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Missing Adults

Links and resources for families of missing adults

AMECO is an association of nonprofit organizations located across the US and Canada that assist in the prevention, recovery and reintegration of missing and sexually exploited children. Several AMECO members also provide services to searching families of missing adults.

To identify which AMECO members assist with missing adult cases, please search for missing adult services on the AMECO website’s search tool.

Resources may be available from other agencies as well.

Only those who have experienced the emotional rollercoaster of when a child or loved one is missing can articulate the emotional struggle that ensues. The first step once an individual is confirmed missing is to file a missing persons report with local law enforcement.

Doug Lyall, father of Suzanne Lyall (missing since 1998) and co-founder of the Center for Hope, says:

When police are contacted about a missing adult, they may not believe the disappearance justifies filing a missing person report. You may be told that it is not against the law for an adult to go missing. As a family member, you may need to convince authorities that the person is at high risk due to either a mental and/or medical condition, because the disappearance is unexplained and not consistent with the person’s past behavior pattern, or because the person is possibly the victim of foul play. You have the right to bring your request up the chain of command. You may consider bringing your story to the media and/or asking for assistance from community leaders.

A missing person report is an official document that can only be filed with a police agency. Once completed, the document will have a case number assigned. It is important for the family to make note of the case number for future reference. Verify that the police agency will forward information from the report to the National Crime Information Center (NCIC), where the missing person profile will become available nationwide.

The reporter of the missing adult may assist law enforcement by providing the necessary information to fully evaluate the situation. Caution should be taken to report to police only information that is factual. The reporting of fabricated or incorrect information that would indicate dangerous or life-threatening circumstances could lead to criminal charges being filed against the reporting person.

PDF: This document provides some suggestions for the person reporting the disappearance to assist law enforcement in the search for a missing adult.


For individuals under age 21:

Suzanne’s Law is a provision of the Prosecutorial Remedies and Other Tools to End the Exploitation of Children Today Act of 2003, otherwise known as the Protect Act, (http://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/PLAW-108publ21/html/PLAW-108publ21.htm – see section 204). This federal law mandates federal, state, and local law-enforcement agencies to take a report of missing children under the age of 21 and enter the report into the FBI’s NCIC (National Crime Information Center) database. However, there is no federal law that requires law-enforcement agencies to accept reports of missing adults who are 21 years of age or older.


For adults over age 21:

Due to privacy issues, missing adult cases are treated differently than missing child cases. Missing persons laws vary state to state. In some states, a report must be taken whether or not there is proof of endangerment; in other states, law enforcement agencies must access if there is evidence to indicate that a missing adult is in a dangerous or life-threatening situation that could involve foul play or other crime to open a case and conduct an investigation.

If you are searching for a missing senior citizen or individual with Alzheimer’s disease or other cognitive disorder, please visit the U.S. Department of Justice’s Office of Justice Programs, Bureau of Justice Assistance for more information on the Missing Alzheimer’s Disease Patient Assistance Program. There are also other nonprofits and programs tailored to address the needs of this population.


State by state information on legislation and other resources for missing persons:

Resources on individual state legislature on this issue may be found by visiting NamUs, the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System, a program of the U.S. Department of Justice’s Office of Justice Programs that serves as a clearinghouse for missing persons and unidentified decedent records. Go to the Missing Persons section of NamUs at www.namus.gov and click on the Resources tab.



According to the FBI’s website (http://www.fas.org/irp/agency/doj/fbi/is/ncic.htm), the National Crime Information Center is “a computerized index of criminal justice information.” This data houses all missing person information and alerts all law enforcement of the information therein.

There is an established criterion for entering NCIC information. Missing individuals who have a proven physical or mental disability; are missing under circumstances indicating that they may be in physical danger; are missing after a catastrophe; are missing under circumstances indicating their disappearance may not have been voluntary; are under the age of 21 and do not meet the above criteria; or are 21 and older and do not meet any of the above criteria but for whom there is a reasonable concern for their safety.


