Searching for your missing person

One of the first instincts you may have when someone you know and love goes missing, is a strong desire to go out and look for them yourself.

Being active in the search can help psychologically and tire you physically, which may help you sleep. Not everyone will want to do this, or feel able to help in this way, and that’s okay. Lots of people don’t have the physical stamina, or they feel too emotionally fragile. Everyone is different and there are other ways of helping.

There are some important points to bear in mind if you plan to go out to look for your missing person.

Staying safe

  • Don’t go out alone.
  • Tell someone where you are going and when you expect to return.
  • Make sure your mobile phone is fully charged.
  • What is the weather like? Make sure you have appropriate clothing, footwear and provisions, if needed.
  • Will you be searching in a remote area? What is the physical terrain like? Be sensible. Are you fit enough for this kind of activity? It’s important to look after yourself.
  • Will you be searching in an urban area? If you are worried about safety, exercise caution, or check with the police if it’s safe for you to search there.
  • Do not try to follow up a lead or sighting yourself; you could be putting yourself at risk.

You may suspect that an individual or individuals may know something about your missing person’s disappearance. Do not approach them. Never put yourself in danger. Even if that person knows nothing and is not involved, you may be putting yourself in a risky situation by confronting them.

If you have suspicions about anyone, tell the police, and let them follow it up. If someone passes information to you about the possible whereabouts of your missing person, the best thing to do is to let the police know immediately. Do not try to follow up by yourself, unless you trust the source and you are certain the information given is true. Even in this case, you must tell the police about it. The information may be false or simply incorrect. You might come across comments on social media giving false or misleading information. You must always let the police know about these.

Police and searching

“I feel searches need to be carried out under the guidance of professional search and rescue entities. In hindsight, having had searches done by friends/family it’s a bit like stomping over a crime scene, anything could be thrown out in court. But sometimes we are driven to it. It depends on what sort of search, physical or just walking a route or phoning friends. I would never say don’t do physical search because sometimes that’s all you can do if not being considered by police.” – family member

  • It’s important to check with the police first, to ask them if they want help from family and how they would like you to assist. There are times when they may feel it is not appropriate and may hinder their investigation.
  • Police may have organised search teams. Ask if you could you join them, so the search effort is coordinated, and resources are used to the best advantage.
  • Find out if police are going to contact hospitals, public transport and local accommodation – maybe you could call around if you have time and want to do this.
  • Write down when and where you searched, and pass this information on to the police.

“Searching in Canada will be different than in the UK, but I suspect the most important aspect is collaboration with police as is the case here. The key is letting families know what the process is so they understand and can manage their own expectations and actions accordingly.” – family member

Short term searching

“Safe initial searching – stay close to the place they were last seen; a small concentrated area is where you can be most effective and methodical.” – family member

  • Stay close by, visit places you know they like.
  • Contact their friends, people you know they like and associate with.
  • Areas where they were last seen. Before knocking on doors, find out from police if they would prefer you not to do this yourself.
  • Bring posters or flyers with you when you go out.
  • Ask local businesses and residents to help by displaying posters.
  • Make a note of where you have put these so they can be removed as soon as your missing person is found.

“Always take posters, photos etc. when going on your own search. Set out with a list of places to call, churches, soup runs etc.” – family member

Spread the word

  • Raise awareness using social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter or Instagram.
  • Get the local community involved through local social media groups. Ask them to share appeals for your missing person (but always use an official appeal, either from the police or us).
  • Look for your local Neighbourhood Watch or local pages such as Next Door.
  • With police permission, we can help with publicity by producing a web appeal, posters and social media appeals, and by sharing this appeal with our partners. Read more

In the long term

Some missing people are found quickly, but this is not always the case. It is upsetting to imagine that the person you love may be missing for a long time, and there is no need to read on if the person you love has recently gone missing, but if you find that time is passing and you are still searching, there may be other ways for you to ensure the search continues and to raise awareness. Read more about keeping the publicity going

“Never give up hope. Update missing posters and refresh the posters you’ve put up every couple of weeks.” – family member

“Stay connected with the missing communities. Keep sharing appeals and share your own appeals on social media platforms.” – family member

Talk to us

If you are worried about going out to look for your missing person, you can call us to check things out. If you have questions about publicity, we can advise you. If you would like to raise awareness for your missing person by planning a fundraising event, like a walk, run or cycle, get in touch and let us support you to do this. See more

Talk to us

Sign up to be a Digital Search Hero

We have launched a regular email so that you can be aware of new missing person appeals and share them far and wide! We are also calling on all Heroes to be the eyes and ears for Missing People on the ground. Your sighting of a missing person could make a difference in a crucial time.