Video Credit: Mia Garchitorena

How many people go missing — and who finds them?

Certain high-profile missing persons cases have become a part of New York’s history: The case of 6-year-old Etan Patz, who disappeared on his way to school one May morning in 1979. Avonte Oquendo, a 14-year-old boy with autism, whose disappearance was announced on every subway train until his remains were found months later in January 2014.

But far more people go missing than news reports might indicate. Last year, more than 13,000 people were reported missing in New York City. While the majority of these missing people were found within the first few hours, others disappeared, leaving behind family and friends who might never find out what happened to their loved ones.


Many different types of people go missing, but members of certain populations are more likely to vanish than others. Statistics show that the majority of missing people are children, most of them runaways. A large number are also vulnerable adults, many of them elderly.

The New York City Police Department has a Missing Persons Squad dedicated to searching for missing people, but sometimes its efforts aren’t enough. Families like the relatives of Brian Gewirtz and Philip Arabadjis — both of whom went missing in February 2015 —  launch their own investigations. They turn to friends, to volunteers, to private investigators and to social media.

The Missing takes an in-depth look at some of New York City’s missing cases, delving into the system that handles these cases as well as the experiences of searching for the lost.

Who Goes Missing in New York?

people were reported missing in New York City in 2014

New York City accounts for about 40 percent of missing children reports.

missing person reports on average per day in New York City

Missing children reports in New York City in 2013, according to the NYS Missing Persons Clearinghouse.

children went missing in New York State in 2013

vulnerable adults were reported missing in 2014


of missing children are runaways

Brian: A Young Man With Autism

A family searches for their 20-year-old son.

BY KANYAKRIT VONGKIATKAJORN Brian went missing on Feb. 17, a day when three inches of snow blanketed the streets and temperatures had dropped below freezing. His family spent weeks searching for him. Read more.

You never think this is going to happen to you. You never think that you’re going to be the one pleading for people to look for your child.”

Kathleen Gewirtz

Brian’s mother

How Are They Found?

AMBER Alerts issued since 2003

Missing Child/College Student Alerts issued since 2004

Missing Vulnerable Adult Alerts issued since 2011

New Yorkers enrolled in the MedicAlert + Alzheimer’s Association Safe Return Program

Open missing person cases in New York State

Closed missing person cases in New York State

Social Media’s Role in Finding
the Missing

Police and other government agencies are using social media heavily to share information about missing people.


In 2014, the New York City Police Department launched a social media campaign to include civilians in ongoing investigations, both to catch criminals and find the missing. Commanding officers from individual precincts and specialized units like the Missing Persons Squad oversee more than 100 Twitter accounts, aimed at raising public interaction with the police. The accounts cover a broad range of crimes and messages the police want to get out to the public. Read more.