report or enter the person into NCIC and may cite a 24-48 hour waiting period as policy. There is no federal mandate requiring law enforcement to wait to take a report. It helps to be calm while insisting they take a report.
Though many law enforcement agencies will take an immediate report, it is recommended to inform officers of anything to classify the person as endangered such as needing medications for a medical condition, suffering from mental illness, being a danger to themselves or others, a domestic violence situation, any threats the person may have received, a situation where it is out of normal behavior to vanish for any length of time. For example, if a mother regularly picks up her child at daycare and fails to arrive to pick their child up, this would be considered out of the behavioral norm.
Be prepared to provide authorities with the missing person’s descriptive information, a current photograph, a list of places the person frequents, list of friends and family, description of the missing person’s vehicle, a list of possessions missing or left behind, etc.
Once a report has been filed, be sure to keep a copy. Also request the NCIC number (this reflects the person has been entered into the national FBI database and available nationwide to all law enforcement, medical examiners, and Coroners).
Regardless of the circumstance of the disappearance, making a police report is beneficial.
2. Keep a Log
Keeping a log with the full names and contact information of all people you talk to is important in maintaining good communication with everyone involved in the search for the missing person and staying organized.
It is easy to feel overwhelmed when making numerous phone calls, sending emails, etc. Keeping a log is a simple but important way to stay organized and maintain effectiveness, in addition to reducing stress.
3. Contact Family, Friends and Coworkers
Many times, a simple lack of communication can occur, and a missing person can be found by contacting family, friends, and coworkers.
Even after making a missing person report to police, be sure to reach out to others to find out if they have seen the individual or told where the person may be going. Life can become busy and simple miscommunication can contribute to a person being out of touch for extended periods of time. Cover all your bases by calling or texting friends to find out if they have heard from the missing person.
4. Social Networks
Social networks like Facebook can be integral to the search for a missing person from the moment the person is missing to an ongoing search if necessary.
Look at the missing person’s social media pages for their last posts, any information about their plans and even state of mind. Look to see if they received any harassing or strange communications from others.
Contact Facebook friends and ask if they have heard from or seen the missing person. It is important to provide any pertinent information you receive from others to the investigating law enforcement agency.
Also, Facebook and Instagram are the perfect places to obtain current photographs of the missing person to be provided to law enforcement and to make fliers.
5. Contact Jails, Homeless Shelters, Hospitals and Morgues
It is important to remain cognizant of law enforcement’s limitations when searching for a missing person, especially adults as they have a right to go missing if they so choose.
As difficult as it can be, it is necessary to contact hospitals and morgues to see if the individual is injured in the hospital or unidentified in a morgue. This can be a very difficult task and you may want to ask a friend or family member to help make the calls.
6. Register the Missing Person with Organizations Offering Resources
If you are searching for a missing child, call the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children (NCMEC) as soon as possible. NCMEC specializes in providing services for families and children who are missing. NCMEC can be reached at 1-800-THE-LOST (800-843-5678).
For families searching for someone with mental illness, the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) provides resources for families. Their website also offers many resources.
Contact the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System (NAMUS) at www.findthemissing.org or www.namus.org. NAMUS is a powerful resource where information about missing persons is entered by family members of missing persons, the criminal justice community, law enforcement, and medical examiners and is publicly accessible.
7. Make a One-Page Flyer
Make a one-page flyer of the missing person. The flyer should contain the following:
- Preferably two current photographs of the missing person
- Full name
- Height, Weight, Age
- Photo of vehicle and license plate
- Place last seen
- Phone number of investigating law enforcement
*NOTE: It is recommended you never place your own phone number or contact information on a missing person flyer. First, it is very important calls are handled by a professional so as not to compromise an investigation. Second, many times families will receive cruel, harassing, and misleading calls from the public and it is very important to protect yourself and your family by buffering these calls.
Engage the public by asking community store owners to hang signs in their place of businesses. Place one at your local post office and anywhere you can legally hang a public notice.
8. Create a Website and Social Media Page
Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest and other social network sites can be instrumental when searching for a missing loved one, especially if they are not found immediately. With any missing person case, it is important to maintain awareness and keep the public engaged in the search.
