When young adults go missing
A 7-year-old girl doesn’t come home from school at a designated time. A 4-year-old boy goes missing from a neighborhood park.
The public hears these stories all too often. They read about them in newspapers and magazines. They see the faces of missing children cycled through 24-hour news networks. They hear interviews of frantic families and determined law enforcement.
But what happens when a 19-year-old, who lives with his family, leaves home and can’t be located? Scenarios like this happen all too often, like the case of Jackson Miller.
On May 15, 2010 19-year-old Jackson Miller left his home in Cupertino, Calif. His car was found parked at the Golden Gate Bridge and his ID and wallet were found inside. Bridge officials did not report any jumps from the bridge at the time and law enforcement officials are still searching for him.
Cases of older teens can be tricky for families and law enforcement. Young adults ages 18, 19 and 20 may not be considered traditional “children” in the eyes of the media or public. But we see these cases every day and know how serious they can be.
In 2003 the U.S. Congress passed the PROTECT Act which includes a provision known as Suzanne’s Law. The law was named after Suzanne Lyall, a 19-year-old University of Albany student who went missing after leaving her job on March 2, 1998 and has not been seen since.
Suzanne’s law extends the same reporting and investigative procedures already applied to children younger than 18, to young adults ages 18, 19 and 20. Here at the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children we refer to these cases as 5779 cases, named after the U.S. code assigned to this law.
Law enforcement is required to immediately enter cases of missing 18, 19 and 20-year-olds into the FBI’s National Crime Information Center database and begin an investigation.
Once law enforcement takes these two steps they can — but are not required to — contact us for assistance. By law we only open these cases when reported to us by law enforcement. This process differs slightly from how we handle cases for children younger than 18. For those children we are legally allowed to open cases when the child is reported by either law enforcement or legal guardians.
Many of the young adults in these cases, like Jackson Miller, suffer from a medical condition. This makes their disappearance all the more frightening to their families.
Law enforcement have received sightings of Jackson in the years since he went missing and continue to search for him. And we continue to provide resources to law enforcement. Since Suzanne’s Law was enacted in 2003 we have handled more than 860 of these cases at the request of law enforcement.