To lose a loved one is something we never want to think about. But, when the unthinkable happens, families devote their time and resources to getting the word out in an attempt to find them. Here, people share stories of a time a loved one went missing.
Thank you to everyone who shared their story. Content has been edited for clarity.
"My cousin went missing and we haven't heard from her in over a decade.
When I was a kid, I had an older cousin that would always come and visit my family every summer, sometimes on Thanksgiving. She was much older than my brother and I, so we were always really excited to hang out with her. She would take us to see movies, to eat at restaurants, buy us gifts, and do really cool hairstyles in my hair for me.
The last time I saw her I was about 12. She took me to the mall and bought me an Invader Zim jacket and we did our usual awesome hangout. I remember having a conversation in the car on the way back to my house and she promised that we could go do something cool the next time she would come to visit.
She never came back and my family hasn't seen or heard from her in 11 years. We can hardly find a trace of her, no matter how many times we have tried. We knew that she was moving to another state for her job with an insurance company before her last visit with us, but that is the last details we ever knew and the only details we could ever find out.
It hurt my family quite a bit because my guardians (non-biological parents but still family as my legal guardians) who my brother and I lived with, took care of my cousin in her younger years as if she was one of their own. We don't know if it was abandonment or if something terrible happened to her or anything. Even my other cousins, (her sister and brother) don't know what happened to her. Now all of my family are left to wonder what happened.
At this point, we just have to accept that we will probably never know what happened to her. Strange."
"My best friend's ex went missing on December 8, 2016.
She had been staying with him to help care for their 5-year-old son, though they had a pretty rocky relationship, to put it mildly.
Anyway, she called in sick to work that day and didn't meet her dad for a scheduled dinner the next day, which caused concern, but my best friend claimed she'd left with a guy he didn't recognize and he hadn't heard from her since. She'd previously been into narcotics and other questionable stuff and had disappeared before for a few days at a time. Due to all this, no one was too concerned until it dragged on to a week, then two weeks, and so on.
The police became involved and, of course, my best friend was the prime suspect given previous incidents when they were together, and because he was the last one to see her. He was questioned and the house was searched, and the police moved on to friends and acquaintances, trying to get any info they could to help them find her.
My wife and I had been over to his house a few times during the ordeal just to hang out and have dinner. She was close with his ex as well. We didn't really discuss his ex, but just hung out like the old days and kept him company for a few nights. The scrutiny of the investigation was causing him to be very isolated.
I ended up being interviewed by the police a couple times and gave them whatever info I had, which wasn't much because when I was there, nothing was amiss. He was the same old guy, no changes in personality, nothing odd around the house, etc. The trail was going cold and it was almost a month after she'd disappeared.
The next day I got a call from a mutual friend to turn on the news. A helicopter was hovering over my best friend's house, where they had discovered the remains of his ex wrapped in a tarp and garbage bags, duct taped and surrounded by scented candles. She had been stabbed in the chest and suffocated with a plastic bag, and industrial cleaners and solvents had been poured over her to try to cover up the decomposition. The police had had a search warrant to seize his cell phone, and one of them smelled decay near the garage and noticed the body-sized object upon looking into the garage. He confessed and is currently awaiting trial, scheduled for July of this year.
My wife and I had had dinner and hung out with my friend, not 30 feet from where they found her body. Having known the guy for almost two decades, I saw zero indications that anything was amiss. To this day, I have a hard time coming to terms with it."
"My uncle has been missing for almost two years now.
He left for work and never arrived. My family has no idea what happened to him. No car was found and no body, he was just missing. His bank account was still full and he couldn't afford a smartphone, so the police cannot trace his phone.
He really needed his medications, so he's probably not doing alright if he's still out there. A company offered to inspect nearby lakes and rivers, I believe with sonar technologies, but did not find anything. It was a small glimmer of hope for closure and my family had a tough time with the fact that they didn't find anything.
I try to think of it as a good thing and that he may still be out there. My family is definitely having a hard time coping, as am I. I swear I see him out of the corner of my eye sometimes and I freak out and want to run and hug him, but it's usually just a stranger. I actually had a dream where he visited me in his Blackhawks hockey jersey, telling me that 'he's okay.' That's all I really remember from the dream, but it has helped me to be slightly calm about this scenario."
"In 2001, a local girl was picked up from school by a man claiming to be her 'uncle.' She was never seen again.
Her name was Bianca. One of her cousins lives in my neighborhood and he's a police officer. I know he tried his best to do anything he could to track her down back in the day, but he's been a cop long enough to know better.
The mom and sisters still hold out hope that she'll stroll back in at home one day and they refuse to move for this very reason, but my neighbor knows that that's not gonna happen."
"My friend lost her mom two years ago. She was missing for a couple months until she was found in the city completely distressed and with none of her belongings.
Apparently, my friend's mom's boyfriend was into illegal stuff and kidnapped her. I don't know how she escaped or if he was tired of her, but after she was found on the street, she had to move to a different city and their whole family was in the federal witness protection program for many months.
