There is a crisis growing in the realm of criminal justice and missing persons. According to Statista, as of the beginning of 2022, there were 521,705 missing person files in the FBI’s National Crime Information Center (NCIC) database. As changes in criminal patterns continue to emerge in the thick of the pandemic, the problem is projected to get worse as law enforcement resources are drawn elsewhere. However, experts have proffered that one of the best solutions to the growing crisis is a similar, highly-accessible database to NCIC known as the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System (NamUs) . However, the glaring roadblock is the underutilization by law enforcement. So what are the major differences between NCIC and NamUs?
One of the chief differences between NCIC and NamUs is the level of access to the public. The National Missing and Unidentified Persons Systems is a federally-funded online database for missing, unidentified, and unclaimed persons in the United States. While NCIC is only available to authorized law enforcement and criminal justice agencies, NamUs has varying levels of access that allow everyone from law enforcement to private citizens. Law enforcement and criminal justice agencies have the same respective level of access afforded to them in NCIC, but with NamUs, families of missing persons can also enter their loved one’s information into the database. Because NamUs is a database that aggregates information from law enforcement, criminal justice agencies, coroners, and families of missing persons, it’s often regarded by cold case experts as one of the greatest resources available to law enforcement and other investigating agencies. The shocking part? It is one of the most underutilized resources available to law enforcement.
There is no federal or state mandate that compels law enforcement and criminal justice agencies to enter information from their open missing person cases into NamUs. There have been repeated effort to pass legislation in this matter from cold case experts who wish to see the database—people like Dr. Erin Kimmerle, a leading expert in cold cases who runs the Florida Institute of Forensic Anthropology and Applied Science at the University of South Florida. She says that law enforcement must be utilizing NamUs, because not only are the state and national databases often out of date, but NamUs actually allows users to submit pictures and DNA samples from the public that can help law enforcement narrow the search, “It’s huge and a lot of cases get solved that way. Someone sees something they recognize, an afgan blanket or a sweater.”
Across the U.S., only ten states require law enforcement to use NamUs. States like Florida are still permitting law enforcement to enter data into NamUs on a voluntary basis. According to Kimmerle, the idea of it being voluntary leaves the quality of data entry wanting, “When it’s voluntary, there’s information in there, but not all the information, so you’re really limited, especially when it comes to unidentified persons. We have to know who we’re looking for.”
The family of an Indiana couple found in Nevada is reeling after learning their tragic story of survival while lost in their RV. Before they were reported missing, Beverly and Ron Barker had last been seen at a gas station in Nevada. After seven days of being lost in the wilderness, the couple was found—unfortunately not in time to avert tragedy.
On March 27, 2022, Ron and Beverly were on a road trip to Tucson, Arizona where they hoped to visit with friends. They took off from a California campground in their RV towing a Kia SUV in the back. They were expected to arrive in Tucson on March 29, but never showed up. When the RV turned up stuck in gravel along their route without the SUV attached and no Ron or Beverly in sight, it raised more questions than answers. Details released after the Indiana couple was found have illuminated the more harrowing aspects of their story.
Ron and Beverly were relying on the GPS to help them navigate through Nevada, but according to Beverly’s nephew, Travis Peters, the GPS had not been set to highway mode, which would may have provided them with a safer route to travel given that they were in an RV with a vehicle trailer. However, Ron and Beverly did not immediately think the route was dangerous, seeing other cars, and even another RV on the same route as them. At some point, the RV became stuck in the sand and gravel on the side of the road, forcing the couple to stop the drive for the day and sleep in the RV overnight. The following morning, they unhooked their SUV and set off in search of help, believing it would be a quick business of finding help.
Unfortunately, Ron and Beverly took another wrong turn, and the SUV also got stuck around 2 miles from where the RV was parked. Unable to get out and walk for help the couple were forced to sit in the SUV and honk the horn—signaling S.O.S.—every ten minutes or so. Dehydration soon set in, and Beverly had to use her walker to get to a snowbank and use an N95 mask to scoop snow into bags so they could melt it for drinking water. “My uncle Ronnie was dying, and there was nothing they could do by honk that horn and try to melt the snow for drink,” Travis Peters wrote on Facebook.