- Create a site with an engaging name like “Find Jane Doe” or “Missing Jane Smith”. This will help bring your page up in Google and related search results.
- Post recent pictures and include specific descriptive information to include the clothing they were last wearing, jewelry, glasses, tattoos, scars, etc.
- Upload a PDF version of the flier so others can share and download to post in their communities.
- If your loved one has a mental illness, you may want to simply say the person is “endangered” due to a medical condition or vulnerable and needs medications.
- Add links to any news stories.
- Upload a video and make a personal public appeal.
- Make sure to provide the investigating law enforcement agency’s number and encourage people to call them directly with information and leads.
9. Alert your Local Newspapers and Media
Getting local media to assist can sometimes be difficult. News stations are not likely to cover a missing person story unless it comes from law enforcement. It is much easier if law enforcement puts out a press release indicating a person is in danger. Speak to the detectives and ask if they will issue a press release.
10. Hiring a Private Investigator
When is it time to hire a private investigator? There is no easy answer, but it is encouraged to consult with one early on, especially if the person has not returned home within a few days.
Because there is only so much law enforcement can do, at times finding the missing person requires additional assistance, both professional and specialized.
A missing person private investigator has access to databases and systems the general public does not, making finding a missing person a much easier task. An experienced private detective with experience working with law enforcement can be an asset to a missing person investigation, and can ease the burden off families, allowing family and friends to concentrate on other efforts, like social networking and keeping the public engaged.
Experienced private investigators can access information, interview witnesses and community members in order to generate new leads for an investigation, sharing information with the investigating law enforcement agency to ensure all rocks are being overturned.
Because their missing person private investigation services are being paid for, a private investigator will ensure locating the missing person has their full attention.
It is also advisable to look for a missing person private investigator who has experience working with media, so they may comment on the case without compromising law enforcement’s investigation.
About Kym L. Pasqualini
Kym Pasqualini is founder and served as CEO for the Nation’s Missing Children Organization and National Center for Missing Adults from 1994-2010. Kym has worked with media world-wide and quoted in publications such as People Magazine, Cosmopolitan, Glamour. Kym has appeared in local and national media to include CNN, FOX, BBC, Montel Williams and the John Walsh Show. Kym continues to work with families of the missing and law enforcement nationwide.
Kym has started the website, www.missingleads.com, and the facebook discussion group, https://www.facebook.com/groups/missingleads focusing on locating clues and keeping focus on cold missing persons and unsolved homicide cases.
When we hear the word “missing” we often think of missing children. When we walk into Walmart the faces of missing children stare back at us and the missing child cases that receive public and media attention are often the most extreme examples, such as the case of Ayla Reynolds.
One-year-old Ayla Reynolds vanished from her home on December 16, 2011, in Waterville, Maine. Her arm in a sling, Ayla was last seen wearing green pajamas with “Daddy’s Princess” on the front. Six years later, Ayla’s disappearance remains a mystery.
(Poster of Ayla Reynolds distributed by the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children at www.missingkids.com.)
It is quite common there is less concern for adult missing, further obfuscating an already complex issue.
The most reliable overall missing person statistics are maintained at the National Crime Information Center (NCIC), at the Federal Bureau of Investigation to include all ages of missing persons to include age, race, gender, and category of disappearance.
What is NCIC?
Called the lifeline of law enforcement, NCIC is a clearinghouse of crime data that can be accessed by every criminal justice agency in the country. It assists criminal justice professionals to locate missing persons, apprehend fugitives, recover stolen property, and even identify terrorists.
Launched in 1967, with five file categories and 356,784 records, by 2015, NCIC contained 21 file categories and 12 million records, averaging 12.6 million transactions per day.
The NCIC Missing Person File was implemented in 1975. Records entered in the Missing Person File are retained indefinitely, until the person is located, or the record is canceled by the entering investigating law enforcement agency.
According to the NCIC, as of May 31, 2018, there were 87,608 active missing person cases in the United States, some cases dating back decades. Juveniles 18-years old and under accounted for 31,580 active cases in NCIC.
But, what exactly does this mean? And, who are all of these missing persons?