Her mom is much better. She's with her kids and they're all pretty happy to have each other."
"My mom had a hairdresser for 10+ years. His place was very close to where she worked and she loved going there.
One day she walks in for her normal appointment and the other hairdressers told her, 'Hiro never showed up to work.'
No one saw him again. His apartment showed no signs of a break-in and his cat was unharmed.
To this day no one knows what happened to him. I suspected he killed himself, but my mom isn't sure.
The rest of his family lived in Japan so I don't know how they took it, but his coworkers were definitely affected.
My mom stopped going to that salon because she was reminded of him."
"I'm from a very small town, the kind where everyone knows everyone and everything about everyone.
There was a family who lived out in the country who fostered tons of kids. The family's nephew went to elementary school with me.
One day, one of the kids goes to the local paper when she ages out of the foster system. She says that one of the boys was allegedly sent away and she can't find any record of him now. The paper, police, and feds start investigating and the foster parents say that he 'ran away,' yet they kept collecting his monthly checks.
Short of the story is, the foster parents definitely killed the boy but there is no physical evidence. His body hasn't been found, even 20 years later.
The nephew's family has never commented on the story but still see his aunt and uncle regularly.
The town still remembers the boy, but there's not much we can do. The police chief will try to reopen the investigation every couple of years, but nothing has come up. It's real sad. We will probably never find the boy."
"My neighbor's husband vanished one day.
They had been having some martial issues and she figured he just took off on her. About a year and a half later, she got word that he had been killed and basically been dead that whole time. She spent that time just trash talking him, but once she learned the truth, she changed her tune.
All of a sudden, he was the most lovable man who had done no wrong ever. I think part of it was she felt guilty for believing he just ran away and ditched her."
"My aunt disappeared in the '80s. It was my father's sister and the whole family was dysfunctional from what I have learned.
I never met my father and supposedly my aunt was around me in the beginning, but I have no memory of her. Her mom, my grandmother, was a big drinker with brain damage and her father also left. She developed a substance problem and was selling herself to support herself.
Somehow she met a man who she fell in love with, and she ran off down south to be with him. Her John was understandably mad, so he went after her and told her love and his family her background. I am not sure what her boyfriend's response was, but his father was the preacher in a small town and basically condemned her like all good Christians do. She left with a John and from that point on nobody has seen or heard from her since.
My grandmother hired private detectives and basically searched till the day she died for her because by that point my father had passed from narcotics and she had nobody.
Every once in a while we will hear about how someone saw her somewhere and she is doing well, but it's been years since that happened. It's a sad story. I would love to be connected with her if she's out there somewhere. She is the only person left on my father's side of the family. My thought is she doesn't want to be found and I really don't blame her, to be honest. She knows of me and I have an unusual name that is easy to find on social media if she so wanted. I heard she doted on me as a baby."
"One of my best friends has been missing for over six years.
We had known each other for almost 15 years, and then one day he just vanished. He deleted all social media accounts except Instagram, which has been inactive since 2011. He canceled his phone and all other forms of communication. After the first six months, I went to his house and his mother said he was fine, he was just 'taking some time off.' I went back after another six months and when his mother saw me from the kitchen window, she turned off all the lights, the TV, and never answered the door. I left a handwritten letter to him on his doorstep and never got a response.
Over the last six years, his entire family has posted pictures of vacations, birthdays, parties, but he was never in any of the photos. He even missed his own sister's wedding and the birth of her child. My circle of friends and I have no idea what happened to him and have been perplexed by this, but are also concerned about his family's effort to cover up that he even exists. My friends and I have theories, but none have any real traction.
It's heartbreaking because he was like a brother to all of us and having not heard from him in over six years without a word or reason is just gut-wrenching."
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"My grandfather's cousin had three of his five kids disappear and only one was found.
They were from the richer side of our family and in the mid-50's they were taking a trip in Europe. While in Romania, they met up with a business associate from America and the kids went out to play in the fields with the associate's plethora of kids and their friends. They came back when the bell tower rang like they were supposed to but three of them (9, 12, 15) didn't return.
They looked for them for days, checking wells and so on, but found nothing. At the end of the week, a church found the nine-year-old bloody, bruised, and crying a few towns over. From what he said, another kid who was near the road offered them some drinks if they could throw a stone through a target and they followed him. Next thing he knew, someone shoved the oldest down and closed the barn door behind them. They were tied up, and his two brothers were put in a box, he was then put in a sack, beaten, and placed under a bridge. That was the last they were ever seen.
My grandfather's cousin looked for them for a month, even bribing local officials to look for them before returning home. He was pretty messed up after that and my grandfather said he never recovered and just drank every night until he died at the ripe old age of 50. The surviving brother overdosed after a brief stint in the army, where he was discharged under questionable circumstances.
