More than 1,000 are reported missing every year just in King County, where one woman works to find every single one.
Janet Gregory is with the King County Sheriff’s Office’s Missing Persons Unit.
“My husband’s made comments about me always having my missing persons on my mind,” Gregory said.
Gregory has worked for the sheriff`s office for more than three decades and handles roughly 1,400 cases every year.
“I go through them daily, because I get cases assigned every single day, and check to see if there`s any foul play indicated,” she said. “Suicidal, mental, medical issues go to the top of the list, and I start working on them first.”
Of those 1,400 reports or so a year, only a handful of people are truly missing.
“The first thing that I do is check to see if they’re in jail. A good — probably 60 percent of the names that I run — are sitting in jail and they just didn’t call home,” Gregory said.
Next on the list are runaways — both children and adults.
“There is a vast array of reasons. Most people say, ‘I just need a break.’ There’s quite often drug addiction involved. They don’t want to live where they’re supposed to be living.”
Every now and than though, she does have to send out an Endangered Missing Person alert.
“It is very much by-the-case scenario, the information we receive. If the person seems to be in danger by someone else, say, they were last seen with someone else and believe to be held against their will at some point, Alzheimer’s patients , any kind of medical or mental issue that seems to be a dire situation,” then alerts are issued, she said.
But those alerts are rare and designed that way for a reason
“Just like Amber Alerts, the more you put out, the less attention people pay,” Gregory said.
She added that there`s one big misconception people have about when you can report a missing loved one.
“I’ve heard anywhere from 24-72 hours, people believe they have to wait,” she said. “No, you do not have to wait. In fact, if there’s foul play suspected or involved, we want to know immediately.”
It`s crucial that people tell the whole truth upfront.
“I believe people are embarrassed or don’t want to embarrass the missing person, and the truth is I’ve heard just about everything. I want to know the truth because it will help a whole lot more than downplaying things or up-playing things. It`s just way more helpful to have accurate, real information.”
Once Gregory takes on the case, she works on it until the mystery of the person’s disappearance is solved.
“We don’t close our cases until the person’s found, period. Regardless of how long it takes.”
Gregory said social media has helped change the game for missing persons. Getting information out is still the best resource law enforcement has in finding people.
She also stresses that if you have a loved one confirmed missing, submit a DNA sample so that detectives can upload the proper information to a national database.