Missing persons entered into NCIC range from birth to age 99-years old and can include children to a senior with Alzheimer’s disease. Unfortunately, there are no statistics available to narrow down the contributors specific to an individual’s disappearance such as a history of domestic violence, mental illness, diminished mental capacity such as Alzheimer’s, those living a high-risk lifestyle, etc. However, missing persons are entered into six categories within NCIC.
Within NCIC, the Missing Person file includes the following six categories of missing person entries and defined by the FBI as follows:
Juvenile: Person under the age of eighteen who is missing and does not meet any of the entry criteria set forth in the other categories.
Endangered: Person of any age who is missing under circumstances indicating physical safety may be in danger.
Involuntary or Nonfamily Abduction: Person of any age who is missing under circumstances indicating the disappearance may not be voluntary (abduction or kidnapping).
Disability: Person of any age who is missing under proven physical or mental disability or is senile with the potential of subjecting him/herself or others to personal and immediate danger.
Catastrophe Victim: A person of any age who is missing after a catastrophe such as a flood, avalanche, fire, or other disasters.
Other: Person over the age of 18 not meeting the criteria for entry in any a category who is missing and there is reasonable concern for safety.
(Source: NCIC Missing Person Analysis as of May 31, 2018)
When an individual is reported missing to a law enforcement agency, the missing person’s descriptive data is entered into the NCIC computer to include full description, age, race, gender, clothing, jewelry, scars, tattoos, past surgeries, vehicle description, and any other related descriptive data is entered into the computer database and placed into a specific category based upon an initial determination by the investigating law enforcement agency if the person may be endangered due to circumstances surrounding the person’s disappearance, possible foul play, or a disability.
Unfortunately, with missing persons, the cause of the disappearance may not always be clear. Unlike a homicide, where evidence may be collected to help the investigation progress, many times, there is no scene of a crime for police to analyze – a person simply vanishes.
Missing Child Act of 1985
In 1984, the United States Congress passed the Missing Children’s Assistance Act, which established a national resource center and clearinghouse for missing children. In 1984, the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children (NCMEC) was created by President Ronald Reagan.
Primarily funded by the United States Department of Justice, Office of Juvenile Justice & Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP), NCMEC acts as an information clearinghouse and resource for families of missing children, law enforcement, and communities to assist in locating missing children and to raise awareness about way to prevent child abduction, child sexual abuse, child pornography and child sex trafficking.
On April 6, 2018 it was announced in Forbes Magazine that the United States Department of Justice, in a joint effort with the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Internal Revenue Service, and the U.S. Postal Inspection Service had seized and shut-down Backpage.com, considered a constant opponent of NCMEC due to it’s facilitation of child sex trafficking. In the battle against child sex trafficking, the world waits to see what happens with the case against Backpage.com.
NCMEC and the OJJDP utilizes enhanced definitions of missing children as follows:
- Family Abduction is defined as a member of the child’s family or someone acting on behalf of a family member takes or fails to return a child in violation of a custody order or other legitimate custodial rights and conceals the child, transports the child out of state with the intent to prevent contact, or expresses the intent to deprive the caretaker of custodial rights permanently or indefinitely.
- Nonfamily Abduction is defined as a nonfamily perpetrator, without lawful authority or parental permission, uses force or threat to take a child (at least 20 feet or into a vehicle or building), or detains a child in a place where the child cannot leave or appeal for help for at least one hour, conceals the child’s whereabouts, demands ransom, or expresses the intent to keep the child permanently.
- Stereotypical kidnapping (nonfamily abduction subtype) is defined as a nonfamily abduction perpetrated by a stranger, person of unknown identity, or slight acquaintance in which the perpetrator kills the child, detains the child overnight, transports the child at least 50 miles, demands ransom or expresses to keep the child permanently.
- Runaway is defined as a child who leaves home without permission and stays away overnight.
- Thrownaway is a defined as a child whom an adult household member tells to leave or prevents them from returning home and does not arrange for alternative and adequate care.
- Missing Involuntary (lost, stranded, or injured), is defined as a child whose whereabouts are unknown to the caretaker, causing the caretaker to contact law enforcement or a missing child agency to locate missing child.
