The idea of the disappearance of a loved one is alarming under any circumstances, but when someone we care about goes missing overseas, the prospect becomes even more daunting. The reality is that most people don’t have a clear sense of what steps to take when somebody vanishes. Whether a family member, a friend, a partner, or a colleague, a clear course of action can help you safeguard their wellbeing. If your loved one goes missing overseas, the missing persons investigations team here at Lauth Investigations recommends taking the following steps.
Try To Make Direct Contact
Your gut may be telling you that something is wrong, but all sorts of things can cause a person to go radio-silent abroad—including time differences, poor communications infrastructure, or losing their phone and luggage. Attempting to contact them through every avenue available will clarify the situation, so try to reach out by phone and text, by email, and on social media. Also look for any public conversations they have had on social media with others that will indicate all is well.
Contact Others Who May Be Aware of Their Whereabouts
Reach out to friends, travel companions, and colleagues who may have more information or be aware of the missing person’s movements. If a group were travelling together, reach out to the families of others to see if they have been in contact too. Consider contacting hotels, local venues, travel agents, and airlines. While these third-party professionals may not be able to share details with you, they will be able to prompt your loved one to make contact when they see them, and will be able to share information with the authorities if they later become involved.
Reaching Out To the Authorities
When someone goes missing overseas, it is vital to file a missing persons report both with local authorities, and with the authorities of your/their home country. If the person in question is a U.S. citizen, you can also contact the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate. Embassy and consulate staff will be able to advise on the best way to locate a person in their area, and will also be able to check local reports for hospitalizations or arrests, and connect directly with local authorities and organizations. If the person missing overseas is a minor, or considered vulnerable in some way, the country in question may be able to issue an Amber Alert or equivalent. Prepare to provide as much information as possible, including:
Place and date of birth
All known itineraries and plans, past and future
Overseas contact details
Names and contact information for known friends and associates
What Else To Do When Someone Is Missing Overseas
When a loved one is missing overseas, it is easy to feel powerless. However, there are lots of other steps that can be taken. You can create a social media campaign to raise awareness of the missing status of your loved one. You can also contact local media outlets with details and photographs so that they can help you raise awareness. If you choose to travel where the missing person was last seen, consider if you will need help from an interpreter, and what resources you will require when you get there.
Some travel insurance policies cover search and rescue, so consider if your loved one may have a policy that you can initiate a claim from. Explore local organizations that provide support for missing person investigations—these may be able to advise you on further resources and strategies such as offering rewards within a culture that is potentially unfamiliar.
When concerns run high—and certainly when local authorities are unhelpful—turning to an international private investigators firm with missing persons specialists ready to go out in the field can be indispensable. Here at Lauth Missing Persons, we offer a highly skilled and experienced team with just the skill set required to locate someone missing overseas. If you need help in locating your loved one, contact our team today.
Unless purposefully setting out to drop off the radar, nobody jumps on an airplane with the intention of becoming a missing person overseas. However, it is vital to remember that US citizens can and do disappear abroad, far from home, and without the critical support networks that support their everyday safety. Acknowledging this fact doesn’t have to mean skipping all of the incredible destinations on your bucket list. Instead, there are a number of safe travel tips that you can take to minimize the risk of your dream trip becoming a nightmare.
Through our work as international missing persons investigators at Lauth Missing Persons, we often venture overseas to pick up the trail of those whose loved ones are deeply concerned. By following the tips below, you can avoid becoming a worrying statistic—or warranting a call from your family to our team.
1. Research Your Destination and Stay Ahead of Danger
One of the first and most crucial safe travel tips is research. While danger and criminality can be lurking anywhere in the world, some destinations are much more dangerous than others. This makes it vital to do your research when planning any trip so that you can better understand the risks.
Investigate your intended destination online, including discovering if danger is more elevated in certain local areas or at certain times. Where possible, subscribe to live updates and travel advice, and monitor the local news so you’ll know if the situation on the ground changes. Whether traveling as a tourist or on a business trip, some locations may warrant a security risk assessment or professional support on arrival.
2. Create an Itinerary and Plan to Communicate With Loved Ones
Far too often, when we begin our work to find a missing US citizen abroad, we find that they didn’t communicate their most recent movements with their family or friends. This is a recipe for disaster if something untoward happens. In contrast, simple communication can dramatically increase your safety.
With this in mind, create an itinerary for your closest friends or family members and update it promptly if plans change. Communicate frequently, sharing details such as where you are staying and planned day trips, or even if something unusual has occurred.
