What Happens After A Loved One Goes Missing?

A child’s face on a milk carton. Helicopters hovering over search and rescue crews. Family members tearfully recounting a loved one’s last whereabouts for news media. These are the images that come to mind when a person goes missing. We pull our loved one’s in close, hug our friends a little tighter, and feel thankful it isn’t happening to our family. Most of us are far removed from the devastating experience of losing a loved one under mysterious circumstances, but it happens more often than we realize.

The legal definition of a missing person is “a person 18 years or older whose disappearance is possibly not voluntary, or a child whose whereabouts are unknown to the child’s legal custodian.” At any given time, there are, on average, 90,000 active missing persons cases in the United States. Around 60% of those missing are adults over the age of 18, while juveniles make up the remaining 40%.

The highest number of disappearances in one year occurred in 1997, when one million people were reported missing in the United States. That number has dropped significantly in subsequent years with the development of newer technologies like cell phones, cameras, and social media. In 2015, The National Crime Information Center reported a total of 634,908 missing person records were entered into Missing Person File. A 2012 report on NPR’s All Things Considered noted that the majority of missing persons cases are ultimately resolved. But what about cases that aren’t?

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