- Missing (benign explanation) is defined a child whose whereabouts are unknown to the caretaker, causing the caretaker to become alarmed for at least one hour, try to locate child, contact police about the episode for any reason, as long as the child does not fit any of the above episode types.
(National Incidence Studies of Missing, Abducted, Runaway and Thrownaway Children (NISMART) comparison of NIMART-3 2013 study and NISMART-2 1999 study.)
What Determines Entry in NCIC
Public Safety Telecommunications personnel are responsible for first response to incident of missing persons and entrusted with the critical task of gathering, organizing, and entering identifying information into the NCIC database. They also play a crucial role in making queries as well as executing record updates, modifications, and cancellations.
Missing persons are entered into an NCIC category based upon information gathered from family members, friends and potential witnesses, while detectives respond and investigate the last known whereabouts of the missing individual.
Entry into a specific category is determined by information that is collected at the scene and based upon the initial information collected. As information is collected, an initial determination is made that can be modified later based upon any new information that is obtained.
For example, a family comes home to find their 13-year old daughter is gone. Recently, she has been threatening to run away and the parents first assume that is what happened. They call police who respond to the house. At that point, she may initially be entered in NCIC as Endangered. However, upon further questioning, the family soon discovers she did not pack anything and her cell phone is found on the living room floor. Police investigate further and discover the screen to the back door is cut and it appears the house was entered by someone other than family. Very quickly, an Endangered Missing Person case can become an investigation of a critical Involuntary Missing Person.
At that point, in the case of the most serious cases of missing children, an immediate notification is made to the FBI and NCMEC to enable them to arrange resources. If given permission by the investigating law enforcement agency, NCMEC may also issue an AMBER Alert.
Each case if different, circumstances vary. Whether an individual may have vanished on their own, to one who may have schizophrenia or Alzheimer’s disease, entry into NCIC will depend upon the determination made by law enforcement based upon their initial response and ongoing investigation
It was June 9, 1995, on a beautiful evening in the small town of Alma, Arkansas. Alma is located along I-40 within the Arkansas River Valley at the edge of the Ozark Mountains with a population under 5,000 people.
That evening was the first time 6-year old Morgan Nick had gone to a baseball game. Her mother Colleen was attending the Rookie League game at the Alma ballpark and Morgan had whined about having to sit next to her mother in the bleachers. There was a nearby sand pile with other children playing and Morgan wanted to play. It was within eyesight and only seconds away, so Colleen consented.
(Morgan Nick, age 6, vanished from Alma, Arkansas on June 9, 1995.)
Morgan ran to the sandpile, laughing with the other children while Colleen turned her head back to watch the Marlins and Pythons. A player whacked the ball and two runners tied the game, then a run was scored, and the Pythons won the game. The sound of the crowd cheering was deafening.
When Colleen stood up she could see Morgan’s playmates walking down the hill away from the sandpile, but where was Morgan? It was approximately 10:30 p.m.
The children told Colleen that Morgan was pouring sand out of her shoe near her mother’s car parked nearby. Colleen frantically searched. Morgan was gone.
Later, the children would tell police they saw a man approach Morgan. Another abduction attempt had occurred in Alma that day and police had a composite sketched based on witnesses of the other incident.
Thousands of leads later, numerous appearances on national news talk shows, even America’s Most Wanted, and Morgan’s mother is nowhere closer to knowing what happened to her daughter that evening. Police have interviewed hundreds of persons of interest, searched homes and wells, and dug up slabs of concrete with backhoes, but Morgan remains missing 23 years later.
The stakes are high when a person vanishes involuntarily and the search.
Missing with disabilities
Patty Mosley is a 66-year old woman with dementia who had been placed in a Maple Heights medical center in Cleveland, Ohio and went missing on April 21, 2018.
According to Police Detective Lieutenant Grossmyer, it appears Patty just walked away from the facility. Broadway Care Center, a nursing and rehabilitation center, has not made a statement regarding how Patty was able to get out of the facility. “They weren’t sure how she had gotten out of the facility,” Grossmyer said.
