They say no news is good news, this is not true if you have a missing loved one. When you have a missing loved one, no news is frustrating and dreadful. I unfortunately know from experience that at some point, the darker parts of the brain kick in and you start semi-hoping that at this point they just find the loved one dead.
Thankfully, Britt and her siblings haven’t reached this point. But it’s been 1 month since their mother, Angie, disappeared and they’ve reached the point where no news is frustrating. Also, at some point you get tired of being asked “any news?” Well if there was news, I’d be pretty vocal about it, my silence is a good indicator there isn’t.
When someone goes missing people outside those immediately involved fall into two categories: those that mean well, but seriously, most people do not have to deal with someone going missing, so they just have no freaking clue what to do and those that are just mean.
When someone goes missing everyone assumes the worst. The person was murdered, is actually one of the nicer assumptions. When it was my cousin, even though we were keeping her mental health issues quiet, plenty of people were like “well, she probably just ran off…” That is actually hurtful, not helpful. I know it’s meant to be “helpful” but it isn’t. It’s meant to be “oh don’t worry or put too much energy into it, they’ll be back when the crisis/drug-fueled orgy/desperation ends.” However, even when that’s the case, it’s dismissive like your loved one isn’t important because they have a substance abuse issue or mental health problems or whatever. And in my experience, it doesn’t matter if there is something wrong with the loved one who goes missing, it’s still a huge fucking deal and telling someone not to worry is incredibly unhelpful.
When it was my family all those years ago, it took about 2 weeks before I was just done with people. I was tired of being asked “have they heard anything?” or “Have they found anything?” Well, as a matter of fact, no. We haven’t found a shoe in a field or a dead body in a creek or her identification in a bathroom in some truck stop. I assure you if we had, my first full sentence of this conversation would have been “so, they found my cousin’s purse with money and identification at a truck stop near wherever it was found” because I assure you this is something we think about nearly all the time, if there’s any news at all, it will be a the primary focus of my conversation… especially if it’s the purse or shoe thing, because that just creates more questions and no answers. If she’s found dead or alive, that will also be a major topic of conversation for me.
Unfortunately, you also get to the point where you kinda give up and no longer care if they are found dead or alive. Yes, alive is always better, but after a while, even if they are found dead…. being found is better than never being found. It allows some closure and you can start grieving and healing. Not things you can do while the person is still missing.
While the person is still missing, there are days when you just put one foot in front of the other and get along with life, and then in the dark of the night, the brain kicks in and spins you out. January 12th, an unidentified female body was found deceased along highway 60 in Shannon County, Missouri. My best friend lives in Green County, Missouri which is in the same geographical area and saw it on her local news.
My first thought was, well there are missing persons flyers and Angie’s been registered as missing with the Missouri State Highway Patrol, so if it’s her, Britt and then will know soon enough. And around 2 am, I got up out of bed because my brain was in overdrive and I sent an email with the Missing Person’s flyer to the Shannon County Sheriff’s Department, because what if the unidentified woman was injured in such a way that they can’t get fingerprints? I’ve heard that sometimes when a truck strikes a person at a high rate of speed, degloving can occur. I don’t think it happens frequently and I suspect there are very specifics set of circumstances required for it to happen, but I’ve heard it happens. Okay, flyer sent, back to bed. I finally returned to bed and fell asleep some time later.
A few weeks pass and I’m talking to Britt about something rather unrelated and I remind her I sent that flyer to Shannon County and she’s like “When I was a kid we used to spend a lot of our summers in Eminence Missouri.” Well what the actual fuck? See I’d needed to look up Shannon County and I consider myself proficient with Missouri geography and as a result knew Eminence was the county seat for Shannon. The fact that Britt rattled that off… Yep, another sleepless night. At 2:30 in the morning, I’m up searching for contact information for Christian County, Missouri where the unidentified female was sent for forensic examination and I’m double checking all news sources for the southern part of Missouri to make sure I didn’t miss a press releasing saying “Hey we identified that body and it’s Jane Smith”… I found the email for Christian County’s forensic medical examiner and I resent the flyer to them and Shannon County in an email. In the email I admitted I was not related to the missing person, just a family friend, who had heard about the case in Shannon County and included contact information for Britt stating plainly that it was the missing woman’s daughter. To my shock and delight, I received an email back letting me know that their unidentified female did not match Ms. Rice.
Fantastic! I have to pass this information along to Britt. I text her and let her know about the second email and that they responded and it’s not Angie. And we have a mutual moment because apparently while I was falling down rabbit holes at 2 in the morning, she was as well. The first time I told her about the case and the email I sent, it didn’t sink in, it wasn’t until I “reminded her” about it that it sank in and well…
I’ve been giving this a lot of thought during the last month, recalling my memories of the weeks that became months and then years of my cousin missing and instead of asking someone with a missing loved one “have you heard anything” you should instead ask “how are you doing?” Because if there was news, you wouldn’t need to ask for it. Also, not all “news” is stuff that should be shared. Like I remember someone telling us they’d seen my cousin at Location X about a week after she went missing. But the sheriff’s department followed up and after reviewing surveillance video it was determined not to be my cousin. However, we knew about the “suspected encounter” for close to two weeks before the sheriff was able to confirm it wasn’t her (it was the 1990s and finding surveillance video was more difficult as well as department talking to several people they knew were at the location at the time of the sighting).
The thing is “oh, someone thinks they saw her at Walmart” is not news. People are terrible eye witnesses even when they know the person they are supposed to be identifying. It is easy to make a mistake, the encounter was brief and at a distance or some other factors… How many times have you walked up to someone thinking they were Person A, only to have them turn around and you to realize you’ve made a mistake, but you didn’t realize it wasn’t Person A until they were facing you full on, a few feet away from you, and you could concentrate on looking at them?
That sentence “someone thinks they saw the missing person” provides a false sense of “knowing.” Oh you can stop worrying, the person is obviously alive and doing okay because they are out and about and people are seeing them. No, not really. It just means someone thinks they saw the missing person. As I’ve already said that person might have been mistaken, it may not have been the missing person. Also, it’s not usual behavior for a person to abandon their car and life without an underlying issue. Obviously the missing person is not okay, they are having some kind of crisis.
Finally, I can’t stress it enough, the not knowing is the worst part. I remember a few months after my cousin disappeared when I was like “I just wish they’d find the body.” The person I was speaking with admonished me rather harshly, but…. there was a point when I really didn’t care if she was found alive or dead, I just wanted her to be found, so my family could close that specific chapter of not knowing and get to something they could handle and I knew, we could handle her being dead, even if it she was murdered, the not knowing though, that was worse. I didn’t want her to be dead, that’s not what I’m saying… Alive would be preferable, but at that point, dead and discovered was better than the endless not knowing. There is a hopelessness and helplessness that accompanies “not knowing” that is indescribable. It’s spinning out at 2 am and reading every news site from every state that touches yours to see if there’s anything about an unidentified woman being found anywhere. It’s making endless lists of hospitals to call to see if they have someone with amnesia (which is not nearly as common as TV and movies would have you believe) that fits your loved one’s description. Or someone fitting their description that might have been admitted because they had a nervous breakdown or psychotic break from reality or were struck by a car. It’s also 3 ams spent scrolling through random selfies of strangers from the last place the person was seen just in case they are in the background. It’s gathering police reports to take to banks or credit card companies to have alerts put on accounts. And searching the family home for important records so that you have their social security number (also did you know you can contact the Social Security department about a missing loved one). It’s checking to see what kind of new info has appeared in public databases like NamUS every time you have five spare minutes.