Additional Resources:

Please bear in mind that there are other nonprofit organizations that support the efforts to find missing adults. For example, while the Association of Missing and Exploited Children’s Organizations is a membership organization of nonprofits specifically serving the needs of missing and exploited children and their families, several of their member organizations also provide services for missing adult cases. Another excellent resource is to contact the State Missing Persons Clearinghouse. Some states differentiate between missing persons and missing children. Please visit the Missing-Child Clearinghouse Program on our website for further state information.

The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children® (NCMEC)

National Center for Missing & Exploited Children
Charles B. Wang International Children’s Building
699 Prince Street
Alexandria, Virginia 22314-3175
The United States of America
Phone: 703-224-2150 or 1-800-843-5678

Phone: 703-224-2150 or 1-800-843-5678

NCMEC’s mission is to help prevent child abduction and sexual exploitation; help find missing children; and assist victims of child abduction and sexual exploitation, their families, and the professionals who serve them. NCMEC is authorized by federal statute to handle reports of missing children under 21 years of age (See 42 U.S.C. 5773 and 42 U.S.C. 5779).

NCMEC is the national clearinghouse on missing and exploited children issues. NCMC will open a case of a missing child and will do so at the request of law enforcement for cases involving missing adult children 18-20.


Office of Justice Programs
810 7th Street, NW
Washington, DC 20531
Phone: 202-307-0703

The NamUs website states that, “the Office of Justice Program’s (OJP) National Institute of Justice (NIJ) began funding major efforts to maximize the use of DNA technology in our criminal justice system. Much of NIJ’s work has focused on developing tools to investigate and solve the cases of missing persons and unidentified decedents. The NamUs databases are just one element of a broader program to improve the Nation’s capacity to address these cases. For example, NIJ also funds free testing of unidentified human remains and provides family reference-sample kits, at no charge, to any jurisdiction in the country. Other efforts include training law enforcement officers, medical examiners, judges, and attorneys on forensic DNA evidence.”

National Center for Victims of Crime

2000 M Street, NW, Suite 480
Washington, DC 20036
Phone: 1-800-FYI-CALL or 1-800-394-2255

According to their website, the National Center for Victims of Crime works to make sure all crime victims get the assistance and information they need.

National Mental Health Information Center

Center for Mental Health Services
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services
Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration

According to its website, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s (SAMHSA) National Mental Health Information Center provides information about mental health via a toll-free telephone number (800-789-2647), this web site, and more than 600 publications. The National Mental Health Information Center was developed for users of mental health services and their families, the general public, policy makers, providers, and the media.

Salvation Army Missing Person Locator Service

The Salvation Army National Headquarters

According to their website, the Salvation Army’s primary purpose is to reunite family members who wish to find each other. Searching for a missing person can be a lengthy process. Searches can last from six months up to a year. The first step in beginning a search is to fill out the Missing Persons Inquiry Form as completely as possible, sign it and mail it in. There is a $25.00 non-refundable registration fee to review the case. The privacy of a missing person who does not wish to be reunited will be maintained. Searches cannot be conducted relating to

    • legal matters
    • adoption cases
    • genealogical searches
    • persons under 18 years old
    • persons missing less than six months
Social Security Administration

Office of Central Records Operations
300 North Green Street
Baltimore, MD 21201

According to the Social Security Administration’s (SSA) website, under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) SSA is able to provide certain services to families seeking information on missing persons. For more information, please see Letter Forwarding.

State Missing Persons Clearinghouses

Each of the 50 states, plus the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, U.S. Virgin Islands, Canada, and the Netherlands, provides resources for missing children, their families, and the professionals who serve them. These resources are referred to as missing-child clearinghouses. Many of these clearinghouses also direct services for missing persons.

Victim Assistance Online

According the website, VAOline.org is the web presence and point of service delivery for the services and projects provided through Victim Assistance Online Resources (Windsor) Inc. It includes not only our own projects, but encompasses our contact networks and membership; thus, VAOnline.org isn’t a single office, but a portal into the offices of hundreds or organizations, agencies, institutions and private services around the globe.