(Patty Mosley, age 66 with early onset of dementia, vanished from a care facility in Ohio on April 21, 2018.)
Patty had been diagnosed with major depression, dementia, alcoholism and other brain disorders.
Police issued a public “Missing Endangered Adult” alert, searched all local hospitals, RTA stations, and women’s shelters, even calling in their search team. All local media covered the story.
“We went into individual businesses, establishments, we checked people up and down the streets. We have checked everywhere we can and the information was put out throughout Northeast Ohio,” Grossmyer said.
Sadly, Patty is not the only individual to have disappeared from Broadway Care Center. In June 2017, 52-year old Francis Kish “walked out” of the facility and vanished. A paranoid schizophrenic dependent upon medication was later found safe at an RTA station.
Patty was also found safe and the NCIC entry cancelled by Maple Heights Police Department. A happy ending.
However, these are not isolated incidents. Mark Billiter who suffered from Alzheimer’s walked out of Glenwood Care & Rehabilitation in Canton and was later found deceased near a gas station having died from exposure to the cold.
There are 5,731 individuals entered into NCIC with disabilities that include physical disabilities, those needing medications, missing persons with schizophrenia, bipolar, dementia, Alzheimer’s disease, and other incapacitating disabilities.
When an individual who has disabilities, especially diminished mental capacity, goes missing, it is vital the search is initiated quickly.
Endangered Missing – Few Clues
It has been 21-years since Kristen Modafferi has been seen.
Kristen, 18, was an honor roll design student at North Carolina State University. She planned to spend her summer in San Francisco studying photography at U.C. Berkeley with classes scheduled to begin on June 24. She waved goodbye to her parents on her birthday June 1, 1997 and boarded the plane to San Francisco. It was the first time she had been on her own.
(Kristen Modefferi vanished in San Francisco on June 23, 1997.)
Kristen quickly found employment at Spinelli’s Coffee Shop in the Crocker Galleria and worked there during the week and weekends at the Café Museo, located inside the Museum of Modern Art. The adventurous young lady was in her element.
On June 23, the day before classes were to begin, Kristen asked a coworker at Spinelli’s for directions to Baker Beach, next to the popular Land’s End Beach. She proceeded to clock out at 3 p.m. and was last seen by a coworker at approximately 3:45 p.m. on the second floor of the Crocker Galleria with an unidentified blonde woman. The coworker thought it strange because Kristen normally left the mall immediately after shift’s end. That was the last time Kristen was seen. She never returned for her $400 paycheck.
Upon learning of Kristen’s disappearance, her parents Bob and Deborah immediately flew to San Francisco and met with police.
(Baker Beach, near Land’s End beach is approximately 6 miles from the Crocker Galleria where Kristen was last seen.)
Kristen’s scent would be tracked by bloodhounds from the Crocker Galleria to a nearby bus stop that leads to Sutro Park Beach, next to Land’s End. Bloodhounds picked up her scent again at the beach but lost it at a high cliff. Police feared she may have fallen to her death at the beach.
(Land’s End Beach where bloodhounds search for Kristen Modafferi.)
Police then found a personal ad that read, “Friends: Female seeking friends to share activities, who enjoy music, photography, working out, walks, coffee, or simply the beach, and exploring the Bay area. Interested, call me.” Authorities believed Kristen had responded to or placed the ad in the local paper.
Authorities suspected the person who answered or placed the ad was the unidentified blonde seen at the mall with Kristen and somehow, she may be involved in Kristen’s disappearance.
On July 10, 1997, local news station KGO, an ABC affiliate, received an anonymous phone call from a man who claimed two lesbians had kidnapped Kristen, murdered her and dumped her body under a bridge at Point Reyes in Marin County. When police interviewed the two women Jon had identified they told detectives Jon was angry with them spurring the phone call. Jon then claimed he had learned about the case from television.
Shortly thereafter, three women came forward claiming Jon liked to abuse and torture women and often targeted women using personal ads while using other women to lure his victims.
One of the women who came forward told police Jon had mentioned Kristen by name, threatening her, “the same thing that happened to her could happen to you.”