3. Avoid Routine and Don’t Overshare Publicly
When it comes to safe travel tips, it doesn’t get more universal than oversharing on social media. Criminals are always on the lookout for those made vulnerable by routine behaviors. For example, a tourist who habitually takes a dark shortcut or visits the ATM at the same time each evening is an easy target for express kidnapping, a term that describes holding someone hostage and forcing them to withdraw money from their bank account.
You can protect yourself when traveling by mixing up your daily habits. You can also mitigate the risk of being targeted by keeping any social media or blog posts that share your location or plans private for as long as you’re in the area.
4. Prioritize Security and Backup Your Essentials
At times, a missing person abroad is simply someone who has lost all means of communication. When in an area with limited internet and cell phone coverage, losing your bag with documentation and financial means can be a crisis in the making.
This makes it pertinent to safely store essentials wherever possible and keep spare copies of travel documentation and ID in a secondary location. Keep valuables out of sight whenever around strangers and keep hard copies of crucial contact phone numbers.
5. Maintain Your Vigilance
Keeping your wits about you when traveling is always the strongest tactic when it comes to remaining safe. At times, this will mean choosing a better-lit street on the way home, while at others it will mean avoiding going out altogether.
Be vigilant about what’s going on around you, and if in doubt, refer to the old adage “If you feel threatened, leave. If in doubt, get out.” Always connect with those you trust if you feel unsafe traveling and consider reaching out to local police or your nearest US Embassy if you need urgent support.
What to Do If a Loved One is Missing Abroad
Whether you lose track of a traveling companion or grow concerned about a family member who is currently overseas, it is important to take any missing US citizen case seriously. Discover more about what can be done next on our free missing persons resource page, or reach out to the Lauth team if you would like the expert assistance of an international missing persons investigator.
There are few feelings more unsettling than knowing that a loved one is far away and being unable to confirm their well-being. Unfortunately, this is the harrowing experience faced by many Americans when a friend, partner, or family member goes missing abroad.
There are several proactive steps that can be taken in order to find an American missing abroad, however, it also helps to understand why a missing US citizen may be beyond your reach. Not all cases in which a person falls off the grid are tragic stories—in fact, here at Lauth Missing Persons we have a 90% success rate in finding those who are lost—so there is always room for hope.
Alongside coordinating with the State Department and authorities on the ground, collaborating with a specialized international missing persons investigator can dramatically speed the process of bringing your loved one home. However, first, let’s examine some of the more common and entirely non-violent reasons why someone might be deemed a missing person abroad.
Misunderstanding or Miscommunication
In some instances, a missing person overseas may simply have miscommunicated their plans or their itinerary may have been misconstrued. A traveler on the go may fail to check messages and touch base with loved ones. This kind of loss of communication can also occur due to a drift of non-contact when a person travels abroad and decides not to return. However, when communication is suddenly severed or behavior is uncharacteristic, it might be a call to take action.
Technological Isolation or Lost Documents
When a traveler chooses to wander off the beaten path, barriers to communication such as a lack of phone or internet service can quickly leave their loved ones worrying. This problem can be compounded by occurrences including a lost, stolen, or broken phone and the loss of key documentation or financial resources critical to forward travel.
It’s scary to imagine a friend or family member in personal crisis far from home, but it is also important to recognize that mental health can be a risk factor for going missing abroad. Here at Lauth Missing Persons, we understand how vital it is to approach each case with empathy and work closely with family and/or loved ones of any missing person to identify anything that may have contributed to an international disappearance.
Romantic Interest or a New Relationship
Most of us know what it feels like to get swept up in the moment when a new romantic interest arrives in our lives. It may be surprising, but a new relationship can lead to someone forgetting to check in with those who care about them most. Of course, some love interests may be cause for concern in their own right, so if communication is dropped in an out-of-character way, a swift follow-up can be the safest course of action.
Removed by a Guardian or Family Member
Whether out of the blue or following a family breakdown, it is immensely distressing for those left behind when a child is taken overseas by a parent or other guardian. In many instances, this may be considered an abduction if a child was removed from their home without the consent of all concerned parties. Under these circumstances, seeking immediate legal and investigative support is essential.
Going Off the Radar Intentionally
When we talk about a missing person abroad who has actively chosen to get off the radar, their actions will likely fall into one of three different categories. They may have chosen to run away from a safe setting, such as in the case of a runaway teen. They might be escaping an unsafe situation, such as an individual fleeing domestic violence. Or they may be absconding to avoid legal consequences having fallen foul of the authorities.
