What do you need to know when someone goes missing?
According to the RCMP, "In any given year, between 70,000 and 80,000 people are reported missing to police in Canada. While most are found within seven days, missing persons cases can be extremely stressful for family and loved ones." These are 5 things you can do if someone you know goes missing.
1. Determine if the person is really missing
Don't panic. It may be a case of a forgotten phone or the person caught up in their activities that they have failed to check-in. If you don't live near the person, you can ask a neighbor or friend to assist or call local authorities for a "well-being" check. If the person isn't at home, check their work and friends and family members' houses or any place they're known to frequent. Check nearby hospitals. It is important to trust your intuition and knowledge of the person missing. If there are physical or mental illnesses, a history of depression or suicidal thoughts, or if the person is vulnerable or in immediate danger, contact law enforcement right away. It is not a crime for adults to leave their relationships or life behind without notification. Law enforcement has policies in place to determine the whereabouts of the individual. However, if the person remains committed to not returning, law enforcement may notify the family that they have been located but cannot share further details without consent.
2. Contact Law Enforcement
It is a myth that family or friends must wait 24 hours to report a person missing in Canada. Although in most cases, it is a family member that will file a report, a person can be reported missing by anyone who knows the missing person’s routine well enough to recognize when there is a change. Contact law enforcement in the community or area that the individual has disappeared from to file a report. They will provide a case number for reference. It is crucial to give detailed information about the person, such as current photos, physical descriptions, identifying characteristics, medications, etc. If available, provide details about their last known activities and relationships.
3. Create a One Page Flyer
With time being a crucial factor, it is important to create awareness in and around the community where the person went missing from. The flier should include all relevant information; what was the person last wearing, the place they were last seen at, height, weight, updated photos, vehicle description, and license plate number if applicable. Do include a Law enforcement contact number or case reference number. As a safety precaution, do not post a personal contact number. To reach the biggest audience, hang flyers up in the community; gas stations, retail stores, churches, and hospitals.
4. Commence your own Search
In many missing person cases, family and friends conduct their own search efforts. Many families can feel lost when approached with the idea of searching on their own. It can be overwhelming, especially when most people are unfamiliar with search and rescue efforts. Enlist volunteers from the community as well as friends and family members. Organize volunteers to help hang flyers and participate in searches on foot and with vehicles. Mapping out the last known area will give volunteers a focused search plan. It will also help keep detailed records of what has been done and areas of future interest. Search nearby areas such as homeless shelters, parks, and hiking trails. If you are searching private property, ask permission from property owners first. It is also imperative to keep your local law enforcement authorities aware of the search efforts. The Missing Persons Advocacy Network has valuable information on how to organize your own ground searches.
5. Spread Awareness through Media
Contact the media. Send photos and information about the missing person to local TV and radio stations, newspapers, and local blogs and websites. Media can help spread the news quicker and reach large numbers of people. Social media has changed the landscape of missing person cases. It has the advantage of informing the public quickly and creating widespread awareness in a short period of time. Any detail is essential. Frequently, a missing puzzle piece can help bring the individual home, and sharing information with the public can fill in that piece. Post photos of the missing person on your social media pages and ask people to share. Another great tool is to create a missing person website. With social media tools and Geo-targeting, it is easier to find more direct resources in the area to help law enforcement and families. The more people spread awareness, the better the chances of bringing the missing person home.
Want to Know More?
There is a roller coaster of emotions that come with the realization someone you love or know has gone missing. Feelings of disbelief, terror, anger, helplessness, and grief are common. Navigating through this journey will be unique to the person experiencing it but knowing what to do can support families unfamiliar with the process.
If you want to search missing person cases in your area, or to find out more about reporting someone missing, visit Canada's Missing website. To learn more about the resources available to friends and family of the missing, please visit The Free Bird Project Facebook page. Our mission is to provide resources, skills, and loving support to families of missing persons.