Police searched Jon’s girlfriend’s residence and found a diary that had pages ripped out that correlated with the dates Kristen went missing. She told them that Jon had ripped the pages out because they may have contained incriminating information.
Though they polygraphed Jon, there was never enough evidence to make an arrest.
Private investigators hired by Kristen’s family believe Kristen was murdered in the basement of her residence though there has never been any information or DNA evidence to substantiate those claims.
21 years later, Kristen remains missing.
Other – At Risk Missing
(Corinna Slusser vanished in NYC on September 20, 2017.)
Life was different two years ago for Sabina Tuorto, mother of 19-year old Corinna Slusser who has been missing since September 20, 2017.
“Only two years ago, so much was different then. My daughter was a great student, a cheerleader. She had many friends and lived her life as a normal teenager,” said Sabina. “I need her home and I can’t bear any more days like this. I fear the worst, but I pray for the best and her return home . . . waiting for an Angel to hear my prayer.”
Corinna was last seen at Haven Motel in Queens, New York on Woodhaven Boulevard, approximately 5 miles from LaGuardia Airport.
According to online Yelp reviews of the budget hotel, the consensus is the place needs to be shut down.
“I live right by the place and feel compelled to review it. It’s a motel mostly for prostitutes – seriously. The cops are constantly out investigating it and there’s always an issue. Parking lot is generally full of minivans (vom). It goes on an hourly rate. The windows are tinted 100% black. Repulsive. This place should seriously be shut down,” wrote one reviewer.
Corinna was last seen leaving the hotel during the early morning hours of September 20th.
Before the bright and cheery high school cheerleader’s disappearance, Corinna lived in Bloomsburg, Pennsylvania, and dreamed of becoming a makeup artist. On her Instagram account, which she updated almost daily, she is often dressed in bohemian type clothing showing peace signs, photographed hugging her friends and enjoying the outdoors.
However, one can see a transition occurring in the photographs she posted. Corinna goes from a bright and bubbly teen to showing less modest photographs.
An Instagram post uploaded on September 11, 2017, is thought to have been taken in the Bronx. The caption reads “cyphin mid day mid road is always good for the soul.”
There has been no activity on any of her social profiles since her disappearance.
While living in Bloomsburg, Corinna had become depressed and landed in the hospital where she met an older man that persuaded her to move to New York City. He offered a place to stay for the adventurous teen. Little did she know, the 32-year old man was a suspected “pimp” from Harlem. She took with her only her cell phone, identification and what she was wearing and moved to the bustling city where police believe she was coerced into prostitution.
Initially, Corinna kept in touch with family and friends and posted to her social media accounts.
With multiple arrests for “promoting prostitution, the man she left with was known by police in New York City. NYPD detectives now theorize Corinna has been moved from pimp to pimp and no longer in the city. Her name has been mentioned in various vice investigations and they fear she has been kidnapped by a sex trafficking ring.
One month prior to her disappearance, her mother received a copy of an order of protection revealing her daughter had been an assault victim on August 25, 2017.
Corinna had made a 911 call from the Harlem Vista Hotel in Northern Manhattan telling police she had been assaulted by her pimp. She accused him of grabbing her around the neck, smashing her head against the wall and strangling her after she confronted him of stealing $300 from her. The document named the man she had left with as Yovanny Peguero. When confronted by her mother she tried to downplay the incident.
When Corinna failed to show up for her grandfather’s funeral in Florida she was reported missing.
There is a $10,000 reward offered for information that leads to the safe recovery of Corinna Slusser.
Experts in the Field of Missing Persons and Sex Trafficking
These are typical cases that populate NCIC and each vastly different from the other.
Thomas Lauth of Lauth Investigations has worked over 20 years throughout the country and internationally on endangered missing person cases.
“The most important thing a family can do when a loved one is missing is pull in as many resources as possible,” says Lauth. “Finding missing persons is a cooperative effort between police, media, missing person experts and advocates, private investigators and especially the public.”
According to missing person experts, the more time that goes by, the less likely the person will be found alive. However, with cases like Jaycee Dugard, kidnapped by a stranger on June 10, 1991 at age 11, and found alive in 2009, there still remains hope for every family.