Americans are captivated by missing child stories, haunted by the nagging specter of “What if this happened to my child?”
The year 2018 was punctuated by a handful of missing child cases that were covered by mainstream media, including Jayme Closs, Mollie Tibbetts, and Karlie Gusé. Interest in missing children cases continues to grow with the production of documentaries and docuseries about famous missing child cases, like Madeline McCann and Jan Broberg. This cultivated curiosity can only benefit the ultimate goal of keeping a missing person’s face in the public eye in the interest of unearthing unexplored leads in their cases. Here is a list of fast facts about missing child cases to inform coverage in the media and online.
Law enforcement in the United States received reports of
424,066 missing children in 2018.
The FBI’s National Crime Information Center (NCIC) Missing
Person File states that as of December 31st, 2018, there were 85,459
active missing person records in which children under the age of 18 account for
It’s estimated that 1,435 kidnappings occur every year, but
due in large part to a majority of those being familial abductions, not all
have likely been reported.
The Second National Incidence Studies of Missing, Abducted,
Runaway, and Throwaway Children released by the Department of Justice in 2002,
spanning the years of 1997-1999, reported that 203,900 of the 797,500 reported
missing children in a one-year period were abducted by family members, and 58,200
were abducted by non-relatives. 115 of those reported cases were classified as
According to the National Center for Missing and Exploited
Children, since 1965, there have been 325 reported infant abductions in the
United States. Of those abducted children, 140 were taken from healthcare
facilities, 138 were taken from the home, and 47 were abducted from other locations.
Of those abducted infants, 16 remain missing.
Not all missing minors and children qualify for Amber
Alerts. America’s Missing Broadcast Emergency Response Alerts are emergency
messages broadcast when a law enforcement agency determines that a child has
been abducted and is in imminent danger. The broadcasts include information
about the child and the abductor, including physical descriptions as well as
information about the abductor’s vehicle—which could lead to the child’s
recovery. Missing children and teenagers who are classified as “runaways” may
not qualify for an Amber Alert because there is no evidence of abduction.
When people think of abductions, they likely think of
stranger danger and violent attacks. However, in 2016, 60% of all AMBER Alerts
that were issued were for abductions committed by a family member.
Since 1997, the AMBER Alert Program has been responsible for
the safe recovery of 957 children.
The AMBER Alert system was named for Amber Hagerman, who was
abducted and killed in 1996.
Missing Children in Media
Etan Patz, a six-year-old boy who disappeared on his way to
his bus stop in Manhattan, was one of the first missing children to be featured
on a milk carton.
Media coverage of missing child cases has been elevated in recent years by American television personality John Walsh, host of America’s Most Wanted. John Walsh became an anti-crime advocate following the disappearance and murder of his son, Adam Walsh, in 1981.
The disappearance of 3-year-old Madeline McCann is often regarded as one of the highest-profile missing child cases globally.
NCMEC received 23,500 reports of endangered runaways in
2018. One in seven of those children were estimated to be victims of sex
The average age of a child sex trafficking victim is 15
years old, according to NCMEC reports.
Child sex trafficking has been reported in every single
state in the United States.
The age group of children targeted by strangers in
abductions are female children aged 12-17. This aligns with approximate age
range of minor children targeted for sex trafficking.
The average minor victim of online predatory behavior is 15
years of age.
Of the predators targeting minor victims online, 82% are male, 9% are female, and 9% could not be determined.
Online predators most commonly target children on social media, photo sharing platforms, and video gaming platforms.
Autism & wandering
Between 2007 and 2017, 952 children with autism were
reported missing to NCMEC. In 61% of cases, those children were classified as “endangered
runaways” or lost, injured, or otherwise missing (20%).
Almost half of the cases of children were autism reported (48%) were recovered within one day of going missing, and 74% were recovered within 7 days.
We can help…
If your child has gone missing, call Lauth Investigations International today for a free consultation and learn how our expertise and experience can provide you answers in the search for your missing child. Call 317-951-1100, or visit us online at www.lauthmissinstg.wpengine.com
When you are in the midst of a traumatic experience, it’s
hard to look beyond the immediate crisis.
When a loved one goes missing, it’s hard to think about issuing a press release and why it may be so important to learn in the initial days folmlowing the missing person report.
How important is a press release when some we love goes missing?
Digital communication is the most used form of communication in the United States. When a person goes missing, it becomes paramount to notify as many people as possible in order to generate leads for law enforcement, and finding missing persons is a cooperative effort between law enforcement, media and families of missing persons.
Press releases and other forms of digital communication offer
the important opportunity to provide important details about the case to
thousands of people, along with disseminating descriptive information and
photographs of the missing person. In addition, an effective missing person
press release becomes the most important form of communication between a victim
family and the news media.
Some may have the resources to hire a professional to write
a press release. While this is a great option, there are other considerations
one must be aware of and familiar with to write an effective and professional
press release while also preserving the integrity of the case for law
enforcement, so as not to compromise an investigation.
