The Changed Lives of an Un-found Missing Person’s Family

Laura Miller

Laura Miller

Tim Miller

Tim Miller

When Texas EquuSearch receives a missing persons case, our priority is finding that missing person safe and returning them to their families. But the highest of all of our priorities and concerns is a child’s abduction, or a child who verifiably has disappeared under suspicious circumstances. Texas EquuSearch does not use the missing person’s (or their family’s) race, age, gender, income bracket, social status, religious beliefs, political affiliation, sexual orientation, or any other personal category to base our decision on whether or not to take a case. Some of the most common calls we get are the requests for us to search for missing Dementia/Alzheimer’s patients and missing special needs persons who have wandered away. We also search for drowning victims, suicide victims, and persons who have disappeared under very suspicious or mysterious circumstances. Many times a missing loved-one is found safe within a few hours, a few days, or maybe even a week or more. In those cases, the missing person’s family is visibly over-joyed with tears of happiness and relief. But not all missing loved-ones are found safe. Many missing loved-ones are found deceased. In many cases, the missing loved-one is deceased long before their families or law enforcement contact Texas EquuSearch to request our help. Most families will tell you that they have some type of closure or comfort when the missing person is found while a few feel they may never have closure. Finding their loved one gives the family the opportunity to have a funeral or memorial service in their honor. If the missing person is buried by traditional means, the family can find comfort in visiting the gravesite. Though it’s sad that the missing loved-one was found deceased, the family is normally relieved, and has some measure of comfort in knowing that everything possible has been done and that they were located. They may have also learned through law enforcement investigators and Medical Examiners what actually happened to their missing loved-one.  Many family members will quickly start trying to get their life back on track … if they can.

But what happens to families when their missing family member is never found? Close your eyes, and try to imagine that you learn that your mother, father, son, daughter, sister, brother, grandmother or grandfather has disappeared. You start asking yourself, “What happened to them?” “Are they hungry?” “Are they cold?” “Has someone harmed them?” You begin to worry because they haven’t taken their much-needed medication. “Did someone take them somewhere?” The most common and agonizing thought in many family members’ minds, when they’re thinking about their missing loved-one is, “Where are they?” The missing woman you hear about on the news might have been the dearly beloved matriarch and admired family advisor. The missing man you see on flyers might have been a decorated military veteran who volunteered at hospitals in his retirement years. Or it might be an innocent 10 year-old child who disappeared on the way home from school. Many missing persons were well-known for being respected and productive members of their community. A person’s age, race, gender, culture, religion, wealth or anything else won’t determine who can, or will disappear.

Many people contact Texas EquuSearch and ask for our help. But our policy requires that law enforcement request our help in a case before our search teams can activate a full-scale search.  Sometimes that request may come anywhere from one to 10 days later … if it ever comes. Some law enforcement agencies and investigators throughout the nation just do not want any outside civilian search teams involved in their cases. Many family members often complain that some investigators display an obvious lack of concern or urgency in their attempts of finding the missing person. And in a lot of cases, they are right. But many of the law enforcement agencies lack experienced investigators, funding, manpower, or the resources to conduct a thorough missing person investigation. Many families have complained that investigators have a nonchalant attitude but wouldn’t have that same attitude if one of their own family members were missing. Some investigators seem to be waiting for the missing person’s remains to be found in a field so they can close the case and move on to another.  They are sometimes quick to label the missing person as a runaway. This problem is not just confined to a specific area or part of the country. It occurs nationwide, and it occurs worldwide, too as in the case of the Natalee Holloway disappearance in Aruba. Some investigators across our country would even classify Jimmy Hoffa as a “runaway”. But this country is also full of highly qualified, professional, and dedicated investigators who will do everything possible to safely bring a missing loved-one back home to their family. And those officers will usually exhibit a sincere attitude of compassion, urgency, and dedication. Those investigators will use any resource available to help find a family’s’ missing loved-one; and that includes calling Texas EquuSearch to help find the victim.

