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What to Do When a Loved One Goes Missing?

Even in the age of constant communication and GPS, tens of thousands of people go missing in the United States every year.

According to FBI statistics, in 2013 there were more than 627,000 missing persons reports entered into the National Crime Information Center's Missing Person File. This database contains records for those who are missing under circumstances indicating they may be in danger, are under the age of 21, have a missing disability, or fall under other criteria which may place them at risk. Of these, more than 84,000 remained active at the end of 2013, with juveniles accounting for more than 40% of those still missing.

What should you do in the unfortunate event that one of your family members goes missing?

  • Report the missing person to police. Although police may encourage you to wait before filing a missing persons report, there is no waiting period required in order to do so. As soon as your loved one goes missing, file a report.
  • Search places they have been seen or would logically go. Once you've reported a person missing to police, don't just rely on law enforcement to conduct a search. Make a list of the places your loved one might go or may have been seen and search them yourself, as long as it is safe to do so.
  • Work with authorities on an AMBER Alert. The AMBER Alert system was established nationally in 2003 and acts to quickly disseminate information about a missing child. The "AMBER" in the AMBER Alert stands for "America's Missing: Broadcast Emergency Response" and is also named after 9-year-old Amber Hagerman who was abducted and killed in Arlington, Texas in 1996. Law enforcement will issue an AMBER Alert for a child 17 or younger who has been abducted. Be prepared to provide descriptions of your loved one, including a recent photograph.
  • Silver Alerts. There is a similar system in place for missing seniors known as a Silver Alert. Silver Alert systems vary by state, but a majority of states now have some form of Silver Alert system in place for missing seniors.
  • Post on social media. The same information used in an AMBER or Silver Alert can be used to spread awareness of a missing person via social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter. Ask others in your network to share the information to disseminate it to a wider audience.
  • Alert regular media. Local media may also be helpful in getting the word out about a missing person. Contacting local television stations, radio networks, and newspapers is often as easy as sending an email to a tip line or contacting a reporter through social media.

Find more information on resources for crime victims and their families at FindLaw's Learn About the Law section on Crime Prevention and Victim Resources.

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