When writing a press release, samples can be difficult to
find and replicate. Honestly, they can be tough to write because few people
understand their structure. Exceptional press releases all contain certain
elements. These elements should be present in all press releases written.
When you know what to include in your press release, along
with how to structure it, your release will be more legible, credible, and
useful for readers.
Following are foundational tips to help guide you through
the process of writing a press release for a missing person case.
- If you are ready for your press release to go
public, use the words “IMMEDIATE RELEASE” at the top of the press release. If
the release needs to be held for a day or two put “HOLD RELEASE UNTIL” and add
- All words in your headline should be in Title
Case, meaning the words in your headline should be capitalized except for
prepositions and words under four letters.
- Include the City, State, Month, Day and Year. Press
releases are meant for wide audiences, but it is also important to connect them
with your geographical location and including your local information is
- Throughout your press release try to use
keywords such as missing person, missing adult, missing child, abduction, disappearance,
kidnapping, and others depending upon the circumstances of the disappearance.
It is not necessary to go overboard with the use of keywords: just include them
naturally throughout the release.
- Write a summary paragraph to help readers
immediately understand to help journalists understand what the press release is
about so they can make a decision whether to cover the story or not. The who,
what, where, when and why should all be included in a press release. A summary paragraph
must be interesting and compelling to readers so use it to include the most
relevant information, while laying out the key points of the press release.
- Six Elements need to be included.
- Who. Who is the press release about? Who are the
- What. What is the topic of the press release?
Why should readers care about the release?
- Why. Why are you sending out the release?
- When. When is the subject of the release taking
- Where. Where is the activity taking place?
- How. How does the subject of your release
provide value? How does it help your readers?
- Finish It Up with a Compelling Last Paragraph
Contact: Mandy Harris
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Family and Police
Seeking Information About Jane Doe Who Vanished from a Waltan Parking Lot
Phoenix, Ariz. April 15, 2019/ Today, Phoenix Police
Department announced they are searching for information from the public about
the disappearance of Jane Doe, 21, who mysteriously vanished after a north
Phoenix parking lot on Sunday evening. At an upcoming press conference, police,
along with family members of Jane Doe will be sharing information with the
public to help locating the missing Arizona State University student.
Sunday, April 15, 2019, at approximately 6 p.m. Jane Doe was
seen on a security camera entering the Waltan store located at 19th
Avenue and Bell Road. She proceeded to purchase a couple items and left within
ten minutes. Upon leaving, Jane Doe
walked to the northwest side of the parking lot where her white 2014 Honda
Civic was parked. There, an unidentified male, possibly white or Hispanic, can
be seen on the security footage speaking to Jane Doe who continued to get into
her vehicle and leave through the west entrance. Moments later, a 2001-2003
maroon Dodge Durango with the same man driving was seen slowly following the
white Honda Civic out of the parking lot heading north on 19th
Avenue. The maroon Dodge Durango is also being sought by police in several
other attempted abductions.
A press conference is scheduled on Tuesday April 16, 2019,
in the Waltan Parking lot where Jane Doe was last seen. Accompanied by the
Phoenix Police Department, Jane Doe’s two adult sisters, Mandy Harris and Leah
Martin, will speak to reporters about the search for their baby sister.
In addition to discussing the case of Jane Doe, Phoenix
Police is expected to issue a warning to citizens regarding the maroon Dodge Durango
suspected in the attempted abductions of several other women in the North
For information please call Mandy Harris at 602-000-000.
# End of Release #
It is said, ambiguous loss is the most traumatic of human experiences, and when someone you love goes missing, it is a trauma unlike any other.
Ambiguous loss occurs without understanding or closure, leaving a person searching for answers. Ambiguous loss confounds the process of grieving, leaving a person with prolonged unresolved grief and deep emotional trauma.
Ambiguous loss can be classified in two categories, psychological and physical. Psychological and physical loss differ in terms of what and why exactly the person is grieving.
Physical ambiguous loss means the body of a loved is no longer present, such as a missing person or unrecovered body, resulting from war, a catastrophe such as 9/11 or kidnapping, but the person is still remembered psychologically because there is still a chance the person may return. Such is the case with a missing person. This type of loss results in trauma and can cause Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
Psychological Loss is a type of loss that is a result of a loved one still physically present, but psychologically absent. Psychological loss can occur when the brain of a loved one is affected, such as traumatic brain injury or Alzheimer’s disease.
When a person goes missing, loved ones are left with more questions than answers, leaving them searching, not only for the missing person but for answers.
Professor Emeritus at the University of Minnesota, Dr. Pauline Boss is a pioneer who has studied ambiguous loss since 1973, and her decades of research have revealed those who suffer from ambiguous loss without finality, face a particularly difficult burden. Whether it is the experience of caring for a parent with Alzheimer’s disease, or someone awaiting the fate of a family member who has disappeared under suspicious circumstances or a disastrous event such as 9/11 or Hurricane Katrina, the loss is magnified because it is linked to lack of closure.