Detained by Authorities Abroad
In some cases, we uncover that an American missing abroad has been detained by local authorities. This could be because they are suspected of committing a crime or it may simply be the consequence of overstaying a visa—however, because communication is often challenging for those in detention abroad, tracking them down can be a crucial step ahead of ensuring adequate legal support.
Seeking Support When Your Loved One Goes Missing Abroad
As you can see, there are numerous reasons why a missing person overseas may become unreachable. However, until the reality of the situation is known it is completely normal to be highly concerned and want to take action urgently. If you are unsure about the status of a loved one abroad, visit the Lauth Missing Persons resources page for further guidance on the next steps that you can take right away. If you’d like assistance, an international missing persons investigator is ready to take your call.
We can be thankful that the vast majority of families across the United States will never have to ask what happens if an American goes missing in another country. However, for the few who suddenly find themselves staring down the barrel of this unwelcome question, the need for high-caliber information can be urgent.
Here at Lauth Missing Persons, our team is always ready to be called upon in an international missing persons investigation. When the clock is ticking to find a missing US citizen overseas, we understand that the challenges are always unique to the location and circumstances of their disappearance.
We also know that a clear outline of where to begin as a loved one of an American missing abroad is a must. With that in mind, read on for an overview of what happens when an American goes missing in another country and what you can do today to increase the probability of bringing your loved one home safely.
Understanding American Law Enforcement Jurisdiction in Missing Person Overseas Cases
It can be distressing to learn that the jurisdiction of American law enforcement to investigate international missing person cases can be limited. Local privacy laws or authorities simply unwilling to cooperate can leave our own home-grown authorities dealing with closed doors at the border and silence in response to information requests.
Each national and even local jurisdiction can mean very different circumstances on the ground for investigators of every stripe. However, as the loved one of someone who is missing abroad, you can pull out all the stops to maximize the reach of those able to assist.
Making Noise Adds Momentum to an International Missing Person Case
What do we mean by making noise? Crucially, the more eyes that encounter the news that your loved one is missing, the more likely the right connection will be forged and the more pressure will be placed on those actively investigating the case.
This can be achieved by setting up a website about your loved one’s disappearance, creating a crowd-funding campaign to support your search, sharing information on social media, and contacting media outlets both here in the United States and in the country where they went missing. It is also worth searching for independent aid organizations and other resources focused on missing persons in the relevant country.
Working With an International Missing Persons Investigator
When the situation is pressing or local authorities are being less than helpful, boots on the ground can be the most practical choice. Many family members of people who go missing abroad choose to travel to where their loved ones were last seen to do whatever they can to support a safe return. However, an expert international investigator can be a vital ally when language barriers and local legislation are making progress elusive.
When the news emerged that 21-year-old American student Ken “Kenny” DeLand had vanished without a trace in France, the hearts of parents everywhere churned on behalf of the family so desperately trying to find him.
It was the run-up to Christmas and Kenny’s loved ones anticipated seeing him soon. His study abroad program at the University Grenoble Alpes was set to end on December 15 with his visa expiring only the following month.
However, in an instant, the DeLand family was plunged into a nightmare when Kenny became an American missing abroad. Happily, this is a story with a positive ending and also with a number of valuable examples of how others faced with such a crisis can take control of the situation. Read on as we dive into Kenny’s story and highlight key pointers for anyone trying to find a missing person abroad.
The Disappearance of Kenny DeLand
On November 29 of 2022, Kenny had breakfast and packed a bag with a change of clothes, his phone and wallet, and left his French host family’s home without saying a word. Only two days prior, he’d sent his last WhatsApp message to his family and shared his last social media post. He’d left behind all of his other belongings, including his other devices and phone charger.
With the alarm raised, efforts began to trace the whereabouts of Kenny, initially to little avail. His phone had last pinged on November 30th before going dark. It was learned that he’d boarded a train to Valence, despite not having his train pass.
A trace on Kenny’s bank account and CCTV footage allowed him to be traced to a Decathlon store in Montelimar on December 3, where the 6ft tall student was recorded making a purchase for $8.40 while wearing a red jacket, grey beanie, blue jeans, scarf, and black backpack. However, those on Kenny’s trail were still in the wind.
Frustration for the Loved Ones of Kenny DeLand
The DeLand family quickly jumped into action, setting up a website for Kenny and working with the State Department, the FBI, and the French authorities to try to track down their son. Heart wrenchingly, they shared online, “We fear the worst and want him to be located.”
