America’s Epidemic of Missing Persons

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One of my passions, and pass times is documentary films. I feel they give us perspective into other cultures and ways of life. It’s often a way to step out of the box of our normal, routine thinking. Even when the subject matter is controversial, or uncomfortable. This is a topic, however, that is not only uncomfortable, I’ve actually been quite disturbed upon doing a bit of my own research.

Enter a 2017 film titled Missing 411

A film that left me so disturbed, I had to dig deeper. The numbers are staggering. On average, at any given time in the United States, there are an estimated 90,000 missing persons. 50,000 of these being adults, and another 33,000 being under the age of 18. Even more disturbing, in 80 percent of abductions, first contact between the child and the abductor occurs within a quarter mile of the child’s home. On average, a child goes missing in America every 40 seconds.

As much as I do (quite proudly) consider myself an advocate for childrens’ rights, this phenomena includes people of all ages, sex, and ethnicity. Let’s talk about ethnicity. I looked at statistics from The National Crime Information Center. More than 270,000 people from minority backgrounds were reported missing since 2010. Almost half of these figures are compromised of Black Americans. Roughly 64,000 being Black girls and women.

According to The Daily Mail, most of these women disappear in the states of New York, Georgia, North Carolina, Maryland, and Florida. Due to stereotypes about their ethnicity, they are given lesser priority by law enforcement. Based upon the assumption that they are involved in some type of criminally-related activity, namely prostitution. I think it would be quite ignorant to assume that these women were all involved in crime, or were murdered by former partners/lovers. And yet, no media attention.

National Parks & Public Land

But it’s not just women and children. Nor is this something reserved for urban populations. Upon digging even deeper, a very grim reality set in. There is another American epidemic, that seemingly no one is talking about. At least not openly. There are 1,600 people missing from our national parks and public lands. So many in fact, men like author David Paulides, of the missing 411 series of books, have turned research on this very subject into a career. And upon doing his research, and interviewing law enforcement, along with state officials, has been met with a stone wall of silence.

And it’s not just the silence. It’s the circumstances surrounding these disappearances, that leaves one with nothing but questions. Not only children, many able bodied adults go missing every year in our national parks without a trace. Even more confusing, the national parks service, refuses to keep a record of these cases. And in many instances, refuse to answer questions. But why?

Consider the rather recent case of 18 year old Joe Keller. A competitive runner, openwater swimmer, and obstacle-course racer. Who went missing in Conejos County, located in the San Juan Mountains in southwestern Colorado in 2015. Joe and a friend had been staying at the Rainbow Trout Ranch, owned by his aunt and uncle. The two went for an hour long jog on Forest Road 250. At some point during the run, Joe fell behind, never to be seen again. Despite a massive search, no trace was ever found.

This, however, is not an isolated case. Digging yet even deeper, I found a list of cold cases dating all the way back to 1969. While not all those who go missing are lost forever, there is an equally disturbing pattern among those who are found.

1. Children disappearing right under their parent’s noses, then to be found in areas that are virtually impossible to reach

2. Clothing found, sometimes folded

3. Those found alive having suffered some sort of mental handicap, incapable of providing memories or details

4. Bodies found in areas that have been searched several times

5. Experienced hikers or sportsmen found in freezing temperatures without shoes, and missing clothing

Yet, it’s been happening since the later part of the 19th Century, and is just now coming to public light.

Is There a Cover-up?

I’m not here to talk conspiracy theory, or the paranormal. I don’t believe in “Bigfoot,” because, let’s face it, someone would have shot one by now. When it comes to disappearances in urban, populated areas, my first thought is human trafficking. It’s certainly not a comforting theory. But it is, indeed, a theory. A realistic one. A problem that certainly could be combatted by the heavy hand of the law. Because it falls into the very real category of crime and punishment.

But what is it about our national parks, and public land? Why have so many people gone missing? Why the silence, and at times, refusal of officials to cooperate? Again, one can’t help but note the strange circumstances surrounding these events. Small children being found alive miles away from where they went missing. Lack of memory in seemingly healthy adults. Sportsmen who lose all bearing, and discard vital survival equipment. Ask any outdoorsman. Your boots, a knife, and the ability to make fire are key.