Those experiencing ambiguous loss find it difficult to understand, cope and almost impossible to move forward with their lives without professional counseling, love and support.
Experiencing grief is a vital part of healing, but ambiguous loss stalls the process of grieving, sometimes indefinitely. With the possibility a missing person may be alive, individuals are confounded as to how to cope.
Parents and family members of missing persons say there is no such thing as closure. Dr. Pauline Boss says the idea of closure can lead us astray – it’s a myth that needs to be set aside, like accepting the idea grief has five linear stages and we simply come out the other side and done with it.
Five Stages of Grief
It is widely accepted there are five stages of grief:
While many helpful programs are focused on these various stages, they are not necessarily experienced on order, nor are they inclusive to other issues that commonly arise, and they certainly do not include what a family experiences when a loved one goes missing.
In my nearly 30 years working with families of missing persons and unsolved homicides, I have witnessed all stages of grief and ambiguity, finding the profound effects of a loved one going missing is multi-generational and all encompassing.
Family members of missing persons must live with people’s misconception that the individual or family must move on. Like PTSD flashbacks, a missing loved one is a traumatic event that does not end, and each life event is a reminder the individual, is gone without a trace.
Those of us who have never experienced having a loved one disappear, tend to react to situations using our own experiences and may relate the disappearance of an individual to the death of someone we have loved passing away. The problem is, with a missing person there is no place to grieve, to visit, no physical body to mourn.
Constant daily uncertainty is a major source of stress, emotionally, physically, psychologically and with a missing person, the uncertainty does not dissipate. When others expect one to move on, they commonly do not understand circumstances simply do not allow it.
It is not uncommon for families to experience all phases of ambiguous loss taking a toll both physically and mentally. While I was there to help, I often found myself the one who was thankful as I was blessed to see and meet, the most amazing, strong, and courageous individuals. Getting to know these families made me face my own vulnerability and the fact this can happen to any family.
The most moving of my recollections is of a young mother who had gone missing under suspicious circumstances. Her mother had contacted me and knew something terrible had happened to her daughter, insistent police needed to investigate more aggressively.
She had been missing a year during Christmas of 2002. Her mother called me to discuss her daughter’s case and told me that her granddaughter had written a letter to Santa and wanted to read it to me.
The little girl wrote:
“Dear Santa, I am not writing you for toys this year. The only thing I want for Christmas is for my Mommy to come home.”
My heart broke for this little girl. Little did I know, fast forward fifteen years later, I would be having a conversation with the same child. She had grown into a beautiful young lady and miraculously living a normal life despite growing up without her mother who remains missing. Not all are so fortunate.
Sometimes we forget how many people are impacted when a loved one goes missing. Children of missing persons, siblings, grandparents, parents, and other family and friends. The impact is immeasurable on the family structure and one needing to be studied further. What we do know, is the trauma of ambiguous loss affects everyone differently and a family can quickly spiral out of control without immediate intervention.
When a person goes missing, children are displaced, families can suffer financially due to loss of income or assets becoming tied up in the legal process, siblings of missing persons, children especially, face numerous obstacles when being raised in a household where ongoing trauma is occurring and they must live in the shadow of someone no longer there.
With missing children, parents are faced with the “not knowing” on a day to day basis. When an adult child goes missing, parents are not only left with the “not knowing”, they also face the possibility of raising their grandchildren.
As with the young girl who I watched grow up, her grandmother somehow found the courage to raise her granddaughter while continuing to search for anything leading to her missing daughter. She had found a balance providing a healthy and loving environment for her granddaughter, while facing she may never see her own daughter again.
The Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention published a handbook When Your Child is Missing: A Family Survival Guide to help families with the crisis of having a missing child.
Though not the product of abstract academic research, it was written by parents of missing children, with the assistance of law enforcement and youth professionals, containing critical information, guidance and tools parents need to help find their missing child while making every effort to focus on staying healthy. The guide contains much information to simply help families make it through a day.
Many of the parents who helped write the handbook, I had the honor of working with over the course of decades. Following, we will summarize the first 48 hours a family must make it through when a loved one goes missing. While it is focused on families who have missing children, this handbook is an important resource for anyone with a missing person in their life, regardless of age.
While the handbook contains steps to take to effectively work with law enforcement, media volunteers, how to disseminate fliers, and more – the most important part of the handbook is Chapter 7 focusing on maintaining health, preparing for the long term, the importance of not utilizing substances and medications to deal with the loss, and uniting with your remaining children focusing on their security and potential emotional issues.
“Hanging onto my sanity for a minute at a time often took all of my energy. I could not begin to look several days down the road,” said Colleen Nick, mother of Morgan who vanished June 9, 1995.
