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YOUR LOVED ONE IS
You Need To Know And What
You Can Do
The information contained in this booklet was compiled by members of
the Missing Persons and Unidentified Remains Taskforce chaired by
Christine Gregoire, Attorney General. The Taskforce would like to thank
the following members for their contributions to this booklet.
Gary L. Bell, DDS,
Washington State Patrol
Paul Beckley, Washington State Patrol
Detective Tina Drain, Seattle Police Department
Ann Dutton, Washington State Patrol
Michelle Foust Vertner, Families and Friends of Violent Crime Victims
Carla Hackett, Families and Friends of Violent Crime Victims
Jim Hansen, Washington State Attorney Generals Office
Patty Jensen, Washington State Patrol
Toni Korneder, Washington State Patrol
Mary Miller, Families and Friends of Violent Crime Victims
Susan Miller, Washington State Patrol
National Center for Missing Adults, Phoenix, Arizona
Doug Patterson, Washington State Patrol
Lowell Porter, Chief, Washington State Patrol
Carol Rawls, Washington State Patrol
Katherine Taylor, King County Medical Examiner’s Office
Jenny Wieland, Families and Friends of Violent Crime Victims
J. Scott Blonien, Washington State Attorney Generals Office
Marion Portenier, Washington State Attorney Generals Office
When a loved one is missing for an unexplained reason, it can be the
most challenging, difficult and emotional time that anyone could
endure. This experience is wrapped in feelings of hopelessness,
confusion, guilt and uncertainty of what to do and what to expect. This
the basic information to help explain some of the difficulties you may
I. HOW DO I REPORT MISSING
REPORT A MISSING PERSON:
Report the missing
person to your local law enforcement
In Washington, thousands of adults are reported missing each year. You
may have seen on television or heard that you must wait 24 or even 72
to report someone missing. This
is not true. There is no required
In fact, the sooner law enforcement has a case the sooner they can get
in helping you find the missing person. Very few missing adults are
foul play or some other criminal act. Most missing persons are found or
within just a few days. If any foul play is suspected the investigation
If the officer refuses to take a report, ask for reasons why
and ask to speak
to a supervisor. (For
additional information contact Families &
& Violent Crime Victims at 1-800-346-7555.)
Being a missing person is
not a crime. Adults can be missing if they
choose to. They can choose to leave work, ignore friends and even
Because of this, law enforcement is quite limited in what they can do.
Even if law
enforcement does locate the person, they can not divulge any private
that person without specific permission from that person.
Information about your missing loved one may be entered into the
national database, National Crime Information Center (NCIC). A report
taken, but there are specific criterion for missing persons to be
NCIC. They can be entered into NCIC only when the missing person has a
handicap or mental disability, if they are missing involuntarily
they are a victim of a catastrophe or if they are in some way
Social Security will not provide a missing person’s address
but will forward a letter. Call Social Security at 1-800-772-1212 to
eligibility for the letter forwarding service and to ascertain if the
number is active.
II. HOW CAN I HELP?
A. Be an
advocate for the missing person.
As a family member or friend of a missing person, you might possess
information critical to finding them. In Washington your local
Sheriff’s Office or Police Department is primarily
responsible for receiving and
investigating cases involving missing persons. The Washington State
Patrol also handles
some missing person reports in conjunction with local law enforcement.
Again, there is no time limit for which a person must be missing before
they can be
reported as a MA. Another excellent resource is the National Center for
Adults 1-800690-FIND, www.nmco.org.
B. Friends and family may hold the key.
When you report a person missing, be prepared to provide:
- The missing person’s full name, date of birth,
social security number.
- Details of where and when they were last seen or heard
- Details of any vehicle that may be involved.
- Any known travel plans or destinations.
- Details of any persons in the company of the missing
- A description of what the missing person was wearing.
- A description of any unique physical or speech
You can greatly assist law enforcement in their efforts as follows:
- Check with missing person’s friends, school,
neighbors, relatives, or anyone else who may know of their whereabouts.
Ask them to notify you if they hear from or see the missing person.
- When making a report obtain the name, phone number and
number of the officer who took the report so you can call them to
report any additional information that you discover. Ask the officer if
are actually taking a report and if your missing loved one will be
in the National Crime Information Center (NCIC). Have a current picture
the missing person available, preferably smiling. If the officer does
not ask for a picture, offer it to them. If the case is turned over to
detective, work directly with them and share all information you may
develop with the detective.