Missing persons national parks
Yosemite National Park (National Parks Foundation)

What would cause individuals from that particular walk of life to be so careless? And why does it seem to happen so often? Now understand, the wilderness can be a terrifying and overwhelming place. Having spent a great deal of time in the Allegheny forest in my youth, I understand this. Deep forested areas, far away from civilization, have a bizarre effect on the human psyche. Factor in natural predators, unfarmilier surroundings, and treacherous terrain. For the untrained woodsman, this can be a death sentence. If one does indeed lose his bearings and become lost, this can quickly become a fatal error in a matter of hours. Especially when night falls.

I remember being in my early twenties, exploring old mining trails at night. Believe me, the human psyche does indeed change dramatically. I recall my only comfort being my Mauser rifle, and the few rounds I had in my pockets. And after encountering an old camp site comprised of ratty, disheveled trailers. I was literally waiting for the sputter of a chainsaw, and for Leatherface to make his cameo. Panic is understandable. Even when there is no actual threat, the mind will often manufacture one.

I also understand that depressed, suicidal people often look for a secluded place to die. It’s a grim reality, but it is reality none the less. Yet most suicides leave a final testament. Usually in the form of a note, or even a mere goodbye text. In not one of the cases (that I know of) has any such evidence ever been found. Upon looking for logical explanations, I have to scratch my head and wonder. Bears or other natural predators? Murder? These conclusions are indeed logical. Yet considering the bizarre circumstances, “logic” almost takes a back seat.

And if indeed we are talking about murder. It certainly wouldn’t be hard for a killer to hide in such a vast environment. But how would they survive for so long, without falling victim to natural predators, starvation, or the elements, themselves? And are we to suppose that our national parks are stocked with murderers, lying in wait for victims? A far fetched idea that is not only unlikely, the mere thought makes my skin crawl.

Yet it gets even stranger. In many cases, the missing’s clothes are found. Yet there is no sign of struggle or trauma. It’s as if they have melted away, only to leave a pile of clothing as evidence. Consider a conversation between Mr. Paulides and a park ranger.

The ranger described to me if you were standing straight up and you just had your pants on and you melted directly into your pants. That’s what it looked like to him. The pants were lying on the ground in a very neat pile.

Or consider the children that were found. “Some kids are found phenomenal distances away that would make no logical sense to any parent,” Paulides said.

Even stranger, trained blood hounds, whose sole purpose are to find missing persons are often baffled.

If a dog can’t find a scent, that’s a red flag. If a dog, a trained K-9, is put on the scent at the site and it lays down and it doesn’t want to track anymore, red flag. That happens more than you think.

And then there is the case of 14-year-old Stacy Ann Arras, who went missing in July of 1981. Arras was vacationing with her father and six others in Yosemite at the Sunrise Sierra Camp. Stacy disappeared while photographing a lake near her campsite. Only the lens of her camera was ever found. Since then, her disappearance has gained an almost cult-like following. Her case would fit the pattern of many missing persons, in not only Yosemite, but many of our national parks. Yet there is something different here. Perhaps even sinister.

Consider that when Mr. Paulides himself began his own research of her case, officials were evasive, and reluctant to share information. Even when faced with a request under The Freedom of Information Act. They still deliberately withheld, and obfuscated the facts. But again, why?

Why are officials so unwilling to talk? Why do these cases get almost no media attention? Sitting here doing my research, it’s overwhelming. Not just Yosemite, but every national park in America has a countless list of people who have seemingly vanished into thin air. I’ve scrolled through endless pages of photos and case files. Haunting images of people who have ceased to exist.

Why the media blackout? Why the lack of cooperation from park officials and government? And their absolute resistance to finding the truth? Missing persons are not just an inner city/ urban phenomena anymore. This has been happening on public land since this nation has kept records. And with the behavior of the very same people who should be tasked with finding them, I have to come to my own conclusions.

There is something very sinister, perhaps criminal happening on public land. Something we may never have answers for. That is, unless we find those answers ourselves.

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