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What happens when someone goes missing?

Matthew Lane • Sep 12, 2017 at 3:13 PM

KINGSPORT — Tennessee currently has more than 1,000 missing person cases on its books. Two of those are right here in the Model City.

When someone goes missing, it could be for any number of reasons, from the voluntary — someone simply leaving the area without telling anyone — to the criminal, as with kidnappings. Regardless of why, a person who suddenly goes missing almost always leaves behind concerned friends and family.

Tom Patton, public information officer for the Kingsport Police Department, said when someone goes missing the first step would be to contact law enforcement as soon as possible and file an initial report. From there, friends and family should cooperate fully with the investigating officer.

Having recent photos of the missing person on hand also greatly helps.

This type of information and more is what folks can learn at an upcoming event at the American Red Cross (ARC) office in Kingsport. A Missing Persons Day event will take place Saturday at the ARC office (660 Eastern Star Road) from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.

The Tennessee Department of Health is partnering with the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System to host a series of Missing Persons Day events across the state, with the first being in Kingsport. Similar events are scheduled for Jackson and Nashville in October and in Chattanooga and Memphis in November.

The goal of these events is to help families reconnect with missing loved ones.

“With these events, we are bringing resources into the community in the hopes of answering questions and ideally bringing closure to people who have loved ones considered missing,” said Tennessee Chief Medical Examiner Julia Goodin, MD.

Missing Persons Day events are designed for family members and friends of people who have been missing for more than one month. Participants have an opportunity to enter information about their missing loved ones in the NamUs system, provide DNA samples and connect with law enforcement and other families. These events are provided at no cost to those who attend.

When someone files a missing persons report, that triggers a number of things in law enforcement: a detective being assigned to the case, an NCIC and NamUs entry and oftentimes cooperation with the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation, Patton said.

Depending on the circumstances, law enforcement also utilizes community resources such as traditional media, social media, flyers and billboards to request public assistance in locating a missing person.

“Obviously one of the first questions that needs to be answered is under what circumstances did they go missing?” Patton said. “Did they just take off walking and never return, or is foul play immediately suspected? It's important to note that some people go missing completely voluntarily. For whatever reason they're not happy with the circumstances in their present location, so they up and move without telling anybody.”

Participants in Missing Persons Day events are encouraged to bring photos of the missing person, X-rays, dental records, medical records or other identifying documents and police reports. If possible, it is requested that two biologically-related family members of the missing person attend to provide DNA samples, which are taken as cheek swabs.

“We will have team members present at each of our Missing Persons Day events to assist families with entering information into NamUs about their loved ones,” said Medicolegal Death Investigator Fran Wheatley, BS, MA, F-ABMDI. “Law enforcement representatives will be on hand to answer questions about missing person cases, to check if a report is on file or to file a missing person’s report if necessary.”

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