Please note: This article is published as an archive copy from Philadelphia City Paper. My City Paper is not affiliated with Philadelphia City Paper. Philadelphia City Paper was an alternative weekly newspaper in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The last edition was published on October 8, 2015.

July 17–24, 1997

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Missing the Point


Roughly 500 people are reported missing in Philadelphia each month. The majority are runaways. A few are kidnapped children or adults. Occasionally there's a disaster victim or amnesiac.

However, it's nearly impossible to determine exactly how many have disappeared, or why, from official data — mainly because the records aren't truly complete until the person has been located.

There are 531 people currently listed as missing in metropolitan Philadelphia, according to National Crime Information Center (NCIC) records. This count includes only those disappearances reported to the police, and doesn't distinguish between individuals who have been taken against their will and those who choose to vanish.

Handled primarily by local detectives, missing persons cases may be referred to the Philadelphia Police Department's Juvenile Aid Division or long-term Missing Persons Unit, as well as to the Pennsylvania State Police, the Citizens' Crime Commission of the Delaware Valley, the Missing Children Help Center, and the FBI — which presents a challenge to uniform record-keeping.

"When a person is reported missing, their family usually files a report with the local police department," says Agent Bill Carter of the FBI. "Whether the case is referred to the FBI depends on the circumstances. There must be evidence of foul play or that the person is missing beyond his or her control."

As of last month, there were 102,444 active cases on the federal database. More than half of these (65,948) involved minors. Of the 36,496 adults reported missing, 13,952 were classified as "endangered" (last seen in the company of someone else); 8,807 were classified as "kidnapping" (involuntary disappearances); 8,144 as "disability" (mental or physical problems); and 7,088 as "catastrophe" (natural disasters such as floods or forest fires).

Carter says that there's constant activity in missing persons' reports, so these figures fluctuate rapidly from month to month. For instance, while 450 Philadelphia names were added to the NCIC database in May, 402 local cases were resolved and removed that same month.

An estimated 90 percent of the people reported missing nationwide are runaway juveniles whose cases will be canceled when their whereabouts are discovered, says an officer at the Pennsylvania State Police Missing Persons Unit. Thus, approximately 50 to 60 of the 531 Philadelphians currently missing will remain so for the long term.

— Jennifer Rauch

main story:
Missing: The strange disappearance of Judith Smith.

follow ups:
Smithspotting (7/24/97), Found (10/2/97), The Boys From Buncombe (10/9/97)

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