- Keep a log of names, phone numbers and addresses (if known)
of everyone you talked to before and after reporting your loved one
missing. Note the information received and date of the contact in the
event you need to get back to them for additional information.
- Get a caller-ID and log all calls, even hang up calls. Get
cell phone so you can be reached when away from home.
- Provide cell phone and land line phone bills belonging to
the MA for any calls that may not be routine.
- If the missing person uses a computer, provide the name of
the Internet Service Provider to law enforcement.
- Retain personal items of the MA, such as toothbrushes and
hair brushes, razors, underwear, eyeglasses, dental molds, retainers,
mouth guards, any other item worn frequently by the person, or items
that only they
have used. Put these items in a paper bag in a secure place.
- Establish the MA’s habits. Make a list of places
they frequent and check for any sightings of the missing person there.
- If the MA was employed, check with their employer and
inquire if the MA has picked up their last paycheck or left employment
with direction on where to send their last paycheck.
- Check with the MA’s landlord to ascertain any
problems that may have occurred at the place of residence. Find out if
rent has been paid or
if the missing person has given notice to vacate. If the missing person
resides in another city or state, ask the local law enforcement agency
by and check on their welfare.
- Check with the MA’s bank to establish if there
been any activity in the account. Emphasize that you are not interested
in the value of the
- account but need to establish if there has been any
activity after a
certain date or if the account has been closed and transferred to
location. Provide the name of the bank to law enforcement.
- Provide the name and number of the MA’s dentist.
- If the MA is receiving benefits from the State of
Washington, check with Department of Social and Health Services (DSHS)
to see if any benefits have been used. If the missing person receives
food assistance from the
State, check if the food card has been used. Again emphasize that your
only interest in the account is to establish if there has been any
activity in the account. Provide law enforcement with any information
regarding DSHS benefits the missing person may be receiving.
C. The process can be frustrating.
Because of our preconception of what the police can or cannot do, we
may be angered when we are certain that someone is responsible in the
disappearance of our loved one and the police cannot search that
or house, and cannot arrest that person regardless of the level of
suspicion. Based on both
federal and state constitutions and court decisions,
or car or place of business cannot be searched without a search
warrant. That often causes
a great deal of anxiety and anger on the part of the loved ones left
are apt to blame the investigating police officer or the police agency.
III. CAN I HIRE MY OWN
Yes. If you are considering hiring a private investigator to help
locate a missing loved one, check with your attorney for
referral. Contact the Better
Business Bureau and the Consumer Protection Division of the Attorney
Generals Office to
find out if any complaints have been made against the private
detective. Also check
with the Washington State Department of Licensing to make sure their
current. Ask the detective for references and check them out. It is a
to have your lawyer review the contract with the investigator before
it or pay any money. Have the contract spell out exactly what services
purchased. Once you have hired a private investigator, consider
those working on the case. Your private investigator’s search
should be coordinated to the fullest extent possible to avoid costly
and time-consuming duplication
IV. CAN LOCAL MEDIA BE USED TO HELP THE INVESTIGATION?
Yes. Check with
investigator to make sure that media coverage will not imperil the
missing loved one or impede the investigation. Have all
posters and flyers approved by law enforcement prior to releasing.
radio and magazine coverage may help you find your missing loved one.
local and national media with your story. Make sure you have a recent
and complete description of the missing person including date of birth,
date, time, place and circumstances of the disappearance. If the
missing person is
disabled or elderly and requires medication or medical attention,
If there has been coverage, call the news outlet if a birthday or
anniversary has passed without a word from the missing person.
Rewards can be helpful to generate leads and to create a news story. If
you are planning to offer a sizeable reward, increase it incrementally
create an additional news story. Don’t forget cable stations
and the Internet.
You can create a home page devoted to the missing person, link it up to
other missing person’s pages and post information about your
missing person on the web. If the police issue a press release
about your missing loved one,
press may be more receptive.
If you are successful in obtaining publicity about your MA. there might
be some who will call seeking to exploit your situation. Be wary of
demand money with a promise to find your missing person, including
investigators or psychics or most distressing, those who claim to be
missing person for ransom. Report all such information to law
One final caveat: If the law enforcement provides a description to the
media of your loved one, they might leave some articles of clothing out
description on purpose in order to eliminate false sightings.
the media and make a correction but check with your detective for an
V. ARE THEY REALLY
Every person can voluntarily absent themselves and become missing.