It went on like that for days, with Ronnie slowly succumbing to dehydration. Ronnie read form his Bible to comfort them both while they waited for rescue, hoping help would arrive in time. Tragically, Ronnie passed away Monday afternoon, less than a day before the rescuers found their RV. Rescuers were able to hear Beverly honking the horn after finding the RV. Beverly was airlifted to a hospital in Reno for evaluation.
Ron and Beverly’s family members have expressed frustration with the fact that a Silver Alert was not issued for Ron and Beverly at the time they were reported missing, and wished that the authorities had taken their concerns more seriously when they were reported missing. “Had proper steps been taken from the moment they were reported as missing, my uncle would be alive today. Your inability to deal with this situation may have cost my uncle his life. I hope that haunts you for the rest of yours.”
Most parents have their children’s’ best interests at heart, but when tempers flare or tense domestic disputes arise, a parent or guardian may act impulsively without thinking about the consequences. Custodial kidnapping—otherwise known as parental kidnapping—describes when one parent takes their child without the consent of the other. How complex the situation that follows becomes will depend on whether or not a custody order has been violated, and how challenging the abducting parent is to find. Regardless of the circumstances, it’s imperative to know how to proceed in the case of a custodial kidnapping.
Violation of a Court-Ordered Custody Agreement
In the case of divorced or separated parents—or indeed any other circumstance where a custody order may already be in place—a clear violation can allow you to act. Taking a child will certainly prevent “parenting time”, custodial, or visitation rights from being met. In a case such as this, you can file a motion for contempt of court, and reach out to your child custody office for enforcement support. If you have reason to believe your child is in danger, you can also contact local authorities in the event of a custodial kidnapping.
When There is No Custody Order In Place
When custodial kidnapping or parental kidnapping occurs that is not in breach of a custody agreement, the parent left behind can find themselves left in a much more complex situation. Your goal should be to seek an emergency custody order from the courts, however presenting a body of evidence to support that order will be vital. A parent leaving their home state with a child does not necessarily equate to breaking the law. Your filing will have to demonstrate that the kidnapping parent or guardian is actively evading the jurisdiction of the courts, doesn’t have the wellbeing of the child in mind, or is putting the child at direct risk.
When to Call In a Private Investigator
Any parent whose child has disappeared is bound to feel that time is of the essence. A licensed private investigator will be perfectly poised to jump directly on the trail of your child before it goes cold. They will also be able to assist with compiling an airtight case that will stand up to the scrutiny of a judge. Because of the deeply emotional nature of custodial kidnappings, a private investigator can prove indispensable—providing all-important impartiality as a documented body of evidence is built that will support your cause in court.
At times, parental kidnappings can distressingly unfold into a hide and seek scenario. Causing great heartache to the parent or guardian left behind, tracking and tracing the child in question can become the absolute number one priority. For moments such as these, our team of missing person investigators here at Lauth Missing Persons bring 30 years of dedicated experience to the table—having located not only missing adults and children in the US, but also those missing overseas. Should you discover that your child may have been taken abroad, we are equipped to step up the search to an international scale without missing a beat.
Turning to Trusted Missing Person Specialists in a Moment of Crisis
Here at Lauth, missing person investigators offer a bounty of experience in helping parents to navigate child custody cases and quickly locating children who have been kidnapped by a guardian. Drawing on a depth of legal and jurisdictional understanding, we can help you assess the current crisis; advise on your options; liaise with your lawyer, authorities, and applicable NGOs; and act with urgency to keep your child safe. If you are in the midst of a custodial kidnapping and want help in building a case or urgently locating your child, we are on hand to help. Learn more about our process, or contact our team today to learn more.
