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How to File a Missing Person's Report, According to Experts

A criminologist who specializes in missing persons shares a guide and expert advice.

By Joe Dziemianowicz

Some 600,000 people go missing in the U.S. each year, according to the National Crime Information Center (NCIC).

How to Watch

Watch Found on NBC and Peacock.

The alarming statistic informs the new NBC drama series, Found, premiering Oct. 3. The series follows Gabi Mosely (Shanola Hampton), an abduction survivor committed to finding missing people who have fallen through the cracks. 

If you fear someone close to you has gone missing and calls to friends, family, and work colleagues are no help, you should take action immediately.

“By and large, there are no overarching rules in the U.S. about waiting 24 hours,” said Michelle Jeanis, an associate professor in the criminal justice department at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette.

“The FBI doesn’t say that you should wait 24 hours, and I and many other researchers would not recommend waiting,” added Jeanis, whose research specialty area is missing persons.

RELATED: The Amber Alert and Its Benefits When a Child Goes Missing, An Explainer

How to File a Missing Persons Report

As soon as you know that a person is not where they should be or where they said they would be or you suspect that they're in danger, you should file a missing persons report, according to Jeanis.

“Call police or go down to your local police agency,” she said. “Depending on where you are, local law enforcement may ask if you called friends, family, and work colleagues and recommend that you do that. Or they might just start that investigation and help you out right then. So why not reach out to authorities and have that potential resource on your side?”

When you make the report to police, have a current photo and description, along with the missing person’s age, height, type of car they drive, and where they were last and who they were with. Include details about tattoos and birthmarks.

If there's a suspected crime scene, it should be maintained until law enforcement can collect information. Be sure to secure security camera footage that may hold clues. “These can get erased very quickly,” said Jeanis.

Enlisting advocates can help. "Sometimes we need advocates early on,” said Jeanis. Resource Association for Missing People (RAMP) and Black and Missing Foundation are two organizations that help families when their loved ones go missing.

A grid of portrait prints with one missing in center

“No one knows what to do, and the emotions and stakes involved are really high,” said Jeanis. “Sometimes we need advocates who have been there before.”

Some organizations will help make and distribute posters. When flyers are posted in the missing persons neighborhood and on social media they can be a valuable resource.

Jeanis suggests that the missing person’s records be uploaded into the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System (NamUs). She also recommends launching a media campaign to increase exposure and to keep the missing person’s story on people’s minds.

Like the fictional Gabi Mosely, whose commitment to missing persons is sparked by being a kidnapping survivor herself, Jeanis’ connection to the field is rooted in a personal experience.

“I was getting my master's degree in psychology when a classmate’s sister went missing,” Jeanis told NBC Insider.

The woman, Michaela “Mickey” Shunick, was found deceased after a lengthy investigation, which was chronicled in the podcast series Dateline: After the Verdict. Her sister, Charlie Shunick, started the nonprofit missing persons organization RAMP.

"What Charlie has done in the 10 years since has been both remarkable and surprising," correspondent Josh Mankiewicz says in the episode

Found premieres Oct. 3 at 10/9c on NBC and the next day on Peacock.

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