By Diane Weber, American Red Cross volunteer
“Hello. Red Cross? I can’t reach my parents!”
The call comes in, and Monica Bunner of Medina and the American Red Cross Reunification Team get to work. They begin with an interview of the missing person’s family. Where do the missing persons live? When did you last hear from them? More questions follow: Do they know their neighbors? Do they attend a house of worship? Are they part of an organization such as Knights of Columbus? Are there places they like to frequent?
In this case, the parents had recently bought a home in Rotonda West, a golf community on the coast in central Florida. The son did not know the neighbors’ names, and a call to the golf clubhouse did not yield a connection. But Monica and her colleague, Tammy Miner of Maysville, Washington spotted a lead in their interview – the missing couple had just bought a home. A search of public records yielded the name of the realtor. On a hunch that the realtor lived in the area or perhaps remained in contact with the couple, Monica called the realtor. The realtor not only lived within driving distance, but he was also willing to drive to the couple’s home.
The realtor reported that the couple were doing well but had no electricity or cell service to contact the family. The couple drove to a nearby town and reconnected with a very relieved son.
Such is the daily experience for reunification workers Monica. Most of these requests are resolved with just a few phone calls.
She explained the process:
- Calls for reunification assistance are typically initiated through the 1-800-RED CROSS portal, although some requests come from people who see the reunification team working in the field and tell them of their own missing persons.
- The requests are then vetted according to urgency, with priority going to people with medical issues or physical or mental disabilities or veterans. Unaccompanied minors are given immediate priority, as are requests from immediate family members. Friends searching for friends or work acquaintances are coached with suggestions for their own searches.
- If the reunification team decides to open a case for the missing person, more information is gathered, such as the physical appearance of the person and why that person decided to remain in the area and not evacuate.
“That information helps us to understand the missing person more fully,” explained Monica. “We find out if the person is afraid to venture out into crowds or if they refused to leave their pets, for example. That will help us in our search for them.”
- The reunification team then presses for more information. Is the missing person part of an organization such as Knights of Columbus or American Legion? Does he/she have a favorite site to visit, such as a library or museum or even a favorite store or restaurant? Is he active on social media?
- If none of the telephone detective work yields the whereabouts of the missing person, the Reunification Field Team heads out to the neighborhood, first to the address of the missing person and then canvasing the neighbors, churches, organizations, and local shelters.
Last week, a missing grandmother was located in a Florida shelter.
“I’m well and happy as a clam,” she told her family when she was found. “I’m sitting in a shelter. I’m well fed, and I’m watching TV with my friends.”
Another successful case for the reunification team.
“It is addictive,” cautioned Monica. “When you’re able to tell the family that you have found their family member safe and sound and see the relief on their faces, it is worth all the effort to find them.”
Edited by: Jim McIntyre, Red Cross Regional Communications Director