When you see a missing poster, do you stop and look? Missing people posters can be found everywhere in New York City — on street lamps, telephone poles and storefronts. A common place to see missing posters is on subway station booths near turnstiles and MetroCard kiosks. The size of these missing posters can sometimes be too small for people to see. Reporters Danni Santana and Mia Garchitorena caught up with residents and tourists in New York to document their reactions to missing people posters.

In a city of 8 million people, how do you find someone who is lost — or someone who doesn’t want to be found? The New York City Police Department has a dedicated Missing Persons Squad, but it can’t devote all its resources to finding a missing person. In many cases, families have to launch their own investigations, turning to friends, families and private investigators to find their loved ones. This section takes a critical look at the system that handles missing persons cases and the methods used to look for the lost.

AMBER Alert: Cure or thin Band-Aid?

The child-abduction alert system may not “save lives” as it claims.


The AMBER Alert has become increasingly integrated into smartphone technology and social media platforms. However, a 2010 study of the AMBER Alert found the claim that the system is “saving lives” to be misleading. Read more.

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. Read more.

Private Investigators: Help Beyond Police

For private eyes, cracking missing persons cases remains elusive.


Private eyes often locate old flames and the parents of adopted children. But to find runaways and others who disappeared with purpose usually requires many hours of coordination with police. Few clients beyond the rich can afford to hire investigators to hunt down missing loved ones. Read more.

Etan Patz: The First Missing Child on the Milk Carton


When 6-year-old Etan Patz disappeared on May 25, 1979, while walking to his bus stop in lower Manhattan’s SoHo neighborhood, it shocked a nation still reeling from John Wayne Gacy’s conviction for the murders of 33 young boys.

The Patz disappearance struck a chord with the American people. Patz’s father, a professional photographer, circulated pictures of his son everywhere. Never before were the mobilization efforts to find a missing child so organized. A new movement of community engagement in missing persons cases emerged.

In 2012, the unsolved Patz case was reopened with the emergence of a new suspect. That same year, the New York Times interviewed New Yorkers

Development of Techniques Since 1979


on SoHo streets to hear how the Patz disappearance affected them.

“Nearby, at Fanelli’s Café, Danielle Bias, 37, recalled the image that had been seared into her mind since her childhood in Louisiana: the milk carton, with Etan’s face, sitting on her breakfast table,” wrote Matt Flegenheimer in The Times on the 33rd anniversary of the disappearance. “Parental warnings became commonplace: Wait for the school bus. Never talk to strangers.”

As the 36th anniversary approaches, Patz’s disappearance has a lasting effect on a nation of people who seemed to know him as their own child. In 1983, President Reagan declared May 25 a national holiday, and “National Missing Children’s Day” was born. One year later, The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, a nonprofit organization that spreads awareness and provides resources to help find missing children, was established.

Race and Gender: Media Bias in Coverage of Missing Persons

A survey of literature and clips on
“The Missing White Girl Syndrome.”


A missing-person case will get more media coverage if the missing person is an attractive, young white woman. That’s according to a variety of media analysts, who label what they consider to be racial bias in the media, “The Missing White Girl Syndrome.” Read more.


Medical Examiner: After A Missing Person is Found Dead

The Office of the Chief Medical Examiner works closely with police to determine the cause and manner of death.


In New York City, the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner employs over 32 medical examiners in Manhattan, Queens and Brooklyn. It is the medical examiner’s job to use forensics to identify the body and complete the autopsies that determine the cause of death. Read more.

NYPD: How The Police Handles Missing Persons Cases

A guide to understanding how the NYPD responds to cases.


The New York Police Department received more than 13,000 reports of missing people last year. Here’s how the NYPD responds to a missing persons case, from start to finish, and the best way to seek help. Read more.

Clearinghouse: Behind the Scenes Support

How help from the NYS Missing Persons Clearinghouse keeps a case from going cold.


Since 1987, the Missing Persons Clearinghouse, housed within the New York State Division of Criminal Justice Services, works behind the scenes to help investigators and families find the missing. The Clearinghouse provides investigative support services that can often mean the difference between a case being solved or going cold. Read more.