When your child is missing, you are overwhelmed with questions from police, neighbors, family and friends, and the media. At times, a parent may be faced with decisions they never thought they would have to make. One can begin to feel isolated, confused and utterly desperate with nowhere to go for support, but there is hope and it is found in the experience of other parents of missing persons who are courageous, and in my opinion, heroic.
The First 24 Hours (A Child is Missing: A Family Survival Guide)
- Immediately report your child missing to local law enforcement. Ensure law enforcement enters your child’s data into the National Crime Information Center (NCIC), and notifies the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children (NCMEC).
- Request police issue a “Be On the Look Out” (BOLO) message.
- Limit access to your home until police have arrived to collect evidence. It is important not to touch or remove anything from your child’s room.
- Ask for the contact information of the law enforcement officer assigned to your case. Keep in a safe place.
- Provide law enforcement with facts related to the disappearance of your child, including what has already been done to find the child.
- Have a good photograph available of your child and include a detailed description of your child and what your child was wearing.
- Make a list of friends, family and acquaintances and contact information for anyone who may have information about your child’s whereabouts. Include anyone who has moved in or out of the neighborhood within the last year.
- Make copies of photographs of your child in both black and white and color to provide to law enforcement, NCMEC, and media.
- Ask your law enforcement agency to organize a search for your child both foot patrol and canine.
- Ask law enforcement to issue an AMBER ALERT if your child’s disappearance meets the criteria.
- Ask law enforcement for guidance when working with media. It is important not to divulge information law enforcement does not want released to media possibly compromising the recovery efforts of your child.
- Designate one individual to answer your phone notating and summarizing each phone call, complete with contact information for each person who has called in one notebook.
- In addition, keep a notebook with you at all times to write down thoughts, questions, and important information, such as names, dates and telephone numbers.
- Take good care of yourself and your family because your child needs you to be strong. Force yourself to eat, rest and talk to others about your feelings.
The Next 24 Hours
- Ask for a meeting with your investigator to discuss steps being taken to find your child. Ensure your investigator has a copy of Missing and Abducted Children: A Law Enforcement Guide to Case Investigation and Program Management. They can call NCMEC at 1-800-THE-LOST to obtain a copy. In addition, ask them to contact the Crimes Against Children Coordinator in their local FBI Field Office to obtain a copy of the FBI’s Child Abduction Response Plan.
- Expand your list of friends, acquaintances, extended family members, landscapers, delivery persons, babysitters and anyone who may have seen your child during or following their disappearance or abduction.
- Look at personal calendars, newspapers and community events calendars to see if there may be any clues as to who may have been in the area and provide this information to law enforcement.
- Understand you will be asked to take a polygraph. This is standard procedure.
- Ask your law enforcement agency to request NCMEC issue a Broadcast Fax to law enforcement agencies throughout the country.
- Work cooperatively with your law enforcement agency to issue press releases and media events.
- Talk to law enforcement about the use of a reward.
- Report all information and/or extortion attempts to law enforcement immediately.
- Have a second telephone line installed with call forwarding, Caller ID and call waiting. If you do not have one, get a cell phone so you can receive calls when you are away from home and forward all calls to it.
- Make a list of what volunteers can do for you and your family.
- Contact your child’s doctor and dentist and request copies of medical records and x-rays to provide to police. Ask the doctor to expedite your request based upon the circumstances.
- Take care of yourself and your family and do not be afraid to ask others to help take care of your physical and emotional needs. Your remaining children need to know you are also there for them while staying strong and healthy for them all.
The resounding message here is family members of missing persons must take care of themselves and include others in their journey to help them along when they are tiring.
For more information about obtaining a copy of A Child is Missing: A Family Survival Guide please contact NCMEC at 1-800-THE-LOST or obtain a copy here https://www.ojjdp.gov/pubs/childismissing/contents.html
The Disappearance of Morgan Nick
It was June 9, 1995, on a beautiful evening in the small town of Alma, Arkansas. Alma is located along I-40 within the Arkansas River Valley at the edge of the Ozark Mountains with a population under 5,000 people.
That evening was the first time 6-year old Morgan Nick had gone to a baseball game. Her mother Colleen was attending the Rookie League game at the Alma ballpark and Morgan had whined about having to sit next to her mother in the bleachers. There was a nearby sand pile with other children playing and Morgan wanted to play. It was within eyesight and only seconds away, so Colleen consented.
Morgan Nick, age 6, vanished from Alma, Arkansas on June 9, 1995
Morgan ran to the sandpile, laughing with the other children while Colleen turned her head back to watch the Marlins and Pythons. A player whacked the ball and two runners tied the game, then a run was scored, and the Pythons won the game. The sound of the crowd cheering was deafening.
When Colleen stood up, she could see Morgan’s playmates walking down the hill away from the sandpile, but where was Morgan? It was approximately 10:30 p.m.