There is no crime against
being missing, and if a person is voluntarily
missing, they are entitled to their privacy. You will need
to help law enforcement
understand if in your case, the “missing” is not
they have been forcibly taken.
There are several factors that will influence the reporting
officer’s determination of whether the missing is voluntary.
Some of those are:
- Have they failed to perform an important task? (i.e.,
children from babysitter, loved one from work)
- Do they suffer from any mental or cognitive impairment?
- Do they have a history of being
- Are they having relationship problems?
- Are they having financial problems?
- Have they been despondent or depressed?
- Are any of their personal belongings missing? (i.e.,
- Have they recently suffered the loss of a loved one, or the
end of a
long term relationship?
- Is their car missing?
- Is their wallet missing?
- Are they having difficulties at work or school?
- Did they take necessary prescriptions?
- Have they drained their bank account?
VI. EMOTIONAL REACTIONS
WHEN SOMEONE YOU LOVE IS MISSING
When a disappearance occurs, everything changes. The emotions of those
who are left behind range from: sadness, guilt, hurt, anger,
hopelessness, apathy, rage, hysteria, to a lack of appetite and sleep.
panic attacks, anxiety, lethargy, thoughts of harming self and others,
and lack of
concentration, are also common.
It is not uncommon for those left behind to fall into deep depressions,
lose their jobs, and have uncommon behavior changes. They are dealing
situation which is at the very highest stress level possible. A medical
should be contacted; consulting a therapist immediately is also
The emotions you are feeling are natural and have a great impact on
your life, immediately and in the long term. You will feel a great deal
about the safety of remaining family members. It is prudent to let your
members know about your whereabouts at all times and urge other family
members to do
the same. Explain to your teenage children that your objective is not
them but to assure their safety. Often teenagers are apt to rebel under
restrictions. This may be necessary for a number of years, even after
your loved one is
Your focus may be so much on your missing loved one that other family
members may feel neglected, and sometimes they are. Take time to pay
to them to avoid resentment on their part.
As a family member or friend of a missing person, you may find your
health situation changes, and your employment and financial situation
may be in jeopardy
due to lost days at work. Your quality of life and relationships may
and you may be consumed by emotions that are unfamiliar to you.
Some of these emotional responses are denial, emotional withdrawal,
helplessness, hopelessness, numbness, sadness, shock, tension, worry,
blame, confusion and depression, fear and guilt. In the face of
of these emotions are expected.
VII. HOW CAN I TAKE CARE
First and foremost, stick to your normal routine.
There are resources that are available to you during this traumatic
Talk to other people
- your family, your clergy, and your friends. Do
not cut yourself off from supportive relationships. And take care of
yourself. If you
are unable to eat due to stress, take multiple vitamins and drink high
Check with your doctor
-you may experience symptoms of stress such as heart palpitations, high
blood pressure, increased sweating, migraine,
difficulty concentrating, startle responses, sleep disturbance,
chest pains and a myriad of other body problems. Your doctor can help
you with these
Look to support
organizations -Connect with organizations specific to
supporting missing person clients. They have been there and know what
you are experiencing. Community-based missing person advocacy
recognize that your experience is complex and confusing, and they can
help you through this challenging and traumatic time.
Often your friends and acquaintances may become weary hearing about
your problem. Consider joining the Families & Friends missing
persons support group. If time has passed with no results, you may be
reassured that others
also share your experience and discussing your emotions and feelings
with them may
provide a measure of relief during the time your loved one is missing.
1-800-346-7555 for more information. It takes courage, determination
and the help of
family, friends and trusted organizations to help you make it through.
You are not
VIII. WHAT IS HIPAA AND
WHAT ROLE DOES IT PLAY IN FINDING A MISSING PERSON?
The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) was
passed by Congress to address many healthcare issues. HIPAA’s
Rule establishes patient privacy rights and controls through standards
for how to use
and protect patient information.
This privacy rule essentially prohibits using or disclosing protected
health information except as the rule stipulates. It is intended to
the rights of consumers and provide ways for the consumer to authorize
the access to
private medical information. Protected Health Information or
“PHI” is any health information that could
potentially identify an individual and that information is
maintained or transmitted in any form.