However, as not only the language barrier but also French privacy legislation blocked the flow of critical information from authorities, DeLand Senior publicly shared his frustrations. “There’s no reciprocation of information. That privacy act prevents disclosure of information, you can give them information but they cannot give you information,” he shared with CNN.
But their efforts were not in vain, because the extensive media coverage of Kenny’s disappearance had hit the headlines in Spain. As the family learned on December 16—only five days after holding a prayer vigil for the young traveler’s safe return—Kenny had in fact crossed the border despite a flag on his passport. After seeing himself on the news, Kenny contacted his parents, who shared online, “Without everyone’s help, we wouldn’t have our Son, hopefully, home Christmas.”
Taking Control When a Loved One Goes Missing Abroad
As Kenny’s story makes clear, while embassies, the State Department, and law enforcement on the ground can provide some support there is power in taking independent steps to find a missing person overseas. This can span from creating social media campaigns and contacting media outlets to seeking expert support from an international missing persons investigator who can immediately get out into the field and search for your loved one. Here at Lauth Missing Persons, we provide a spectrum of investigative support options for those who are trying to a missing US citizen abroad. Head over to our free missing persons resources page to discover more about how you can take control of this difficult situation or contact our team today to discuss how we can assist.
The high-profile case of Brittany Grinder’s detention in Russia brought the harsh realities of the risk of traveling internationally into the consciousness of everyday Americans. However, as the Washington Post recently reported, many U.S. citizens who are wrongfully detained receive far less media attention—and their numbers have only grown over the last decade.
The risk of being kidnapped or wrongfully held in high-risk travel destinations or within the borders of U.S. adversaries is real for those brave enough to venture into the unknown.
As FBI Special Agent Robert Saale shared, “Not a week goes by without the kidnapping of an American citizen abroad,” and while some situations can be resolved quickly, others may mean years of hardship for both those targeted and their loved ones.
What Do We Know About Americans Detained or Missing Abroad?
While details of some of the better-known cases of Americans held in foreign countries hit the headlines, the true scale of this problem remains veiled in secrecy. The State Department remains unwilling to share exactly how many Americans currently face this dire fate, with some cases seemingly considered classified and others simply undisclosed.
Certain hostile regimes such as Russia, Iran, and Turkey are seen as the most common culprits when it comes to wrongful detention, however, ill intention or a simple misunderstanding can lead to an American being detained just about anywhere in the world.
Of course, for many families searching for loved ones who have gone missing overseas under mysterious circumstances, it can be difficult to identify whether they could have been detained under suspicion of a crime or in a visa dispute—especially when communication is prevented. Locating such missing persons abroad can be essential for ensuring they receive legal support and to safeguard their rights, making adequate investigation absolutely vital.
Federal Resources for Americans Missing Abroad
Historically, families have looked to the State Department, the FBI, and even international agencies like Interpol for support in finding and helping loved ones who are missing, kidnapped, or detained overseas. These remain key authorities in the search for U.S. citizens missing abroad, however for the last seven years, those left behind have benefited from the additional attention of the Hostage Recovery Fusion Cell.
This specialized task force was established under Presidential Policy Directive 30 in 2015 to bring home Americans in trouble. Speaking about its formation, assistant director of the FBI’s Victim Services Division Kathryn Turman shared: “The voices of hostage families on their interactions with their government were the driving force behind the White House hostage policy review and the creation of the HRFC.”
What You Can Do if Your Loved One is Missing or Detained Abroad
The first steps to take upon realizing that your loved one is missing abroad and may have been detained are to connect with the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate and the State Department’s Overseas Citizens Service. You may feel able to reach out to local law enforcement in the country where your loved one was traveling, however if in doubt, embassy or State Department staff will be able to provide advice and guidance.
Oftentimes, media attention is pivotal in the successful resolution of cases of wrongful detention of a person missing overseas. Contacting media outlets both at home and abroad and launching social media campaigns can be highly effective strategies. You can explore our missing persons resource page for further information in these areas. When coming up against brick walls with local authorities or feeling frustrated with the support provided by American federal agencies, many families seek additional help from an international missing persons investigator. This specialized type of private investigator will offer a unique skillset in navigating the challenges that precede bringing a loved one home under such complex circumstances. If you require expert advice or want to get boots on the ground abroad that will answer directly to you, reach out to the Lauth Missing Persons team today.