The children told Colleen, Morgan was pouring sand out of her shoe near her mother’s car parked nearby. Colleen frantically searched. Morgan was gone.
Later, the children would tell police they saw a man approach Morgan. Another abduction attempt had occurred in Alma the same day and police had a composite sketched based on witnesses of the other incident.
Thousands of leads later, numerous appearances on national news talk shows, even America’s Most Wanted, and Morgan’s mother is nowhere closer to knowing what happened to her daughter. Police have interviewed hundreds of persons of interest, searched homes and wells, and dug up slabs of concrete with backhoes, but Morgan remains missing 23 years later.
The stakes are high when a person vanishes involuntarily.
Morgan’s mother Colleen spent years keeping Morgan’s room the way it was when she vanished. She bought Christmas presents and a birthday present each year, hoping Morgan would someday return to open them.
The emotional toll is beyond words.
On Morgan’s Birthday, September 12, 2014, Colleen wrote an Open Letter to Morgan, posted on the NCMEC blog.
A Letter to Our Missing Daughter Morgan Nick
Today is your 26th birthday. Today marks twenty birthdays without you here. We miss you so desperately and our hearts are ragged with grief. We have searched for you every single day since the day you were kidnapped from us at the Little League Baseball field in Alma, Arkansas.
You were only 6 years old. We went with our friends to watch one of their children play in the game. You threw your arms around my neck in a bear hug, planted a kiss on my cheek, and ran to catch fireflies with your friends.
It is the last time that I saw you. There have been so many days since then of emptiness and heartache.
On this birthday I choose to think about your laughter, your smile, the twinkle in your sparkling blue eyes. I celebrate who you are and the deep and lasting joy that you bring to our family.
I smile today as I think about your 5th birthday. For that birthday, we took you to the Humane Society with the promise of adopting a kitten. You, my precious little girl with your big heart, took one look around the cat room and picked out the ugliest, scrawniest, most pitiful looking kitten in the entire place. Such a tiny little thing, that it was mostly all eyes.
Dad and I used our best parental powers of persuasion to get you to pick a different kitten, to look at the older cats, to choose any other feline besides that poor ugly kitty. It looked like someone had taken the worst leftover colors of mud, stirred them together, and used them to design a kitten.
You planted your five-year-old feet, looked us straight in the eye and declared that this was the kitten you were taking home. No ifs, ands, or buts about it. You would not budge, and you resolutely refused to take a second look at any other cat or kitten in the room. You had a fire of conviction in your heart.
The unexpected obstacle we faced was we were not able to adopt on that Saturday but had to wait until Monday to finalize. For the rest of the weekend and all-day Monday, you fretted and pouted and worried someone else would take “your” kitten home with them. We tried to assure you that no one else would want that cat. We didn’t want to say it was because it was so tiny, or so ugly, or so-nothing-at-all-but-eyes. You could see only beauty and you were in love.
Finally, Monday afternoon came, and dad brought it home with him after work. In that moment, your daddy was your biggest hero because he had saved your kitten.
You tenderly snuggled that little bit of fur into your arms and declared that her name was Emily. You adored your new kitten and she loved you right back. Emily gained some weight and filled out a bit. Her colors started to take shape. We began to see the same beauty in her that you had seen in that very first moment.
Where you went, Emily went. You played together. You ate together. You watched Barney together. You slept together.
Which brings me to the photo. It captures everything we love about you. I would slip into your room late at night and stand there, watching the two of you sleeping together, in awe of your sweetness, and my heart would squeeze a little tighter.
So many birthdays have passed since then. So many days since a stranger ripped you from our hearts.
My sweet girl, if you should happen to read this, we want you to know how very important and special you are to us. You are a blessing we cannot live without. We feel cheated by every day that goes by and we do not see your smile, hear your bubbly laughter, or listen to your thoughts and ideas. We have never stopped believing that we will find you. We are saving all our hugs and kisses for you.
Please be strong and brave, with a fire of conviction in your heart, just like the day you picked out your kitten!
On this birthday we promise you that we will always fight for you. We will bring you back home to our family where you belong. We will always love you! We will never give up.
Love Mom (Colleen Nick) & Dad
One cannot help but feel the Nick family’s loss. So many birthdays, so many Christmases, so many days wondering if Morgan is alive. How on earth have they done it?
Hope is incredibly important in life for health, happiness, success and coping. Research shows optimistic people are more likely to live fulfilling lives and to enjoy life. In addition, hope relieves stress reducing the risk of many leading causes of death such as high blood pressure and heart attacks.
Having hope takes a special kind of courage I have found so many families of missing persons have mustered during the most difficult time of their lives . . . not just one season but many Seasons of Hope.
Mollie Tibbetts with her father, Rob Tibbetts.