In 2000, Tim Miller formed Texas EquuSearch, after years of agonizing emotional struggles in dealing with the murder of his own 16 year-old daughter, “Laura”. Laura Miller was abducted in League City, Texas on September 10th 1984. Laura’s skeletal remains were located, along with the remains of three other young females 17 months later on February 2nd, 1986. Two of those females that were found with Laura still remain unidentified. Tim says “My first fear was that I didn’t know what to do. I was certain Laura was dead.” Tim quickly added that, “My fear quickly changed and grew intense when I started wondering if Laura would ever be found.” Tim’s emotions ran through the whole array of feelings. His marriage, his job, his health, his mental stability, and more, suffered when Laura couldn’t be found. Several years after Laura was found and identified, Tim founded Texas EquuSearch in honor of his daughter to help other families of missing loved-ones. Darryl Phillips joined Texas EquuSearch shortly after it was formed, and has remained a faithful and dedicated volunteer in the organization. Darryl’s sister, Angela disappeared while riding her bicycle in the southern part of Houston, Texas on September 18th, 1986. Houston Police quickly identified a suspect. But before the suspect could be arrested and charged Angela’s killer was also murdered. That shattered the hopes of Angela’s family of ever finding her. Darryl says he used to frequently drive down a street, see a plot of woods or field; then get out of his car and go into it and search for Angela. Angela’s remains were positively identified 23 years later as being those of an unidentified female in the county morgue. Her remains were actually found not long after she disappeared, but an investigative error kept her unidentified and stored in the morgue, until she was later buried as an unidentified female. A determined medical examiner, Dr. Sharon Derrick, later positively identified Angela remains and she was soon buried in the Phillip’s family plot at another cemetery. But during the time that Angela was missing, her mother suffered from heart problems and depression. Darryl said his mother used to cry herself to sleep saying Angela’s name. Mrs. Phillips eventually died because of her emotional distress and heart problems. The doctor said the autopsy listed heart problems as the cause of death. But the doctor told Darryl and his other family members that Mrs. Phillips actually died of a broken heart. She never got over Angela not being found. Darryl is now a cadet in a local police academy, and hopes to eventually be attached to a missing persons unit.

Texas EquuSearch will normally continue to search for a missing person until the search is suspended due to the lack of leads, or there are no areas to search that would result in a reasonable expectation that the missing person may be found there. But some missing loved-ones will never be found. They may have been buried somewhere distant, and we have no information that would lead us to search in that particular area. Some un-found missing loved-ones may also be lying in a morgue as an unidentified person. Some ended up in landfills. The recovery of some families’ missing loved-ones is virtually impossible. Our limited funds sometimes force the search teams to suspend the search early. In some cases, we are unable to conduct a search for a family’s missing loved-one because of lack of funds. Most family members understand the decision, but it still rips a much larger hole in the efforts to find their missing family member.

Within a month of the missing loved one’s disappearance the search is usually suspended, the news crews are gone, and the family’s communication with investigators decreases. When a family’s loved-one disappears and is never found some family members can pick up the shattered pieces and go about their personal lives. But many others suffer from increasing dangerous mental and physical issues because of the disappearance. A high number of those family members display many noticeable changes. Most family members have an indescribable desperation to find their missing family member. Whenever a missing person is not found, family members may feel as though their lives have been turned upside-down, and run through a shredding machine. Some family members become irritable and short-tempered.  Most will have emotional bouts with feelings of helplessness, frustration, and anger. Many begin suffering from depression, and they isolate themselves from other family members and friends. Their anguish will sometimes be dulled by the heavy use of alcohol or drugs. Some marriages and relationships eventually dissolve. Many distraught family members start having thoughts of hopelessness in finding their loved one. Some of the family member’s school grades or job performance suffers, and they may get expelled from school, or lose their jobs. Many have trouble sleeping, and find that their concentration has diminished. They have trouble keeping a specific “train of thought”. Some family members can quickly pick up the pieces, and move on with their personal lives. But the constant smiles and positive attitude that friends and co-workers had seen emanating from a family member in the past might now seem to rapidly diminish or disappear  Sadly, some family members attempt, or succeed in, committing suicide because they feel can no longer deal with the overwhelming emotional distress. Suicide becomes an option to some family members, because they believe that they will somehow be with their missing loved-one. However, our team tries to encourage the family members of an un-found missing loved-one to never give up hope.

No person or family is ever exempt from the possibility of experiencing this horrible tragedy. A family member can suddenly disappear from anyone’s family. No one ever expects it, or wants the sudden nightmare. Tim Miller has often met with several family members after a missing loved-one’s remains were found … or in some cases, never found. He has told some of those family members that, “They are now members of a special club which no one ever wants to join, or be a part of. There are no applications to fill-out, or no dues to pay.”

Most people never realize how many casualties are born from just one missing person case. The families of a missing loved-one (that has never been found) have many questions that likely will never be answered. The most painful questions for a family member are, “Where are they? What happened to them? Did they suffer?” The missing loved-one’s family should always seek help from a reputable therapist, or support group if necessary … and if possible. In the support groups they can exchange thoughts and express their feelings with other people who are going through the same situation that they are. But in reality, no therapy, medications, support group, or any other person or thing, can ever guarantee that these family members will resume a normal life again.

Unfortunately, there are thousands of other families besides the Miller’s and the Phillips’ that have felt the never-ending suffering and pain of an un-found missing family member. May we keep all these struggling families in our thoughts and prayers, and may GOD bless them all.

Frank Black

Texas EquuSearch