The New Hampshire Union Leader

May 2, 2004

Missing: the story in NH

By Pat Hammond

There are scores of New Hampshire folks reported as missing right now. The ages and the reasons will vary, of course. And so will the outcomes.

The missing have received considerable attention in the wake of the disappearance -- and grim discovery -- of Amie Lynn Riley. The 20-year-old Manchester woman was found dead last week and her mother is trying to bring about changes when it comes to missing adults.

John Healy knows something about missing people. He owns and operates Litigation Intelligence Services, LLC, in Warner. A Certified Master Investigator, Healy retired from the New Hampshire state police at the rank of lieutenant.

"People go missing for a variety of reasons," Healy said. "Police involvement in these things is limited only due to the fact of the sheer volume of missing persons reported regularly. They just do not have the resources to fully investigate each case.

"Missing could mean a runaway teen, an adult who has disappeared, a kidnap victim, etc. There are lots of definitions and reasons. I think this is an area that is covered by a generic term and that is the problem," Healy said. "It is not a generic happening.

"People may be missing against their will, they may be lying low on purpose (such as deadbeat dads), or they may have just lost contact due to the passage of time," Healy said.

But sometimes the case is solved with the discovery of a corpse.

"I was recently asked to work on a missing person case on the Seacoast," Healy said. "I was going to peruse the bills and data left behind as well as the computer hard drive.

"The day I was headed over there," Healy said, "his body was found, close to his home, an accidental death."

The NCIC protocol

If Amie Lynn Riley's name had been entered into the FBI's National Crime Information Center (NCIC) database immediately after her mother reported her missing last August, that would not have altered the tragic ending of her short life, but her name would have been in a national database in the event that her body had been found in a place far away from New Hampshire.

Charlotte Riley of Chester is channeling her grief over her daughter's death into a mission to require police who process missing persons cases to enter the names into the nationwide database within a "reasonable period of time."

"I want a mandatory timeframe for entry of the names into the NCIC file," Mrs. Riley said yesterday. "It must be within a reasonable amount of time and, for me, that would be one week, not three months."

It was three months before the Manchester Police Department entered Amie's name into the NCIC. Amie's body was found a week ago -- eight months after her disappearance -- and her death has been pronounced a homicide.

Different for adults

"The general public feels that when someone goes missing you go to the police and report the person missing and can use NCIC, but that is only true if the person is a juvenile.

"If the missing person is an adult," Mrs. Riley said, "it is up to the person at the police department in coordination with the state police to decide if the person is really missing."

Federal law requires that missing persons meeting any of the following criteria must be entered into the NCIC system. The criteria cover any person of any age who is missing and:

has a physical or mental disability or is senile, subjecting himself or others to immediate danger

the disappearance was not voluntary

the person's physical safety may be in danger

the disappearance came after a catastrophe.

Erin Bruno is the case manager for the Nation's Missing Children Organization & Center for Missing Adults (NMCO), based in Phoenix. She has provided support to Charlotte Riley during the family's months-long ordeal.

99 in New Hampshire

"The most current statistics that we have are from 3/07/04 from the FBI's National Crime Information Center (NCIC) database," Bruno told the Sunday News in an e-mail last week. "There were 46,315 active cases of missing persons over the age of 18 nationally and 99 active missing person cases of all ages in New Hampshire.

"The national number has been pretty stable over the past three months with a fluctuation of less than 300 people," Bruno said. "In February 2004 there were 12,510 cases of missing adults that were entered into the system and 13,827 cases that were canceled. The total canceled reflects newly entered cases and previously entered cases."

An FBI-NCIC source said that as of April 1 there were 45,980 active adult files. Of that, 24,443 are male, 21,534 female and there are three cases in which the gender is unknown.

Federal funding

A non-profit agency providing nationwide assistance to law enforcement and families of missing persons, NMCO was formed in 1994 to provide search and advocacy services to children. In 1995 it expanded its charter to include services to missing persons over the age of 18.

The U.S. Department of Justice's Bureau of Justice Assistance granted the agency $1.57 million in 2002 to establish the first national clearinghouse for missing adults, providing services and advocacy to families of missing persons.

"Currently there is not a law that requires law enforcement to take a report on a missing adult, so there is no guarantee the (local) police department would be able to open a missing person investigation," Bruno said.

Two missing-person cases have stumped New Hampshire authorities in recent years: Tina and Bethany Sinclair of Chesterfield and Maura Murray of Hanson, Mass.

Tina Sinclair, then 34, and her daughter Bethany, 15, were last seen in February 2001 in the Chesterfield home of convicted sex offender Eugene Van Bowman, where they had been living.

Murray, a University of Massachusetts student, withdrew money from an ATM on Feb. 9, 2004, and e-mailed a professor that she wouldn't be in class all week because of a family problem. Around 7 p.m. she crashed her car into a snowbank on Route 112 in Haverhill, N.H., several miles from the Vermont border.

Police said a witness offered help but she refused and told the witness not to call police. Searches have proved unsuccessful.

It's not illegal

State police Sgt. Robert Estabrook is with the Major Crime Unit. "I get a list of missing persons periodically from NCIC," he said on Friday. "As of today, there are 56 missing (New Hampshire) people of all ages in our file. Our stats are probably more up-to-date than what NCIC has.

"It's not illegal for an adult to be missing," Estabrook said, "if they want to be. We are a clearinghouse for that. We send out a letter and a form after 30 days to the local police department to ask if the person is still missing. The police department checks off choices, such as 'the person has returned,' on a form and returns it to us."

"If the case is still active after 30 days," Estabrook said, "we would request dental records." Estabrook's office continues to communicate with the police department from time to time to make sure files reflect current information.

The 56 file cards include people missing from as long ago as 1978 but most disappeared within the last two years.

Asking questions

"Police officers are trained to ask specific questions with regard to a disappearance and are searching for indications that there might be foul play," Manchester Police Department spokesman Sgt. Mark Fowke said.

But some people choose to disappear, Fowke said. "As adults, we are free to come and go as we please. In an interview we ask if there is any reason why they should have run off. People do turn up."

Fowke scanned recent missing persons files on Friday and said, "There was one suicide but the majority of the ones I looked at were brought to a conclusion where we located an individual."

Outcomes unclear

Bruno, of the Nation's Missing Children Organization & Center for Missing Adults, said statistics on the outcomes of missing persons cases are "still a little ways off because we are still very young as the national clearinghouse and the numbers don't actually reflect the total population yet."

Charlotte Riley will be pursuing her crusade to change the NCIC rules on both the state and the national level.

"If it takes the loss of my daughter to do this," Riley said, referring to requiring police to enter the name of a missing person into the NCIC within a reasonable time period, "and me to be an advocate, then this is my mission in life.

"How can we fix it?" Mrs. Riley asks herself. "Is it going to be more work for the police? Yes, it's more paperwork, but we're not talking about pet seals, we are talking about real people."