In central Iowa, off of Interstate 80, there is a little town called Brooklyn. Eight weeks ago, if you googled, ‘Brooklyn, Iowa,’ you would probably get results from the regional newspapers, a community Facebook page not updated since 2016, and a few Google Maps results. Now the results are very different as the town name dominates news coverage of the man charged with the first-degree murder of 20-year-old Mollie Tibbetts. The month-long search came to a grisly end when law enforcement discovered remains they believed to be the missing University of Iowa sophomore. Reports from the autopsy indicate she died from “multiple sharp force injuries.”
Mollie was reported missing after she did not show up to work on July 19, 2018. The night before, she had been dog-sitting for her boyfriend, Dalton Jack. Jack was in Dubuque, Montana for work—an alibi quickly removing him from the list of usual suspects when a young woman goes missing—when he opened a SnapChat from Mollie sent a few hours prior. When co-workers contacted him the next day to tell him Mollie never arrived for work, Jack was immediately concerned. It was not in Mollie’s nature to be unreliable, or flighty. She was reported missing, with the search party growing from a few dozen to hundreds, as an entire community felt the loss of this well-loved student. Locals tweeted Mollie’s name and missing poster to famous Iowans in the interest of getting her face out there in the media.
The FBI soon joined the search, working in conjunction with local law enforcement, to extract data from Mollie’s Fitbit in order to piece together the last hours before she went missing. It did not take long for the community to raise over $300,000 as a reward for her safe return, “the biggest figure Crime Stoppers of Central Iowa has ever collected.” However, law enforcement soon transparently declared in a press conference they were no closer to finding Mollie than before. “I understand this is frustrating for many in the public and the media, but feel this is necessary for our investigation. As far as suspects go, we continue to look at all possibilities. I’m not in a position right now to say, we have suspects, we don’t have suspects, persons of interest or anything else.”
Mere days after that press conference, a woman’s body was found an hour outside of Brooklyn, and briefly, the locals believed the search might be over. However, state police soon negated the rumors by declaring the remains found were not those of Mollie Tibbetts. As coverage of the investigation ensued, Mollie’s father, Rob Tibbetts, offered a hopeful perspective on his daughter’s disappearance, “It’s totally speculation on my part, but I think Mollie is with someone she knows, that is in over their head,” Rob says. “That there was some kind of misunderstanding about the nature of their relationship and at this point they don’t know how to get out from under this.”
As of August 9, 2018, Crime Stoppers of Central Iowa reported the organization had fielded more than 830 tips for law enforcement on Mollie’s case. One of those tips came from an Iowan resident by the name of Devin Riley, who claimed he might have been the last person to see Mollie alive. She regularly ran by his house between three and four times per week. “She’d kind of jog down the street and towards the hill. I thought nothing of it until I heard somebody was missing, and it really hit me that I hadn’t seen that runner since then.” Around this time, the record-breaking reward sum had swelled to nearly $400,000 following the authorities launching a website about Mollie’s case.
Mollie Tibbetts (left) and Cristhian Bahena River, the man charged with her murder (right).
Finally, on August 21, 2018, more than a month since Mollie disappeared, authorities had the break in the case they needed. Mollie’s remains were found in a field, covered by corn stalks. ‘Found’ may not be the word. In fact, they were led there by a man named Cristhian Bahena Rivera. He worked on a farm near the location of the body, and had confessed to police he hid Mollie there. He was described by former classmates as “a very good person, a simple guy with no vices,” and he was liked by his co-workers for his efficient, albeit silent, work ethic. Rivera was charged with murder last Wednesday, after he confessed to following Mollie on her run. In his arrest affidavit, Rivera’s memory of his altercation with Mollie is spotty. He claimed he remembered growing angry with her, because Tibbetts had her hands on the phone, threatening to call police, but the rest is a blur. The next thing he remembered was putting a bleeding young woman in his trunk, and driving her to the field where he would conceal her body. Since his arrest, Rivera has hired a new lawyer and is being held on a $5 million bond, despite his lack of criminal record and steady employment. He has not yet entered a plea to his charge of first-degree murder.
Though the search for Mollie is over, the community has not relented in showing their support for the Tibbetts family. In addition to the record-breaking reward raised by Crime Stoppers of Central Iowa, locals and people around the country have offered their support via the hashtag #MilesforMollie, in which runners are dedicating their jogging miles to Mollie’s memory with the added sentiment they had to “keep going.” Only days after his sister’s body had been found, Scott Tibbetts—a quarterback at Brooklyn-Guernsey-Malcom High School in Iowa—led his team to victory in honor of Mollie. The Des Moines Register reported, “Scott Tibbetts decided last night to play today and led the Bears to a 35-24 win at Lisbon. The coaches tried to keep things as normal as possible but could see the strain on their players’ faces this week. Tonight, there were plenty of smiles and hugs after the game. A big B-G-M contingent on hand. Nice moment for that community.” One of the biggest testaments to Mollie’s impact on her community was the fact, in a town of a little over 1500 people, 1200 mourners turned out for her funeral. Mollie’s other brother, Jake, spoke at her service, delivering a beautiful message about Mollie’s spirit:
“I can see her dancing with joy in her heart,” he said. “Mollie’s best life here would be spent helping others, helping everyone in this room … And now she’s in a place where she can watch over everyone in here and everyone in the country and help them reach their goals, solve their problems and make their lives better, because that’s what Mollie was all about.”