Cases of missing children are always more fraught than those of missing adults, but missing child cases can be even further compounded when missing children have neurodevelopmental disorders such as autism. This requires a specialized approach in the missing person investigation that can present particular challenges, like the ones investigators have faced in searching for Ryan Larsen, 12. It’s been over 125 days since Ryan disappeared from his school last May, and investigators are still stymied on what exactly happened in the moments before his disappearance.
Ryan Larsen walked away from La Vista West Elementary school in La Vista, Nebraska on May 17, 2021. Following the report of his disappearance, police launched a comprehensive search of land, air, and water in the nearby areas only to come up with nothing. Unfortunately, investigators were staring down a long tunnel with no answers. In a press conference nearly a month ago, La Vista Police Chief Bob Lausten said “After the initial period of searching by land, by air, and the water, things went a little bit stagnant.”
Just like any missing person case, the Ryan Larsen case has been subject to a barrage of self-proclaimed psychics who claim they know what happened to Ryan, but none of the tips investigators have received have panned out. When Ryan’s umbrella was found by a dumpster near his family’s home, landfill assessment experts from the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children in pursuit of the theory that Ryan might have accidentally fallen in the dumpster and had ended up in the landfill. Lausten also told the media, “They did an analysis and the possibility of that would be very minute, the lowest probability on the scale of that happening. So there’s no evidence we had that it actually happened, but we wanted to rule out even those remote possibilities.”
In hopes of better preparing the La Vista Police Department to better handle cases such as Ryan’s, they have launched a new community program called “Take Me Home.” The program will allow members of the community to help law enforcement with information on their children with special needs, or vulnerable adults. “Getting information about special needs kids, people or vulnerable adults and have that in a database so if we do get a call, for example of an Alzheimer’s patient that walks away from their house, the information we will have already is what places they frequent if they have done this before, where were they found before,” explained Lausten. “So when we’re en route to the call, officers can get into areas quickly and we can get the search going.”
This kind of program has the ability to accelerate the processes behind missing person investigations and benefit future missing persons. Future emergencies can be more quickly resolved and increase the chances of a vulnerable missing person being found.
Ryan Larsen is described as white, 5’8” tall, with brown hair and hazel eyes. At the time of his disappearance, he was wearing a black jacket, blue jeans, an Old Navy Shirt, and was carrying a polka dot umbrella. If you see Ryan, authorities say not to call his name; instead, keep your distance and call 911. Anyone with information about his location should call Sarpy County Crimestoppers at 402-592-STOP (7867); or call 911. LVPD is also urging the public to use its See It, Say It, Send It app to submit tips, but to also “be mindful of unsubstantiated rumors circulating on this case.”
When a person goes missing, the onset of the investigation is already overwhelming for the family and loved ones of that missing person. Investigators who take the initial report need a cornucopia of information in order to get an idea of their schedule, their habits, and who they were close to in their lives. From there, investigators develop a plan for search and recovery of that missing person. One of the only things that could exacerbate these circumstances further is when a loved one goes missing abroad. International missing person investigations already require the cooperation of several entities that could be easily tied up in red tape. The apprehension associated with a strange country where you don’t speak the language and are not familiar with their legal system further compounds the panic that sets in when a loved one goes missing abroad. That’s why loved ones need to consult an international missing person investigator to ensure that no stone goes unturned.
Missing person investigations are inherently a tricky business. Though there are certainly observable patterns in missing person victimology, every case is different, and each case demands a unique approach. While a missing person report and investigation must be initiated with law enforcement, many families of missing persons will tell you that their local police or sheriff department was ill-equipped to handle the disappearance of their loved one. This could be due to a lack of labor, resources, or an overwhelming caseload for investigators. Regardless of the source of the issue, all roads lead to lost time in a missing person investigation. All missing person investigators will tell you that the first 48-72 hours of any missing person investigation are the most crucial, because that is the window of time when relevant witnesses and evidence are still fresh. Unfortunately, in the case of international missing person cases, the time in which it could take to properly facilitate the launch of a missing person investigation, these important leads could be lost. International investigations come with unique quirks depending on the country, but with regards to Americans who go missing abroad, families can expect to encounter problems with language barriers, lack of knowledge about the law enforcement systems in place, and general confusion when it comes to navigating the investigation.
