Missing persons: Panic and hope of people left behind

According to Dawn Gounden from Renegades Search & Rescue, circulating the correct information when in search for a missing person is just as important as it makes it easier for communities to identify the missing person. A clear photograph, names, surnames, what they were wearing and contact details are some of the information that can help the public. Photo used for illustration purposes only. PHOTO: GYPSEENIA LION

“It starts as just a couple of unanswered calls and then the panic kicks in. Millions of questions begin to flood your brain. Are they okay? Where are they? Why hasn’t anybody heard from or seen them? That’s only the beginning of the unbearable journey that one will embark on when a loved one goes missing.”

A local family member who would like to remain anonymous to protect the identity of her sibling who went missing, would like to encourage other families who are still in search of a loved one to not give up. “Keep the faith and try to stay positive even though it seems like there is no light at the end of the tunnel. Remember that even in the darkest hours of devastation, there is always a flicker of hope,” she advised.

She recalls the ordeal as one of the most devastating situations the family had to go through. Nobody had seen or heard from their loved one in days and all the family could rely on was the goodwill of humanity to bring their loved one home safe and sound.

“Law enforcement, along with community members, all participated in the search for someone so dear to us, yet a stranger to them. We put up missing person posts and filed a missing person case with as many details as possible, and messages and calls started flooding in.

Every clue or sighting gave us hope until we had an exact location and our beloved family member was brought back home safely.”

According to Psychologist and Mediator Dr Gert van Niekerk, there is a big difference between losing someone suddenly and someone going missing. “When someone dies unexpectedly, it is a tremendous shock for the next of kin. But after the shock phase comes the realisation that it is permanent and cannot be reversed. But, when someone goes missing, there is not necessarily an immediate shock phase because the person could possibly come back, so there can be an explanation,” said Dr Van Niekerk.

He added that the problem arises when the period becomes unusually long. “Unfortunately, one hears of so many cases where missing people are found dead and this information sticks in the subconscious. This can lead to anxiety and even severe depression. There can never be closure before there is clarity.”

Dawn Gounden is the founder of Renegades Search & Rescue, a NPC that assists families and the South African Police Services (SAPS) with missing persons, wanted suspects, unidentified human remains, trafficking of persons, and natural disasters.

Gounden highlighted that there is no waiting period to report a missing person. “The next of kin are requested to proceed to the nearest SAPS station with a most recent clear photograph of the missing person.” She added that you need to fill in a 55A missing person’s report at the police station and once that is complete, Renegades can be contacted for further assistance.

“An enquiry number will be documented on a flyer created by Renegades and circulated on all social media platforms and the public domains. This then aids in gathering information which is given to the investigating officer.

Teams analyse information and searches are conducted in the specific area that the person was last sighted,” said Gounden. “Do not circulate information on public platforms with personal information that will be used for scammers to extort money. Do not offer a reward because this also becomes an issue pertaining to becoming a victim of scammers,” she warned.

“If it is a minor, remember sensitive information should not be put on social media. “Do not believe that the person is safe via text messages or calls. The missing person must be physically seen or they must go to the nearest police station and say that they are safe,” she added.


Justine Fortuin & Gypseenia Lion