Someone you know didn’t return home when they said they would. You’ve tried calling, texting, and reaching out to friends. Still nothing. You are starting to assume that something could be wrong .

Here’s how to report them missing, including what to do, what the process looks like, and where you can go for support.

NOTE: When someone goes missing, it doesn’t matter if you — or the missing person — is undocumented, or involved in illegal activities including sex work. The police are only supposed to focus on finding the missing person. More on that below.

Someone I know is missing. What should I do first?

If you believe someone you know is missing, call 911.

You do not have to wait 24 hours to report a missing person — that is a myth. In fact, the first 48 to 72 hours of a missing persons case is the most crucial time in the police investigation, according to the Philadelphia Police Department (PPD).

Even if you suspect something is wrong, report a missing person to law enforcement.

Once you’ve reported someone missing, do not touch or move that person’s belongings in their room, home, or vehicle. This could make it more difficult for police to investigate.

What information do I need to report someone missing?

Be prepared to give police:

  • The person’s full name and age, if you know these details

  • Recent photos of the missing person, if you have them

  • Their physical description: height, weight, eye color, hair color

  • Their last known location

  • The names of people they were last seen with or usually spend time with

Other things that can help police: social media accounts, business information, and anything else that can help with the search. If you are comfortable sharing this, let the police know about the missing person’s relevant health information, like a heart condition, diabetes, or serious allergies.

What should I expect after reporting a missing person?

After you call 911 to report a missing person, an officer will be sent to your location to gather more information. This should happen right away.

For a missing child:

If you are reporting a missing child, the police will search your home — even if the child was last seen somewhere else, according to PPD. There have been examples of a missing child being found inside their family home.

When do police issue an AMBER alert?

An AMBER Alert is how Pennsylvania State Police alert people about an abducted child. The police issue an alert when:
  • An abducted child is under 18 years old
  • An abducted child is believed to be in immediate danger
  • Other factors include: time passed since the child was last seen, the reliability of witnesses, if there are more details.

AMBER alerts are just for abducted children; they aren't sent if the child is believed to have run away.

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For a missing adult:

The police may ask to search your home. This is voluntary: You do not have to consent. Police must have a reason to suspect that the missing person would be inside of a location in order for a search to take place.

However, if you live with the missing person and the police suspect that your home might be a crime scene — such as the scene of struggle, robbery, or there may be critical evidence there — the police may try to get your permission or a warrant so they can search for evidence.

What do the police do next?

Here are the steps the police take:

  1. The officer who responded to your call will gather information and conduct any location searches.

  2. The report is given to a detective to begin investigating. You should hear back from a detective within one to two days of filing the report.

  3. The report is sent to PPD’s Office of Public Affairs, which shares the information is through the website, news outlets, and social media, according to PPD.

  4. The police should also enter the information into the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s National Crime Information Center (NCIC) database. If the missing person is pulled over in a traffic stop or hospitalized anywhere nationwide, the NCIC will be notified. You can ask the the 911 emergency operator, officer who takes your initial report, or detective working the case if the case has been entered into the NCIC.

What should I do next?

Help get the word out. Use any available platform, including social media, national and local news, or printed flyers. The more people who are aware of the missing person, the better. Create a social media account, website, or email address where people can contact you with information.

If you don’t feel safe going to police

What if either me or the missing person is undocumented?

Philadelphia is a sanctuary citycity employees, including police officers, are not allowed to ask about the citizenship status of people they encounter. According to PPD, police should not investigate the immigration status of either you or the missing person — the main goal is to locate the missing person.

If you don’t speak English, you can request language assistance when you call the police. If there isn’t a police officer available who speaks the language needed, an interpreter is supposed to help the officer communicate with you.

What if either myself or the missing person is involved in something illegal?

If you report a missing person, the police are not supposed to investigate you for your ties to illegal activities. According to PPD, their goal is to locate a missing person — not arrest someone filing a police report for activities that are not being investigated or reported.

Will I get charged?

If you or a missing person is involved in illegal activity, you may feel unsafe seeking help. Keep in mind: the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office (DAO) does not:

If someone is arrested for those crimes, the charges will most likely be dropped. For higher-level and serious crimes, the DAO will proceed with charges.

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Do I need to talk to a lawyer?

If you are worried about either you or the missing person’s ties to illegal activities, the PPD advises talking to an attorney.

The Defender Association of Philadelphia (DAP)

DAP is a nonprofit legal corporation that provides free legal services to low-income residents of Philadelphia. They provide legal representation, courtroom advocacy, and connections to social services. You can contact them with legal questions if you haven’t been arrested or charged with a crime, and ask to talk to an attorney.

🌐 phillydefenders.org, 📞 215-568-3190

Community Legal Services (CLS)

CLS is a nonprofit legal organization that provides free legal services to low-income residents of Philadelphia. While they do not handle criminal defense work, they can help get previous criminal records expunged. CLS is only accepting new clients by phone.

🌐 clsphila.org, 📞 215-981-3700

Missing person groups that can help

There are national and local support services available to you in order to navigate this difficult situation.

Pennsylvania Crime Stoppers

Pennsylvania Crime Stoppers is a volunteer-based crime watch group. The group collaborates with local media across the state to share information on unsolved crimes and missing persons cases.

🌐 crimewatchpa.com/crimestoppers/missing-persons

For missing children

National Center for Missing & Exploited Children (NCMEC)

NCMEC provides a variety of services to families of missing children, including help with searching, support services, and helpful guides. When you report your missing child to NCMEC they collaborate with law enforcement and other organizations to help find your child.

🌐 missingkids.org, 📞 1-800-THE-LOST (1-800-843-5678)

Team HOPE

Team HOPE is a national peer-support service operated by NCMEC that pairs individuals and families of missing children with trained volunteers who have had similar experiences. Team HOPE volunteers work with families to navigate day-to-day issues from coping to searching for a missing child. They offer support, compassion, and tools to help empower families. This service is phone-based and free of charge.

📞 866-305-HOPE (4673).

For a missing adult

National Missing and Unidentified Persons System (NamUs)

You can enter a missing person into the NamUs database. This federally funded agency acts as an information database for missing persons nationwide. NamUs works with law enforcement, medical examiners, and families to help find missing persons. They also provide free forensic services including fingerprint examination and DNA analyses.

🌐 namus.nij.ojp.gov, 📞 833-872-5176

For a missing person of color

Black and Missing Foundation

Black and Missing Foundation is a nonprofit organization that promotes awareness of missing persons of color, provides resources to families of missing persons, and provides safety resources for communities of color.

🌐 blackandmissinginc.com

For a missing person with a disability

Department of Behavioral Health and Intellectual disAbility Services’ (DBHIDS)

You can report a missing person with a disability to the DBHIDS Crisis Line. DBHIDS will notify the city’s Crisis Response Centers (CRC) so that if the missing person shows up at one of those centers, efforts will be made to secure them.

🌐 dbhids.org/services, 📞 215-685-6440

Social media accounts that can help

There are a number of social media accounts that specialize in getting information about missing persons out to the public. Here are some local groups that might help.

Social Media:

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Expert sources