National missing persons coordination centre

Location of missing persons

Almost all missing persons reported within Australia are eventually located. The following information is aimed at providing the families of missing persons with some practical points to consider when their missing person is located.

Just as each missing persons case has different circumstances that led to the disappearance, so each location will mean different things to the family and friends involved. Missing persons locations fall broadly into two categories, persons located alive and those missing persons who are unfortunately located deceased.

Missing persons located alive

For the majority of missing persons, generally those who are unintentionally missing, location and return to the concerned family and friends who reported them missing is a positive outcome. Where this is not the case missing persons may either reconnect over time or may chose not to reconnect at all.

Reconnecting with family and friends

Missing persons can reconnect with family and friends through a variety of means. Reconnection may happen face-to-face, by telephone, written communication or through third parties including search agencies or Police.

For families who are looking to reconnect it is important to remember the following points:

  • Reconnection is not always immediate. Reconnection may take time due to a number of factors. These could include:
    • If a missing person has been away for a long period of time significant events may have occurred within the family while they were away
    • Trust may need to be re-established for a reunion to be possible
  • Reconnection can bring both good and bad emotions. For some missing people and their families reconnection may not be an easy or happy process. You will likely be:
    • Dealing with emotions that were present prior to the missing person leaving and those you experienced while they were gone
    • Wanting answers about their disappearance including what led to them going missing and what happened while they were away
    • Uncertain how to talk to them about these issues without causing further breakdowns in the relationship
  • Reconnection is not the end of the story. Although it can be tempting to see reconnection as the end of a traumatic experience, it may represent the beginning of a challenging period of recovery.

Consider seeking additional support as required to assist you and your loved ones through a reconnection process. People are at a greater risk of going missing if they have been missing before. Counselling or mediation may help with reunion, in dealing with the impact of missing and in the development of safety strategies.

For more information, the Families and Friends of Missing Persons Unit (FFMPU) NSW has a 'Reconnecting when a missing person is located' information sheet.

Missing persons who don’t wish to reconnect with family and friends

In some instances reunion is not possible. Sometimes the missing person does not wish to or cannot return home due to mental health issues, ongoing conflict or another difficulty. It can be hard to know what to do in this situation and you may experience feelings of confusion and distress.

Some things to think about:

  • You may need to seek advice about whether reunion is possible or appropriate as each circumstance is different.
  • It is important to be respectful of the missing person’s request for privacy. Be mindful that continuing to attempt to contact someone against their wishes may push them further away. Providing space and time may benefit the relationship in the long run.
  • The person who was missing may be open to staying in contact through other means, including phone, email, or text message, to let you know they are alive and alright. They might agree to such contact without disclosing their whereabouts.
  • It can be distressing being separated from a loved family member or friend. You may find you have unanswered questions. Finding a space to talk about this separation with family, friends, or in a counselling environment might be helpful to you.

Located deceased

Sometimes a missing person is located deceased. Particularly when families and friends have been living in hope of their missing person returning, after a location they may be confronted with a range of distressing emotions and experiences, which can include:

  • a loss of hope of seeing the missing person again;
  • grief regardless of the length of time the person has been missing;
  • disbelief that the missing person has died (even after positive identification);
  • relief that, at least, the searching is over;
  • reliving emotions experienced when your loved one first went missing.
  • being distressed by others’ comments that they are “glad” or “happy” that the missing person has been found;
  • feeling isolated when friends appear to move on because the person is no longer missing;
  • ongoing questions around the circumstances of the disappearance, what happened and how they died, if these remain unclear;
  • concern about media interest;
  • being confused about how you are responding to the news of a death versus the way you imagined you might have responded;
  • challenges in responding to the different range of conflicting feelings – relief, anger, guilt;
  • a feeling of emptiness after the search is over, particularly if this has been a large part of your focus for a long time;
  • frustration or confusion if the process of identification of the missing person takes some time.

What might help

Allow yourself time to grieve. Be patient and kind to yourself. Remember there is no right or wrong way to feel at this time. Those around you may respond in different ways. Allow space and understanding for individual differences.

The stress of losing a loved one may take a toll on you physically and emotionally. It is important to take care of yourself by maintaining healthy eating, sleeping, and exercise where possible.

Families sometimes decide on a particular ritual or ceremony to allow an opportunity to acknowledge the person who was missing and to say goodbye. This might be guided by religious, cultural or spiritual beliefs or traditions. Explore these ideas with your family and friends when you feel ready.

Talk about your experience with others. Reach out for, and accept support from friends, family, local community groups and support agencies. Investigate bereavement services that meet your individual needs and circumstances. Grief support services may be offered as telephone, face-to-face, individual, family, or support groups.

The above information is also available as a factsheet from the Families and Friends of Missing Persons Unit (FFMPU) NSW.

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