Exceptions permitted to this rule include individual consents or
authorizations and certain public health or public policy goals.
Because of the privacy provisions of HIPAA, many health care providers
may be reluctant or refuse to make PHI available to law enforcement,
if it is sought to aid in a missing person investigation.
IX. MISSING PERSON
Database: When a report is taken, your missing person in
entered into the National Crime Information Center (NCIC). The FBI
NCIC. Currently the FBI has no database dedicated only to missing
The Washington State Patrol maintains the WSPMissing Children
Clearinghouse. The Missing Children Clearinghouse receives a monthly
report from NCIC
that includes information on all missing persons reported to the
Clearinghouse. The report includes information from requests made for
locating a missing adult.
The National Center for Missing Adults: 1-800-690-FIND, www.nmco.org.
The National Center tracks only
the missing adults that are referred
directly to them.
WSP Missing Children Clearinghouse: 1-800-543-5678.
Database: The Washington Crime Information Center (WACIC)
is a shared database used by law enforcement to enter
person cases. The database can be queried in various ways to generate
candidate lists for comparison purposes.
The Washington State Patrol maintains the Missing/Unidentified Person
Unit (MUPU). MUPU maintains a database of dental information that is
a similar manner to WACIC and allows law enforcement access to
information based on dentition.
Most of the data within these databases are not accessible to the
general public and are
maintained for investigation by law enforcement personnel. Portions
however, are available for public viewing on the Washington State
Missing Persons web site.
X. METHODS OF
Obviously the worst case scenario involving a missing person is that
they will be found deceased. If the body is found without
decomposition has rendered visual identification impossible, the
medical examiner or
coroner will list the individual as “unidentified.”
ability to identify the unidentified is dependent on information
obtained from friends and family. But there
are several tests available to aid in the identification.
A. DNA. The
advantages of DNA comparison for identification purposes is
that often (although not always) DNA can be obtained from only partial
remains. The main disadvantage is that, contrary to what is often
television, testing DNA remains time and cost
prohibitive. It is often a method of
last resort in the identification process. Do not assume DNA is the
comparing unidentified remains to the DNA of suspected family members,
example, the results are often not statistically strong enough to
provide a positive
identification. The best opportunity for positive identification by DNA
is to compare
the DNA of unidentified remains to the DNA of the missing person. It is
critical to preserve any source of missing person DNA (hairbrush, tooth
razor). Find out if the missing person has had any medical tests
recently that might
provide sources of DNA (blood tests, Pap smear, blood donation) and
secure those samples.
Only useful if the missing person was printed while
alive and fingerprints can be obtained from the unidentified body. If
person was not officially printed while alive, retain any object
belonging to the
missing person that might contain fingerprints.
C. Dental x-rays:
A fast and reliable method of positive identification
provided the recovered remains include dentition. If x-rays are not
provide information regarding any records from the dentist including
casts, charting, or photographs.
D. Body x-rays:
Positive identification is possible by comparing x-rays
of ANY PART of the body. Find out if the missing person has ever
hospital or had any x-rays taken. This includes a CAT scan (often taken
in cases of
suspected head injury). Keep in mind that hospitals and physicians
retain x-rays seven years. If the missing person had x-rays close to
prior, it becomes critical to secure those x-rays and prevent their
destruction. DO NOT
wait until an unidentified body is found as it might be too late.
E. Other useful
information for identification or exclusion
- Photos: A photo of the missing person smiling allows
the front teeth and a straight-on photo of the head allows
superimposition with a skull.
- Scars, marks, tattoos: Provide a description, and picture
possible, of any unique body markings, tattoos, or scars. If the
missing person is a
female, has she had any children? If the missing person is a male, is
- Missing organs/appendages: Report any removed organs
(appendectomy, hysterectomy) or missing fingers/toes.
Families & Friends of Missing Persons & Violent Crime
National Center for Missing Adults at 1-800-690-FIND.
The Doe Network: 1-800-642-0024.
National Center for Missing and Exploited Children: 1-800-THE-LOST.
Operation Lookout: 1-800-782-SEEK.
Salvation Army: 1-800-698-7728.
This is an excellent resource if your
missing person is homeless.
Washington State Clearinghouse, Susan Miller, 360-753-6800.
Alzheimer’s Association, 1-800-272-3900.
Washington State Patrol Missing Children Services http://www.wsp.wa.gov/crime/mischild.php