One such case where an international missing person investigation faced similar issues was the case of Travis Sackett. Lauth Investigations International recently joined the search for the missing Batavia, New York man who went missing while travelling abroad in Ecuador back in February 2021. On the day of his disappearance, Travis was reportedly on his way to hike the nearby Imbabura Volcano. When he did not report to work the next morning on the farm where he had been working and living, his host reported him missing. In the initial stages of the investigation, searches for Travis by local law enforcement were very spaced out due to poor weather conditions, and valuable time was lost in the onset. Despite the crucial direction of local guides and the dedication of independent investigators, there have still been no answers in the search for Travis.
An international missing person investigator can run a concurrent investigation with local law enforcement into the disappearance of an American who goes missing overseas. While local law enforcement runs their protocol in missing person investigations, an independent investigator can turn over proverbial stones that law enforcement lacks the time or resources to investigate. If your family is struggling with a loved one who’s gone missing abroad, please reach out to Lauth Investigations International for a free consultation on how our missing person investigators can help you find answers.
Eleven year-old Xavior Harrelson has been missing for over a week since he disappeared from his Montezuma, Iowa mobile home park on May 27, 2021. He was last seen around 11 a.m. wearing a red t-shirt, blue pajama pants, and black high-top shoes. He has brown hair, blue eyes, and stands 4’8” tall.
According to Xavior’s mother, the boy left the mobile home—she reportedly assumed—to play with friends. The mobile home park itself is very close to a nearby park. Diamond Lake County Park spans more than 660 acres of wooded land and includes over 100 campsites for tourists and locals. In the days since Xavior disappeared, the Poweshiek Coutny Sheriff’s Office and the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation have deployed resources to comb the area surrounding the mobile home park, including scent-dogs, ATVs, drones, a dive team, and temperature-sensitive technology. Finding no sign of Xavior, investigators are continuing to develop new leads in the case. Mitch Mortvedt, the assistant director of the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation, said in a statement, “All we really know for sure right now is that Xavior was reported missing on Thursday and we know what he was possibly wearing when he left the house. Other than that, we don’t know anything for sure.”
The circumstances of Xavior’s disappearance are nebulous, with investigators unsure of whether he got lost while playing with his friends, or if he was taken under more nefarious circumstances. Despite searching within a half-mile radius of the boy’s home, investigators have yet to uncover a trace of what may have happened to Xavior. “It’s certainly suspicious that he seems to have just disappeared and no one has seen him, “Mortvedt said, “but there is no evidence that is definitively pushing the needle one way or another. There is nothing to indicate that his disappearance was criminal, though we are certainly looking at that angle.”
It was Xavior’s family friend who first reported the boy as missing when she did not see him out riding his bike on Thursday morning. It is highly unusual for a neighbor to report a young child like Xavior missing before the parents, but Samantha Rix told KCCI8 in Des Moines that she felt compelled to speak for the little boy, “The other thing I can’t really wrap my head around is why isn’t anybody in the family gone on here? And so that’s why I’m Xavior’s voice. And that’s how I feel. And that’s why I keep doing this, because somebody has to speak for him.”
In excess of 500 volunteers, first-responders, and investigators have dedicated time towards searching for Xavior. It’s the second time the community has had to step up for a missing citizen in only a few short years. Around the same time almost three years ago, the community was searching for 20-year-old Mollie Tibbetts, who disappeared while on a jog. “To be right back here, you know, working out of the sheriff’s office and in the same communities as we were three—almost three years ago—when Mollie disappeared, it’s frightening.”
If you have any information on the disappearance of Xavior Harrelson, you’re asked to call the Poweshiek County Sheriff’s Office tip line at 641-623-2107.