Find a Missing Person

As of 2019, there have been over 600,000 missing person cases in the US alone. Finding missing people is often a community and police effort. There are several processes in place to ensure that missing people are found as fast as possible. One of the most well-known programs is the AMBER Alert program, which uses multiple communication channels to source tips and information from the public for help finding a missing person. You can also use online public records search tools to help locate loved ones who have been missing from your life and you’ve lost touch with. 

What is an Amber Alert?

An AMBER Alert is a child abduction alert system that started in the United States in 1996. It was named after Amber Hagerman, a 9-year-old that was abducted and murdered in Arlington, Teas in 1996.  AMBER alerts are broadcasted across a variety of different communication and media outlets:

  • Radio stations
  • Cable TV
  • Broadcast television
  • Satellite radio

Alerts can also be sent out and broadcasted across email, digital billboards, cell phone text message alerts, and across programmable freeway signs.  An AMBER alert will be issued by law enforcement officials to help investigate and gather tips on abduction or missing persons. The information provided to the public will consistent of:  

  • The name and physical description of the person who’s abducted 
  • A description of the suspected abductor
  • A description of the abductor’s vehicle and license plate (if possible)

How to File a Missing Person Report

Contact Your Local Police Department as Soon as Possible

The moment you realize a person is missing you’ll want to contact your local law enforcement agency as soon as possible. You also need to contact the police if the person who’s missing is a minor, over the age of 65, or unable to take care of themselves. There are different protocols depending on if the person is able to take care of themselves, or not. Time is the most crucial element when it comes to missing people, so you must act as fast as possible.  If you’re in physical proximity to where the person was last seen, or are near their physical possessions, then make sure not to touch anything. All of these items can help with the investigation, including their car, keys, living area, clothes, cell phone and more. The police officer will ask you questions like:

  • What does the missing person look like?
  • When and where were they last seen?
  • How long have they been missing?
  • Do they have any mental illness or physical issues?

Provide Detailed Information About the Missing Person

The more information the police have about the missing person, the better. Even details that don’t seem relevant can assist the police with their investigation and increase the chances of the missing person being found.  This includes information related to the disappearance, when you last saw them, what clothes they were wearing, any possible mental or physical issues.  You can also provide the police with a photo of the person via email, or take a physical photo to your local police department.  Some phones, like iPhone and Android, might have a device locator, which allows for device and location tracking, or the last known location before the device lost battery. Information like this can be extremely valuable for trying to find the location of a missing person.

Regularly Follow Up With the Police

You should receive an update from the police within a few days of filing the report. If you don’t hear back make sure to follow up with the police consistently.  It’s also important to spread the word within your local network. This includes the person’s friends, family, neighbors, and other members of the community. The more people who know about the disappearance, the better your chances of obtaining relevant information.  The more people who know about the missing person, the greater the chances of them being found. If you end up receiving more information about the disappearance, then relay this to the police as soon as possible. 

Update the Report With New Relevant Information

If the missing person isn’t found within a couple of weeks, then you might need to update the police report with more information that will aid in the investigation. For example, if possible, you may be asked to provide banking information and bank records, cell phone records, social media accounts, email accounts, and other communication information that can help the police identify their location. You might also be asked to help obtain dental records through their dentist, or other forms of DNA to help with identifying the missing person if it gets to that point. If you’re related to the person by blood, then you can also provide a DNA sample with a swab from the inside of your cheek.

Reach Out to Other Law Enforcement Organizations

The FBI can help you locate a missing person, especially if there’s foul play or suspicious circumstances involved in the disappearance. You can get in touch with your local FBI field office and provide information about the missing person and details regarding the disappearance.  If the person is under 18 years old you can have their information entered into the National Crime Information Center (NCIC) database, which allows other law enforcement to access information regarding missing children. You should also get in touch with the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children

Utilize Other Websites and Online Resources

You can also post and share information regarding the missing person’s case with other online resources, such as the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System (NamUs). Most of these websites are entirely free to use and can help spread information regarding the disappearance far and wide. This will also help out law enforcement agencies that might be out of the jurisdiction of where the original report was filed.

