September 22, 2013

Time is of the essence for missing people

Investigators have to weigh a number of factors as they determine the response to a report.

By RACHEL OHM Morning Sentinel

ANSON - The day Sheila Nelson's son Chris disappeared didn't start out any different from most days.

click image to enlarge

Melissa Nelson and Jeremy Nelson recall their brother Christopher Nelson’s life as Jeremy clutches his brother’s remains at the family’s home.

Photos by Michael G. Seamans/Morning Sentinel

click image to enlarge

Sheila Nelson, mother of Christopher Nelson, recalls her son’s life and death at the family’s Pease Hill Road residence in Anson.

He left with his dog Sully about 4 p.m. for a walk along the roads by their home. He asked his mother for a water bottle and filled it at the sink.

"'Mom, I'm going out for a walk,' he said. Those were the last words he said to me," said Nelson. Darkness approached and Chris, 41, wasn't home from his walk, which usually lasted about an hour.

"If he would have been in his car I wouldn't have worried. I would have thought he was spending the night somewhere, but he wasn't. He just went out for a walk," said Nelson. She and her husband were looking for him on the road he usually took when it began to rain. They used flashlights, but the rain was getting worse and the visibility was low.

So they waited on the porch swing of their home, hoping they would see their son walk up the driveway.

The day Nelson disappeared was the same one that 86-year-old Arthur Wakeman of Benton disappeared from his home, too. About 30 miles away on Sept. 11, Wakeman's disappearance launched a two-day 65 person search. He was found alive two days later, lying in a depression near a snowmobile trail about a mile from his home.

Meanwhile, Nelson's body was found by his mother and sister the morning after he disappeared. Their family wonders why more people didn't search for him and whether if they had, if it could have made a difference.

Of the hundreds of thousands of people reported missing last year, most were found. According to the National Criminal Information Center, 661,593 people were reported missing in the United States in 2012. All but 2,079 have been found.

The number of missing people in Maine varies from day to day, according to Todd Matthews of the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System, known to most as NamUS. People are reported missing, then many are found quickly. For instance, on July 31, NamUS listed 73 people reported missing in Maine. The organization's database uses some information not available to the public, so a complete list for last week wasn't violable.

Matthews said many people choose to disconnect from life -- and men seem to do it more frequently than women. "It is legal," he added.

The Maine Department of Public Safety does not keep track of the number of missing people reported in Maine each year, according to spokesman Steve McCausland.

McCausland echoed Matthews.

"It is no crime to disappear in this state, so police have to review a number of circumstances if someone is missing," he said. "Many times an individual doesn't report in to family members or goes off for two or three days. A lot of factors come into play to determine how intensive a search for a missing person is."


Every report of a missing person begins with an investigation.

The circumstances under which authorities search for and find missing people are as varied as the people that vanish. Because of practical reasons like the size of the state and the limited information that is available in some cases, not every report of a missing person automatically launches an extensive search and rescue party. However, authorities do have certain procedures they follow and systems of raising awareness among the public.

"Every scenario is a little different. Sometimes there is historical data that can help us pinpoint how far the person may have gone and what their behavior is like that can help us locate them. It's not an exact science but history has a tendency to repeat itself," said Cpl. John MacDonald, spokesman for the Maine Warden Service. "We have policies and procedures in place and protocol."

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