What to do when a loved one goes missing

Any parent will tell you there is no worse feeling than thinking you’ve lost a child. While this sensation is usually followed by intense relief when the child is located, there are times when, tragically, a child – or loved one – really does go missing. If this happens, you need to know exactly what to do right away because every minute matters.

How do you know someone is missing?

Jacqui Thomas, director and co-founder of The Pink Ladies, a voluntary organisation that works to reunite missing children and adults with their families, carers and loved ones, says you need to rely on your gut feel, and consider the age of the person who has disappeared. If a very young child vanishes and you have looked in the close vicinity and cannot find them, report them missing immediately.

Thomas says you must also be aware of what happened before the child disappeared. Did someone bump into you – perhaps wanting to distract you, or did you interact with a stranger or suspicious person?

She says you should always be suspicious if someone comes up to you and expresses an interest in your child.

Report them missing – immediately

If you’ve looked and cannot find your child or loved one, report them as missing to the police.

Do not wait. A person does not have to be missing for a certain time period before they can be reported as missing.

Go to the nearest police station, complete and sign SAPS form 55(A) and give as much detail as you can about the missing child, including:

  • Full name, ID, address, contact details including phone numbers and social media accounts. If the missing child has a cell phone, the police will contact the cell phone companies to see if they can locate the phone using its IMEI number.
  • A hard copy photo – make sure you have a few recent photos of your loved one with you.
  • A description of what they were wearing when they went missing – the more detail you can give the better.
  • The place you last saw the child, and who, if anyone, they were with.
  • What was happening just before the child went missing or the last time you saw him/her.

When they have these details, the police will open a case, investigate and list the person as missing on the Bureau of Missing Persons.

In turn, make sure you take the investigating officer’s details, including contact details, and the case number. You may remember more details or get information from someone that you can pass on to help the police in their investigation.

If you receive a call from a kidnapper wanting a ransom

Call 10111 – immediately – to report the incident to the police. Thomas says the police will come to you if you receive such a call.

She says the SAPS have some of the best hostage negotiators in the world who are highly skilled and expertly trained. The negotiators will take over and handle the negotiation.

Have someone with you

Thomas says when a loved one goes missing you will be in a state of panic and unable to think straight, so be sure to have someone you can rely on at your side at all times. In addition, if possible, get someone who knows the child to stay in the place they went missing in case they are found.

What you can do next

After you have alerted the authorities, there are many things you can do to try to locate your missing loved one.

Ask for help on social media

Social media is enormously useful. You can create your own alert to post, with details such as a photo and contact information, asking for help finding your loved one. Share the post to your neighbourhood WhatsApp groups and Facebook pages – as well as to those of the area in which your loved one disappeared. You can also contact groups such as The Pink Ladies, who will assist in your search.

Visit the relevant neighbourhoods

Don’t rely on social media to get the word out there. Make posters and hang signs in the relevant areas as well.

Contact anyone who knows the missing person

These are the missing person’s friends, teachers and any extended family. Look closely at their social media profiles for any clue to your child’s whereabouts. If you get any leads, share them immediately with the investigating officer.

When your loved one is found

Thomas suggests you (parents and children) go for counselling as soon as possible. Use medical aid services if they are available, go to a private counsellor, or use the SAPS counselling service, which your investigating officer will have details of.

You will also need to complete SAPS form 92, which notifies the Bureau of Missing Persons that your child or loved one has been found. Their name will then be removed from the database.

Prevention is better than cure

It is impossible to prevent every crime, but with some vigilance, more awareness and advanced preventative measures you can prevent many of them.

Be more observant:

  • Know who your child or loved one is interacting with – Thomas says you must know where your child is going and who they will be meeting in person and online.
  • Notice the details – know what your child is wearing when they go out, and what they have with them – such as a bag, or any special jewellery or accessories.
  • Pay more attention to your surroundings – Thomas says we are so wrapped up in our own worlds we have become less observant. This makes a criminal’s life easier. Pay more attention to your surroundings so you can notice any suspicious changes.

Use smartphones to help:

  • Agree on your child’s smartphone use – Thomas says you should block x-rated material, install antivirus software and regularly monitor usage and sites and apps visited. Smartphones let anyone into the family – be cautious.
  • Locate and monitor – keep your family safe by installing an app such as MiBlackBox onto all your phones. This allows you to locate friends and family with location history available for up to 48 hours. It also has a panic button feature that can be used to record emergency audio messages that will automatically be sent to the user’s emergency contacts along with location

Stay safe

No one ever wants to have to deal with the terror of an abduction. While it’s good to know what you should do if something happens to a loved one, you should also do your best to help them avoid becoming a victim. Advances in technology have made it possible to know where your family is and give them the tools to call for help if they are concerned. Be careful, be safe, but be ready.

Visit the Android or iOS app stores to download MiBlackBox.