PIKESVILLE, Md. — The Gabby Petito case brought more attention to missing person cases nationwide.
With more than 200 active missing person cases in Maryland, WMAR-2 News puts this story in focus and explains who's keeping track of who's missing in Maryland?
From Western Maryland to the Eastern Shore, anytime a police department or sheriff's office gets a missing persons case, all of that information is also sent to the Maryland Center for Missing and Unidentified Persons, located at the State Police department in Pikesville.
Maryland Center for Missing and Unidentified Persons director Carla Proudfoot said “Every single day we are constantly getting new cases, and old cases closed, so it's fluctuating every single day. We have unfortunately, those cases that have been missing for a longer period of time.”
In 1985, the Maryland General Assembly mandated the Maryland Center for Missing and Unidentified Persons would serve as the state's clearing house for information about missing children.
Proudfoot has served in the department since the beginning.
“We get involved when we either get a request from a law enforcement agency, we get a request from a family member, because we do not take original missing persons reports. We simply assist the law enforcement agency that has the case,” Proudfoot said.
Child Recovery Unit Sgt. Debbie Floyd said “So, if another major police department has an abduction, or a missing persons case or anything that would cross state lines, and they need our assistance, that's where we go.”
The Center also assists by putting out any statewide Amber Alerts requested by a local law enforcement agency to help find an abducted child.
“Whatever jurisdiction it is, they have to confirm, like say for an Amber Alert, they have to confirm it’s an abduction. And, they’re going to call us right away, at our headquarters, and they’ll get us. We’re on call 24/7, and then we have criteria that we base it on, and we get the alert out as soon as possible,” Floyd said.
In Maryland, the criteria for an Amber Alert for abducted children includes not only having a complete description of the child; the abductor; and the suspect's vehicle but a concern the child may be in serious danger or killed.
While most people might think they have to wait 24 hours before reporting a loved one as missing, Proudfoot pointed out that's only true in the movies.
“Law enforcement is required by law to take the report immediately. There is absolutely no waiting period whatsoever, for any missing juvenile, it has to be taken immediately. It should be entered into NCIC [National Crime Information Center] within the first two hours of them for having the basic information for entering,” Proudfoot said.
In a typical year, Maryland state police receive more than 10,000 missing persons reports, but because of the Coronavirus, 2020 was anything but a typical year. Last year, the total number of missing person reports slightly decreased to 9,031.
The Center reported the largest drop was seen in the number of missing kids, from 6,047 in 2019 down to 4,784 in 2020.
“Everybody was kept indoors for the most part, especially children, they weren't going to school, so they weren't socializing with their friends, they weren't able to go missing if they wanted to, so I think that had a lot to do with our numbers,” Proudfoot said.
Meanwhile, police aren't the only ones keeping an eye out for missing people, the Maryland Center for Missing and Unidentified Persons also relies on social media and TV news broadcasts to ask the public for help.
“The important thing is to get it out there. Let people see it. We ask the public to pay attention to the posters, to look at the child's face closely or the adult, so if they spot something they may be helpful,” Proudfoot said.
Proudfoot asks people who happen to recognize a missing adult or child in a car to try and write down the license plate number or snap a picture of it to help get that tag number to police.
The Maryland Center for Missing and Unidentified Persons: 800-637-5437