The family conspiracy theory on it is that the family friend had something to do with it and it was a ransom plan gone wrong because the half-son who came with the second wife was the only one 'let go' and they probably cut their losses on the other two."
"An Indigenous girl I knew went missing when we were 16.
I met her a handful of times because she'd visit family in our small town in the summers, but lived pretty far away. She was going somewhere with a friend and both of them disappeared. The police took SIX DAYS before they would treat them as missing persons, initially labeling them runaways.
It's going on a decade this year since she's been gone, but you can see it's still very raw for the community. They don't realistically expect to find them alive, but the uncertainty hurts them so much. I try to keep up on the case because there have been unfruitful leads that pop up every couple of years. I hope that she and her friend will be found."
"My brother's friend, who he went to high school with, just disappeared all of a sudden. That was 28 years ago and there's still no sight of him. It is like he just dropped off the face of the earth.
Back when he disappeared, the city we lived in was safe and had a low crime rate. For anyone to just disappear was unheard of. All of his belongings were left behind. It tore up his family. In that time, his mother and father passed away and his half-brother killed himself. His other brother moved away. It was really sad.
The guy was a very nice soft spoken guy who was not into narcotics or anything. He just liked his music and dirt bikes."
"My father went missing in 2009.
It's kind of impossible to process, and my family splintered after that. Sometimes I want to pursue it and see if more can be done, but I don't really know where to start and don't want to cause more damage.
He went for a walk one night and never came back. The case got a lot of attention that was mostly negative and really difficult to navigate as a teenager."
"I went to university with Lauren Spierer who disappeared my sophomore year. We didn't have classes together, but I'd see her around. IU is a big school, but the campus is small. I was taking summer classes when she vanished. The entire university basically searched the town looking for her body. We all knew she was dead. No body was ever found and no one went to prison. The popular theory is that she OD'ed and the three guys she was with ditched the body to avoid criminal charges.
The family absolutely lost it. They kept putting up posters for about three years. They hired a private investigator, made the guys take lie detector tests, and even tried suing the three kids for 'wrongful death.' It got thrown out.
They still have a website up and are still searching for her six years later. I don't blame them. Not knowing is terrible. I check on the case every now and then. It's weird to think about. There's really one bar in that town and more than once I've walked up that street by myself at night."
"A family friend disappeared in the early 2000's, let's call him Red.
My parents and their friends were all quite big on speed back in the '80s and '90s, but most of them went off it as they had kids. However, a few moved onto harder substances and got involved in gang activity. This guy was one of them. The speculation of what happened is that essentially someone else ripped off a few patched gang members in a deal, and split the cash up between a few associates. One of those associates was the family friend, Red.
These patched gang members figured it out pretty quick and thrashed the guy that ripped them off and left him alive only because they stole all his narcotics and money, and because he gave the names of the associates out. The gangsters then went around to each associate and got their money back. Except for Red, who had already spent the money. Red then disappeared, and the police basically think because Red couldn't repay the money and had nothing to his name, that the gangsters decided to kill him and bury him somewhere. But nobody ever found him, the police couldn't link anyone to it, and the case is unsolved
The family handled it relatively well. Red's ex-wife was one of the ones that went off speed and went straight, but she knew the risks involved with that kind of scene. The kids were hit hard though. I used to see the two boys all the time when I was young, but now I only see the oldest on occasion. The oldest makes a post on Facebook every year about his dad on Red's birthday. I had a heart to heart with him one day about our dads (who were close mates back in the day), and he just basically cried and said to always cherish the fact my dad is there and that the worst part is, no matter what the police say, they will never have closure until Red is found."
"I always thought my grandma was an only child but my dad told me she has a brother that disappeared and never told anyone.
Apparently, when he was around 22-25, he just left the family. Never told anyone anything. He just left. My grandma still has no idea whether he is alive or dead. I've only heard her mention a brother once. It hasn't affected me because I never knew him, neither did my dad, but it's definitely odd to think about."
"My aunt through marriage disappeared July 14, 2008. She told her two children she was going to the convenience store down the street and that she would be back. Some time later, she frantically called the oldest (who was a teen at the time) from a pay phone to tell her to have her cell disconnected because someone snatched it. That was the last any of us heard from her.
I was very close to her. I was closer to her than I was to my uncle, which is a long story. I was nearly 12 at the time, and I remember me and my mom trying to get her case exposure. I went around the city hanging missing posters up. We tried to get her story on America's Most Wanted, the news, etc. But, it's like her mom was reluctant to do much. I don't know if it was grief or what, but it's like she gave up very fast on finding her.
My uncle doesn't care much anymore. Me and my mother still care. We love her very much. I haven't talked to my cousins in years, so I don't know how they feel now. I know my youngest cousin isn't doing so well. Within a week of putting flyers up, people took them down. It was a very difficult time, especially when it almost seemed as if no one wanted her to be found. I just hope that if she isn't out there anymore, that she didn't suffer. The thought still hurts."