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What you need to know about missing persons cases

SAPD debunks myths, gives tips to help find people who have vanished

SAN ANTONIO – When it comes to reporting someone missing, age is not an issue. Time and details -- no matter how small -- matter.

Courtney Weyrich works with the San Antonio Police Department's Missing Persons Unit to help find people reported missing. She has debunked her share of bad beliefs about these cases.

Here is what you need to know in the event you need to report someone you know as missing:

Every second, every detail count

While your favorite TV drama might stress a waiting period, police say that is fiction.

"There is no waiting period. You are able to call police immediately," Weyrich said. "The sooner we know is best because then we have more to work off of, things are fresh in people's minds. We can call people, call friends, call employers and see what possible leads that we can get on where did they go."

Weyrich said there is a slight difference in the cases of some missing adults.

"We cannot make adults stay home. We can't make adults communicate with certain people but we will have ways of getting into contact with them to verify that they are OK," she said.

It helps to know basic information about someone before making a missing persons report. Here are some of the questions police will ask:

  • What is the person's name?
  • What is the person's date of birth?
  • What is the person's height and weight?
  • What is the person's eye color?
  • What is the person's hair color? What is the length and style of the hair?
  • What is the person wearing?
  • Where was the person going?
  • Who was the person last seen with?

You should also try to find the most recent photo of the missing person. If you don't have one handy, but the missing person has a social media account, check that for a photo that best shows how he or she last looked. If that person has a selfie, make sure it's one that would help a stranger spot him or her.

"Selfies can work as long as they are not obscured with your hand in front of your face or the kids are making those funny faces or anything like that. We need a frontal shot where we can see the full face. We can crop out whatever  -- if it's a family photo, we can crop out everybody else and take that one person," Weyrich said.

'Know your kids'

It may sound obvious, but Weyrich said parents often don't know enough about their child's friends.

"Know your kids. Know their friends. Know what their likes (and) dislikes are, where they like to hang out. Know their friends' parents. Know where they live. Have a contact number for the parent even for the child," Weyrich said.

If your child spends more time chatting with friends met on social media than in real life, Weyrich encouraged parents to start asking questions about their virtual friends.

"The problem when they say that they might have gone with a friend that they met on a social media site is when you have 3,000 followers and you know that they don't know all these 3,000 people. So you don't know who they truly interact with or who they accepted because it was a request sent to them," Weyrich said.

No matter your age, Weyrich said people should be wary of making new friends online.

"Be careful what their intentions are. What they really want from you - most of them may not want to be your friend. They're looking for other things or to get you to do things for them in regards to drugs or other things," Weyrich said.

AMBER and Silver Alerts

There are two types of alerts authorities can issue for missing persons: AMBER and Silver Alerts. In order for either alert to be issued, a vehicle needs to be involved in the person's disappearance. Both are issued by the Texas Department of Public Safety.

AMBER Alerts are issued for children. AMBER stands for "America's Missing: Broadcast Emergency Response."

"We need to have evidence that a child was taken against their will. They would have to be under the age of 17 at the time. We have to have the evidence that they're in the vehicle and who they're with," Weyrich said.

Silver alerts are issued for people over the age of 65. There must be documentation of a medical condition that could be life-threatening.

The alerts are not issued for people who left on foot.

Solving the case

While anyone can call to report someone missing, police will need a family member or guardian to file an official missing persons report.

"If it's a case where you feel something has happened to the child and the family member is not reporting them, you are more than welcome to call and have an officer go with you. At that point, usually the family member will change their mind and make the report," Weyrich said.

Police do not usually get involved in child custody matters because those are civil court issues. That includes instances where a parent does not return a child from visitation.

"We will sometimes help to mediate the situation, but it will not qualify as a missing person because the child is with the parent," Weyrich said.

If all of this sounds like a bunch of bad news, Weyrich offered some hope.

"Most of our cases, they are reunited at the end. A lot of it is teenagers being rebellious and not getting their way. I would say at least 90 percent of them are very happy endings," Weyrich said.

To make a report with the San Antonio Police Department's Missing Persons Unit, call 210-207-7660.