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The Missing Person / Runaway Dilemma
~ Volitta Fritsche
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  The Missing Person / Runaway Dilemma  
  ~ Volitta Fritsche  

"Do I have to wait twenty-four hours before I can report my teenager as missing?"

"No you haven't had to wait twenty-four hours to report your kid as missing since Charles Lindbergh's child was kidnapped and killed in 1932," I wanted to respond.

It never ceased to amaze me how many times parents asked me that question during my ten years as juvenile officer of our department. 

A better question would have been, "How diligently will law enforcement look for my teenager after I file a missing person report?" 

Most law enforcement officers take missing person/runaway reports with very little enthusiasm This is not because we're too lazy to do our jobs, but because most of us know that despite all the hype from the media about runaways turning to prostitution, being sold into slavery or worse, most of them return home safely. We're also aware that contrary to what some believe, most teens don't run away from home because they've been abused. 

There are many reasons kids leave home without permission; some are justified. The majority of them leave because they've been told they can't do something and they don't like it. Some leave just to go with their friends and others just because they've got a bad report card. All of this combined with parents who call two or three times a day wanting to know why we haven't found their kid yet and a juvenile justice system that's not going to do much with the teen when he/she comes home has caused us to lose our passion to give a 100% of our time and attention to a missing person report.

When this happened to me, I asked myself, "How many kids are actually taken against their will? How many teens never come home? How many runaways are reported a year? Honestly, how big is this problem?"
The National Crime Information Center's (NCIC's) Missing Person File was implemented in 1975. Records in the Missing Person File are retained until the individual is located or the record is canceled by the entering agency. The

Missing Person File contains records for missing who: 

  • have a proven physical or mental disability (Disability-EMD),
  • are missing under circumstances indicating that they may be in physical danger (Endangered-EME),
  • are missing after a catastrophe (Catastrophe Victim-EMV), 
  • are missing under circumstance indicating their disappearance may not have been voluntary (Involuntary-EMI), 
  • are under the age of 21 and do not meet the above criteria (Juvenile--EMJ), or 
  • are 21 and older and do not meet any of the above criteria but for whom there is a reasonable concern for their safety (Other-EMO)
As of December 31, 2008, there were 102,764 active missing person records in NCIC. Juveniles under the age of 18 account for 51,054 (49.7%) of the records and 12,648 (12.3%) were for juveniles between the ages of 18 and 20.*
During 2008, 778,161 missing person records were entered into NCIC, a decrease of 4.5 percent from the 814,967 entered in 2007. Missing Person records cleared or canceled during the same period totaled 745,088. Reasons for these removals include: a law enforcement agency located the subject, the individual returned home, or the record had to be removed by the entering agency due to a determination that the record was invalid.

The Missing Person Circumstances (MPC) field is optional and has been available since July 1999 when the NCIC 2000 upgrade became operational. Of the 778,161 records entered in 2008, the MPC field was utilized in 306,657 (39.4 percent). When the MPC field was utilized in 2008 entries, 303,798 (99.07 percent) were coded as Runaway, 2,659 (0.87 percent) as Abducted by Non-Custodial Parent, and 200 (0.07 percent) as Abducted by Stranger. For entry year 2007, the MPC field was utilized in 303,224 (37.2 percent) of the 814,957 records.

When I saw the number of people who were reported missing in 2008 I was astounded. Although the figures of those who were actually abducted by strangers are low and those who runaway and return home safety are relatively high, to think in 2008 the population of the United States was 303,824,640 and 778,161 people were reported missing was unexpected.

I've often wondered how someone could just vanish without a trace. For example Molly Dattilo disappeared in Indianapolis, IN on July 6th, 2004,   Brookley Louks, was last seen in Johnson County, IN on June 24, 2002, Lola Katherine Fry vanished from Greenwood, IN on November 14, 1993 and Margaret Ann Hayes has not been seen since leaving her Bloomington, IN apartment on March 10th 1977. The stories are the same all across the United States. Where do these people go? 

Just because someone is listed as a missing person doesn't mean they have broken the law. And because Police agency's everywhere are busy working on active criminal cases they seldom have time to work on cold-cases especially those of missing people when all leads have been exhausted.

Unidentified Person File

To help in identifying and/or locating some of these people, the NCIC's Unidentified Person File came online in 1983. Records are retained indefinitely, unless removed by the entering agency. The Unidentified Person File contains records of: 
  • unidentified deceased persons (Deceased-EUD), 
  • persons of any age who are living and unable to determine their identity (Living-EUL),
  • and unidentified catastrophe victims (Catastrophe Victim-EUV)
As of December 31, 2008, there were 7,134 unidentified person records in NCIC. Of the 7,134 active entries, 1,133 (15.9%) were entered in 2008. This is down 36.6% from the 1,788 entries made into the file in 2007. The records entered in 2008 consisted of 918 (81.0%) deceased unidentified bodies, 16 (1.4 percent) unidentified catastrophe victims, and 199 (17.6 percent) living persons who could not ascertain their identity. There were 889 records canceled or cleared by the entering agency for reasons such as the remains being identified or the record being invalid. This was a 15.4% decrease over the 1,051 records canceled in 2007.  While use of the Unidentified Person File is increasing, agencies are not yet mandated by law to make entries into this file.

Assistance available

There are also many organizations across the US who are eager to assist law enforcement in any way they can. The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children has been around since 1984, and supports the Amber Alert program and provides training on internet safety, among other things. The Doe Network, not as widely known, is a volunteer organization devoted to assisting law enforcement in solving cold cases concerning unexplained disappearances and unidentified victims from North America, Australia and Europe. It is their mission to give the nameless back their names and return the missing to their families. They hope to accomplish this mission in three ways: by giving the cases exposure on their website, by having their volunteers search for clues on these cases as well as making possible matches between missing and unidentified persons, and through attempting to get media exposure for those cases that need and deserve it.

Volitta Fritsche

Volitta Fritsche is a 20-year veteran of the Morgan County Sheriff's Department in Indiana, presently serving as a detective sergeant



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