It’s a parent’s worst nightmare and it happened to my friend in April of this year. Her 14-year-old daughter walked off the campus of her middle school with two other students and vanished. A frantic search ensued, spanning almost 24 hours and encompassing multiple counties, before the girls were found in downtown San Antonio—an hour away from home—unharmed. Thankfully, this particular story has a happy ending, but everyone who followed the story knows there are multiple ways it could have taken a tragic turn at any point.
Through the course of the ordeal, my friend and her husband learned a lot about what parents should do if their child goes missing, as well as some misconceptions and down-right holes in the system that allowed these girls to run away and hide in plain sight for almost 24 hours.
My friend has shared some insights into what she learned during this horrible time, as well as some tips for others, in the event that it happens to you or someone you know.
Here are seven things you should do immediately if your teen goes missing, and several of them might surprise you.
Call the Police
This feels like a no-brainer to many of us, but my friend was confounded that others involved in this situation didn’t feel like it was immediately necessary. The sooner you contact the police, the more quickly they can begin looking for your child. Something else that surprised many of us during this event was that the police will not issue an Amber Alert unless the teens have been taken against their will. In this particular case, the girls walked away from the school on their own, so that rendered them unqualified for an Amber Alert.
Share on Social Media
Say what you will about social media, but in this particular case, social media is what ultimately brought these girls home safely. Immediately upon receiving the call that the girls had gone missing, my friend posted about the situation on social media. Later, photos and descriptions of the girls circulated on Facebook and were shared over 10,000 times. Thanks to people sharing these posts far and wide, someone from a neighboring area recognized the girls from the photos he had seen on the internet and alerted the authorities to the girls’ whereabouts.
Know Your Teen’s Current Height, Weight, and Clothing
As soon as law enforcement started working on this case, they asked my friend how tall her daughter was, how much she weighed, and what she was wearing that day. My friend wasn’t sure of her exact height or weight and she barely remembered what shirt she was wearing. These details help law enforcement describe your child in the event that they go missing, so make a mental note every time your child is weighed and measured at their doctor’s appointments.
Ask Other Kids What They Know
Kids “squeal like pigs” when under pressure, so in the hours after my friend’s daughter went missing, she enlisted the help of her other children to start asking all of their friends, friends of friends—everyone they could think of—if they had any information or had heard these girls discussing their plan to run away, etc. Many of the people helping with the search scoured the Instagram, Snapchat, and TikTok accounts of other kids at the middle school and high school for any small bit of information about the girls’ possible whereabouts.
Ask Teachers and School Staff for Help
Your kid’s teachers and staff are the eyes and ears of the school, and they often know who is hanging out with whom—even if you don’t know all of your kid’s friends at school. Teachers can provide invaluable insight into the social connections happening among kids.
Know Your Kids’ Passwords
Make sure you know how to get into your kids’ devices and accounts in case of emergency. This is important when trying to put together the pieces of where a teen might have gone and why.
Delegate Responsibilities to Those Willing to Help
In my friend’s situation, her husband drove around chasing leads and looking for the girls, while my friend opted to stay home in case her daughter came home. In the meantime, they sent anyone willing and able to pass out flyers in the community. This proved to be invaluable because it gave my friend the flexibility to stay home next to the phone, knowing that many people were pounding the pavement on her behalf looking for her daughter.
I can’t stress enough how fortunate everyone was in this situation. So many things could have gone differently and resulted in a very tragic outcome. Thankfully, our community stepped up, and help poured in from all over the United States. It opened my eyes to the dangers of peer pressure on our teens and has made me more mindful of making sure I know who is in my children’s sphere of influence.
Special thanks to my friend, who graciously shared her story with me in hopes that it will help others in a similar situation.