Post on Social Media Websites

Social media sites like Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter can be a great way to get the word out about a missing person. Include detailed information about the person, a physical description, a recent photo, when and where they were last seen, and what clothing they could be wearing.  Also, include the number of your local police department, so people can reach out with relevant information. 

Get in Touch With Local Media Outlets

You can also get the local media involved to spread the word about the missing person. Contact your local television network, papers, and local online news outlets, even blogs that pick up a lot of local traffic. Let them know about the missing person and any relevant details about how long they’ve been missing, what they look like, and more. You can see if they’d be willing to run a story or help to further the search and find the missing person. The further you can spread the story, the more likely you’ll receive tips about the whereabouts of the missing person, which can increase the chances of them being found.  You might receive tips that come directly to you following any news stories, make sure you pass these on to local law enforcement the moment you get them.

Frequently Asked Questions

If someone has recently disappeared there are a variety of things you can do to try and figure out their whereabouts. There’s a chance that you could actually find their whereabouts and that they’re not entirely missing.

Here are a few things worth doing: 

  • Call local hospitals and jails, you can even visit in person and bring a photograph of the person
  • Get in touch with family, friends, and co-workers even post and tag on social media sites letting people know you’re worried
  • Call local homeless shelters or bring a photo by to see if they’ve been seen recently
  • Check their social media accounts to see when they posted and where they were

If it’s an emergency, then dial 9-1-1 immediately and the operator will ask you all the relevant questions to file a report. 

If the missing person isn’t in immediate danger, but still missing then call your local police station directly. The officer you speak with will help you give all the necessary information to file the report and help locate the missing person. 

You can file a missing persons report the moment you suspect someone is missing. If a child is missing or suspected missing you should file a report as soon as possible.

A person is considered missing when they can’t be located or aren’t where they’re expected to be and at least one of the following conditions applies:

  • The situations surrounding the disappearance suggest their safety might be in danger
  • The person has a physical disability or diminished mental capacity
  • There’s an indication that the disappearance was not voluntary

A missing child is anyone under the age of 18, who has run away from home or is otherwise missing from the care of their parents or legal guardian. 

Once a missing report is filed the case is assigned to a missing persons unit detective. If the missing person is a juvenile, then the information is linked to a national computer system and will go out within 2 hours of the report being filed. 

The case can also be labeled high risk if foul play is suspected, the missing person is under the age of 12, or are over the age of twelve, but are unable to take care of themselves. 

Cases that are deemed high risk will result in immediate help from a detective. 

Yes, missing person posters are still effective. After posting in online communities and taking advantage of those resources you should print out hard copies of posters and distribute them around your neighborhood and local area.

Here are a few places you can hang up missing person posters:

  • Local community centers
  • Outside of stores and shopping centers
  • Local post office
  • Churches

Make sure your posters include similar information to what you posted online and include your contact information and phone number for any relevant tips. 

When a loved one is missing you’ll want to act as fast and efficiently as possible. In some cases, it can be valuable to hire a private investigator who has experience with missing persons cases. 

This individual will work cooperatively with law enforcement and can be an asset to the ongoing investigation.

There are a variety of different resources, foundations, and organizations that assist with helping find missing people.

For instance, you have the Polly Klaas Foundation which helps families of missing people with various kinds of assistance like:

  • Providing family counseling
  • Working with law enforcement
  • Creating and distributing posters of missing children
  • Working with advocacy and public policy groups to help children safe

Maybe you’re not looking for a missing person, in the standard definition, but instead, a person that’s been missing from your life for some time?

Using a public records search tool you can track someone down, even if it’s been years since you were in contact. Even if you have a little information you can usually find out who this person is, where they currently live, and more.

Here are some questions you’ll need to answer before you can find this person:

  • What’s their full name? Including variations of that name, and even maiden name
  • What’s their date of birth? Or the closest age that you can speculate
  • Where did they live last? Do you remember any family out of state?
  • Do they have any siblings or children?
  • Do they have any known associates or old friends?

The more information you have the better your chances of being able to track them down or a related family member that you can reach out to.