Nothing can adequately prepare you for the shock and pain of a missing family member. Based on our personal experience and observations we would offer the following five tips for families of missing persons.
1. PRESERVE HOPE- This is what gets you up each day, and what gets you through long sleepless nights of uncertainty. Hope is essential to the human condition. But at the same time we also think it is important to maintain a sense of balance in your life. Even though your loved one is missing, (More below the break)...
you need to take care of the physical, emotional and financial needs of those left behind. Emotions will run high. Anger, frustration, blame, despair will alternate with optimism, hope, excitement as events unfold. You might get information that leads you to think your loved one will be found, only to have the rug pulled from under you. Try to keep the highs from being too high and the lows from being too low. Prepare for the long haul. Honor the spirit of your missing loved one and continue to live your own life. If not, your tragedy will be compounded and you yourself will become one of the missing. Life is for the living.
2. DEALING WITH LAW ENFORCEMENT- Maintain realistic expectations. Life is not a TV show, with an arrest, conviction and happy ending all in one tidy hour (including commercial ads). Law enforcement officers are humans, with human shortcomings. If you are fortunate enough to be working with an above average investigator, be thankful. But understand that even a professional police officer is not going to eat, drink, sleep and breathe the case like you do. He has other cases and he has a life of his own. Police make mistakes. They make honest mistakes, they make dishonest mistakes. They have good days and they have bad days. If you get an average or below average investigator you will have to be a strong advocate for your loved one. I think it is acceptable to draw in the investigator's supervisor or boss. Include him in communications.
You will need to find your own style of dealing with the police. Try to walk that careful balance between pushing them or motivating them to take your concerns seriously without antagonizing them. Be as clear as possible in your communications with the police. Misunderstandings can derail an investigation like nothing else.
3. AVOID PSYCHICS LIKE THE PLAGUE- When solid or tangible information is lacking, it is tempting to seek answers elsewhere. There are people in the world who feed off of other people's grief and suffering. I put psychics in this category. While there may be those with so-called 'psychic powers' who are honest and well-intentioned, you must understand it for what it is. Psychics profit either emotionally or financially by preying on your fear and uncertainty. They either gain prestige or a sense of self-gratification, or they gain an increase in their bank account. Equally or more important, they may distract resources from the task at hand...finding your loved one. A psychic is more likely to throw a red herring into the investigation than to "solve" the case.
4. DOCUMENT, DOCUMENT, DOCUMENT- Dealing with authorities can be frustrating, confusing and intimidating. I think it is critical to keep your own records. You might think that events are so intense that they will be seared in your memory forever. In fact, as time wears on, as hours turn into days and days turn into months and months turn into years your memory will fail you. Write it down as it happens. During the early days of a family member's disappearance a daily log of events can help you organize your thoughts, keep contact information accessible and gather nuggets of information that might become useful later. Create a timeline of events leading up to and following the actual disappearance, to help keep things in their proper sequence. It is important that you do this as close to real time as possible, while the events are fresh in your mind. As time passes, and the pace of the investigation slows, you can decrease the frequency of entries.
Every time you have a substantive conversation with a law enforcement officer, searcher or possible witness, create a written summary of that conversation in the form of a "Memorandum for Record". This is a summary of the key points of the conversation in your own words that you prepare shortly after the actual event, preferably on the same day, and keep for future reference. Summarize the gist of the conversation. Identify all parties to the conversation, with title, organization and contact information. Date it and sign it. You should keep three copies of this memorandum, one hard copy and two separate electronic copies in secure locations.
5. FOLLOW THE "RULE OF THREES"- All outgoing correspondence with a bearing on the case should follow a "rule of threes". Send one copy to the addressee and two other copies to appropriate recipients. For instance, if you send a letter to the police department, send a copy to the district attorney as well, and one to your lawyer, or a trusted neutral third party. Add a cc: notation at the bottom listing the other recipients. I think this serves a couple of purposes. One, it establishes a firm paper trail of communication. Two, it helps to hold authorities accountable knowing that other eyes are seeing that information. Three, it helps you to focus your communication on what you really want to say, reminding you to be calm, factual and determined in your communications. Unless the nature of the communication is highly confidential do not send just a single copy to a single individual.
Having written these five paragraphs, I will state again that nothing can adequately prepare you for the shock and pain of a missing family member. You ultimately will have to find your own path through the maze into which you have been thrown. Good luck and God Bless!