Carie McMichael is the Communication and Media Specialist for Lauth Investigations International, a private investigation firm based in Indianapolis, Indiana–delivering proactive and diligent solutions for over 30 years. For more information, please visit our website.
If you are a missing person, it helps to be white
(Jasmine Moody vanished in Detroit, Michigan on December 4, 2014.)
Jasmine Moody, a 22-year old Texas Women’s University student mysteriously vanished on December 4, 2014, while visiting a friend in Detroit, Michigan. Nearly four years later, police are no closer to figuring out what happened to her. News coverage of her disappearance has long since vanished from the scene too, folding into the phenomenon of what is known as Missing White Woman Syndrome.
Approximately 7:30 p.m., the evening of December 4th, Jasmine was last seen leaving her friend’s home in the vicinity of the 3700 block of Baldwin, in the Van Dyke and Mack area of Detroit. Her family, who lives in Texas, is convinced foul play is involved in Jasmine’s disappearance and disappointed in the police department’s response and ensuing investigation.
“My daughter was real popular. She had a lot of friends. She was very social and energetic,” Jasmine’s mother Lisa Kidd told Dateline. “She always had a smile on her face. Always, always.”
Jasmine had known she wanted to be a nurse since she was 16 and described as a well-rounded student at Texas Woman’s University. According to her stepfather Patrick Kidd, Jasmine was a straight-A student, danced, and was training to be part of the U.S. Armed Forces through her school’s ROTC program.
According to police, Jasmine had developed an online relationship with Brittany Gurley, a woman who lived in Detroit. Just a few months after meeting online, Jasmine and Brittany had developed a strong friendship and Jasmine flew to visit Brittany and her family for Thanksgiving.
On the evening of December 4th, the two women allegedly got into an argument about Jasmine’s social media posts. Brittany and her family would later tell police that Jasmine put on a hoodie and walked out of the house.
Little else is known about her disappearance. No major ground search was conducted, and ongoing media exposure on a national level has been minimal.
In contrast to Jasmine Moody’s case, Lauren Spierer, a 20-year old student at Indiana University, vanished June 3, 2011, after an evening out with friends in Bloomington, Indiana. Lauren, who grew up in Scarsdale, an affluent town in Westchester, New York. Her disappearance quickly garnered national press attention but remains unsolved.
“Lauren’s disappearance has been and continues to be the most heart-wrenching experience of our lives,” Lauren’s family posted on Facebook on June 4, 2018, seven years after her disappearance. “I remember writing a few short months after Lauren’s disappearance that I never thought I would see an October without answers. I could never have imagined we would still be searching for Lauren seven years later. I end this now as I start each morning, hoping today will be the day.”
After an evening out at Kilroy’s Sports Bar with friends, Lauren was last seen on 11th Street and College Avenue in Bloomington at approximately 4:15 a.m. She had left her cell phone and shoes at the bar, presumedly taking her shoes off in the beach-themed bar’s sand-filled courtyard.
National news quickly began covering Lauren’s disappearance while hundreds of volunteers assembled to distribute thousands of fliers and help conduct ground searches of the area. A billboard overlooking the Indiana State Fairgrounds, along Fall Creek Parkway, asks the public for any information that would lead to the whereabouts of Lauren.
(Thousands of flyers of missing person Lauren Spierer have been distributed throughout the country.)
Hundreds of volunteers continued to turn out daily to help the family in their search.
Lauren’s case was profiled on popular America’s Most Wanted in 2011, leading to dozens of leads but not that one the family needed. Over the years, dozens of news media outlets have covered Lauren’s story.
Early on, Lauren’s parents hired private investigators and today, maintain an active Facebook group.
In one very revealing and heartfelt post, Lauren’s mother writes, “I could not have imagined on June 3, 2011, that my life would ever have any semblance of normalcy. Unfortunately, that word will never be applied to our lives. You learn to live with routines which get you through your days, weeks, months, and years. We will never know normal. Some of the things taken for granted in ordinary families are so far removed from ours it’s difficult to fathom. They range from everyday life events, a wedding, a birth and yes sadly death. What I wouldn’t do to hear Lauren’s voice or even just to notice a text on my phone. Something so simple as a text. My heart breaks at the thought of it. Well, those responsible will never be able to imagine. I have said it before and I know it’s redundant but what could have been an accident in a few short hours became a crime. The worst nightmare any parent or sister could imagine.”
Every day Lauren’s family simply hopes for answers. That’s all any family of a missing person could ask for.
