ASU partners with Phoenix Police, Maricopa County to help families of missing persons
Patricia Williams was 19 years old when her mother was seen getting into a car near the intersection of 21st and Campbell avenues in Phoenix, on Nov. 25, 1993. She has never been seen again.
Officials estimate that more than 600,000 people are reported missing nationwide every year.
That statistic inspired Robbin Brooks, a lecturer in Arizona State University’s School of Criminology and Criminal Justice, to begin a collaboration to stage Missing in Arizona, an event dedicated to connecting people with the resources to find their long-term missing loved ones.
The event, to be held Oct. 24 at ASU's West campus, is the result of a partnership between the School of Criminology and Criminal Justice in ASU’s College of Public Service and Community Solutions, the City of Phoenix Police Department and Maricopa County.
Missing In Arizona is open to the public. Families of the missing are encouraged to attend to access help from law enforcement as well as share identifiers such as dental records, fingerprints and photographs that can be instrumental in solving cases. Support groups and private meetings will also be available to help families cope.
Similar events have yielded successes in other states. In Michigan, a similar event held for the last four years has resolved more than 50 cases, some dating back to the 1970s. This will be the first "Missing In ..." event held in Arizona.
“ASU’s participation in the event forms a link between society, law enforcement and social services,” Brooks said. “This event provides a great educational opportunity for students and educators who will be working side-by-side with law enforcement in gathering important information from families for the investigators.”
Stuart Somershoe, who has been involved with Phoenix Police’s missing-persons unit since 2007, and Christen Eggers, medicolegal death investigator for the Office of the Medical Examiner of Maricopa County, report that there are more than 2,000 people on the National Crime Information Center’s missing list in Arizona alone. They say that number could be higher due to many cases being mishandled or never investigated at all.
“Our goal is to resolve cases,” Somershoe said. “We want people to come forward and file reports, no matter how old. Unfortunately, a lot of families get the runaround. This event allows for families to come forward and file a report.”
Somershoe also acknowledged that some families fear reporting a missing person due to possible illegal-immigrant or criminal status. He assured them that this event is not about prosecuting people.
“Everyone has somebody who cares for them, loves them and wants to know what happened to them,” he said. “That’s part of the reason why we’re having it at ASU: We want to have a safe, non-law-enforcing environment, where people can come forward and we can help them.”
Friends and families of missing persons will be able to file reports on site, and they are also encouraged to bring medical and dental records of the missing individual, as there are many undocumented persons in the Maricopa County system.
“All of our unidentified information, demographic information does still get uploaded,” Eggers said. “A lot of people just don’t come forward when they have a missing person, so we don’t have the information to do a comparison with.”
But perhaps the most important aspect of the event will be the outreach and support groups that will be offered to family members.
Williams plans to attend Missing in Arizona with hopes of getting new information about her mother, but she also would like to help those who are going through the same thing.
“I was so young, I didn’t know anything except the tools she gave me, be strong, be a fighter, that’s how she raised me,” Williams said. “I hope to be that example to show people that you can live through the pain, and still keep the spirit and the memory of loved ones alive.”
Missing in Arizona will run from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Oct. 24, at the ASU West campus, 4701 W. Thunderbird Road, in Glendale. For reservations and more information, contact Detective Stuart Somershoe at 602-261-8065 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Written by Christopher Hernandez.