Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Missing Children: Sharing Hope While Sharing a Nightmare

Do you remember the Missing Children Milk Cartons?

Beginning in 1984, photographs and biographies were placed on millions of milk carton side panels, bringing the faces of abducted [missing] children...directly to countless Americans and individuals worldwide. [Source]
The cartons were an early means of raising awareness. But efforts far surpassed breakfast table speculation with the 1982 advent of entering details of missing children into the FBI's National Crime Information Center database. Today, children's cases are usually registered with the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC), and the CUE Center for Missing Persons, a powerful North Carolina-based search, family support and advocacy organization, which also works on missing adults. Missing Adults are routinely registered with NamUs, the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System, which is a national centralized depository and resource center administered by the U.S. Department of Justice.

Every person is someone's child.

This is a guiding principle of the CUE Center for Missing Persons. Out of the blue, a family can go from laughing at a backyard barbecue and shopping for school clothes to living the nightmare of a missing child. It is impossible to go-it-alone. Though there are no guarantees, founder, Monica Caison and her tremendous corps of volunteers embrace the nightmare with competence, and an Oath:

 “I offer myself to those who have nowhere else to turn. These desperate people who ask for my help have unique situations. Yet, however unique, they are bound together with the commonality of being the loved one of a missing person.”

Publicity for an alert is essential. 

CUE facilitates the prompt dissemination of missing persons flyers, news bulletins, web pages and social media postings. "Our goal is for people to visit our site often and study not only the missing person posting for someone they know, but the postings for many other individuals who are in need of support. Missing persons postings are updated constantly. We get a lot of tips," notes Toni Thomas, CUE's National Research Team Manager and a NC State Director.She continues:
“we are hoping that everyone will re-post on their social media accounts until the awareness is global instead of local.” The acronym 'CUE' stands for Community United Effort --urging others to care, speak up and sometimes-- lace up!  

Ground searches are vital.


Searching is done by volunteers, and first experiences can be frightening. I spoke with one volunteer searcher who wished not to be named.

“When three boys from our town went missing, I was shocked. ‘’That could have been my kids,’ I thought, and volunteered my family for a search drive. We were given some instructions and, as we walked neighborhoods, we handed out flyers, took notes and pictures. Was I scared? Oh yes! This was my first experience; when I stepped out of the car and started down an embankment, I thought, 'If I find them, I'm gonna freak out.' I kept thinking, 'I don't want to be the one to find them!'

Most missing persons organizations discourage (or prohibit) family members to participate in searches. Why compound a trauma? Caring but neutral and level-headed volunteers can effectively comb great distances and difficult terrain...and effectively manage discoveries.

Michael Jastremski
I was told that psychics “come out of the woodwork’ in response to alerts for missing persons. Some are hoping for publicity, while others make a real contribution in the hunt for clues, and give lots of reliable tips on things searchers should look for: red barn, white fence, a stream, etc.

How does the family of a missing child feel?
Team Hope, affiliated with the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC)
describes itself as “a group of ordinary people who one day were forced to live every parent’s nightmare.” They are passionate about providing peer support through a dedicated hotline 1-866-305-HOPE (4673).  “We live with a deep, deep sorrow that threatens to overtake us at times.” [Source]   The Condolence Coach urges readers to spend a few moments with A letter from a Team HOPE volunteer.

What can I say to a family with a missing child?
"It would never be appropriate to tell a grieving family that discovery is a relief," Toni Thomas of CUE shared, "but in time, the family may express that, themselves."  She offers this advice to neighbors, friends, co-workers:

  • All you can really do is be there for the family. Lend moral support. Be there as a shoulder to cry on.
  • When the phone rings in the middle of the night and a parent is distressed, just listen.
  • Take a dish-- all physical help--especially search related, is of the utmost importance.
  • Don't say "I know... it's hard..." unless you have been through this experience. Nothing compares.
  • When (if) there is a funeral, go. You may hate funerals, but this is not the time to be self-centered. Step up and support that family.

Michael Jastremski
Follow the family's lead.
I asked Toni about my Condolence Coach rule of remembering the missing child, sharing stories, and keeping their name and memory in mind. She counseled, "some people are deeply appreciative of reminders, while other families find some peace by letting the missing (or deceased) person rest. You must respect that. This is unlike any other loss. I'm not suggesting that you avoid the family, just accept their way and carry on."

Afterword:  Of all the things we may leisurely browse, read, and laugh at on the internet, consider taking a few moments to visit missing persons postings on Facebook, various websites, or CUE's Missing Persons pages. You could have an important piece of information which can usually be submitted confidentially.

USAF Captain Douglas Ferguson
The Condolence Coach first explored the topic of a missing person in Missing In Action! A Soldier's Sister Keeps Vigil. 44 years after her brother was shot down over Laos, during the Vietnam War, Sue Scott said her goodbye. This is her story of those long years, waiting.

Share this post with your favorite social media:  it matters!  Thank you for caring.

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