Two young women, one black, one white, both ambitious students couldn’t be treated more differently by the media. One becomes nearly a household name, the other nearly forgotten. With absolute certainty, no one can say exactly why.
What are the numbers?
As of May 31, 2018, there were 87,608 active missing person cases in the National Crime Information Center (NCIC) database at the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Of the active missing person cases listed in NCIC, 40,108 cases are of missing women and 26,842 are black.
(National Crime Information Center Report)
Names like Chandra Levy, Laci Peterson, Elizabeth Smart, Polly Klaas, Natalie Holloway and Lauren Spierer have become familiar household names. Their missing person cases have dominated the headlines over the years. Cases like Jasmine Moody’s are not rare and unfortunately rarely make the local news.
Historically, whenever a female missing person becomes a national headline, she is almost certain to be a pretty, young white woman.
When was the last time you heard of a missing black female on CNN or other national news outlets?
In an NBC news story “Damsels in Distress” Roy Peter Clark, head of Poynter Institute for Media Studies is quoted, “It’s all about sex,” said Clark. “Young white women give editors and television producers what they want.”
“There are several common threads,” said Clark. “The victims that get the most coverage are female rather than male. They are white, in general, rather than young people of color. They are at least middle class, if not upper middle class.”
Some say the cases fit a narrative pattern that storytellers have used for more than a century, a pattern who design still incorporates remnants of an outmoded view of women and black people and their roles in society.
When it comes to popular stories, Clark said, “there is this perverted, racist view of the world. White is good; black is bad. Blonde is good; dark is bad. Young is good; old is bad. And I think we can find versions of this story going back to the tabloid wars of more than a hundred years ago.”
Regardless of class, color or age, it is clear that there is disproportionate coverage of black missing person cases. Referred to as “Missing White Woman Syndrome” and has led to a number of tough on crime measures named after white women who disappeared such as Suzanne’s Law, Kristen’s Law, Jennifer’s Law, Amber Alert and others.
In a study conducted by Baylor University, “The Invisible Damsel: Differences in How National Media Outlets Framed the Coverage of Missing Black and White Women in the Mid-2000s,” Professors Moody, Dorris and Blackwell concluded that in addition to race and class, factors such as supposed attractiveness, body size, and youthfulness function as unfair criteria in determining newsworthiness in the national news coverage of missing women. In addition, news coverage of missing black women was more likely to focus on the victim’s problems, such as abusive relationships, a troubled past, while coverage of white women tends to focus on roles as mothers or daughters.
Zach Somers, a sociologist at Northwestern University, noted that while there has been extensive research that shows that white people are more likely than people of color to appear in news coverage as victims of violent crime, there is relatively none when it comes to missing person cases.
Victim blaming appears to be compounding the unequal coverage and reinforces the view that black female victims are not only less innocent, but less worthy of rescue relative to white women. Thus, the term “Damsels in Distress.”
Others have blamed “police brutality” for the lack of publicity given to black female missing persons, attributing the silence to a habit of “sexism and patriarchy” in American society.
One group is fighting the imbalance of national media exposure that exists. The Black and Missing Foundation’s mission is to draw more attention to missing African Americans by providing an outlet for spreading the word through technology and print – and their work is making a difference.
By creating relationships with the media, government agencies, and the public, they are increasing the chances of missing black women being covered in the news and ultimately, to bring them home.
Derica and Natalie Wilson, two sisters-in-law, and founders of the Black and Missing Foundation have been profiled in People Magazine, Essence, Ebony, Huffington Post, Washington Post and developed a partnership with TV One. This year they celebrate ten years, helping thousands of families of missing persons and finding nearly 300 people.
“Many times, we are a family’s last resort – their last hope., says co-founder Natalie Wilson. This platform allows us to open our doors for families searching for their missing loved ones and not restrict access to help.”
Black and Missing Foundation have set the example for other groups to follow, especially the media.
Thomas Lauth of Lauth Missing Persons: an Expert in Missing Children and Adults noted, “In the 17 years of conducting missing persons cases for families and non-profit organizations, there is certainly a media and public bias against a missing person of color. When the general public and the media see a blonde 18 year-old on CNN that is missing–as opposed to an African American female on CNN–there is immediate attention to the blonde. Luckily there are non profit organizations such as Black and Missing to help bring more exposure to advocacy to the families for persons of color.”
Finding missing persons is a cooperative effort between the police, media, social service agencies and especially the public. With every news story, the coverage generates leads and increases the chance of that one lead being reported that will assist law enforcement in the investigation, and even close a case.
When it comes to missing persons there is no black and white, there are only families who are missing their daughters, siblings missing their sisters, children who are missing their mothers. There is no rich or poor, only families, human beings experiencing the most traumatic experience of their lifetimes.
People . . . who need our help.
For more of Kym Pasqualini’s work in missing persons, please visit her website, Missing Leads , or log on to Facebook and join the conversation on the Missing Leads Discusssion page!